Birth defects

The leading cause of death under age 1

Each year, over 2,000 babies in Minnesota are born with serious birth defects. Birth defects contribute to one in every five deaths. Babies born with birth defects have a greater chance of illness and long-term disability than babies without birth defects.

Some birth defects can be prevented

For some birth defects, we know the cause, but the cause of most birth defects is unknown. While we do not know what causes most birth defects, we do know how mothers can take steps to support a pregnancy and to reduce the risk of birth defects.

Some of the steps must be taken before pregnancy because some birth defects develop very early before a woman knows she is pregnant. One of the most important things to do is for women to take a daily multivitamin with folic acid (400 micrograms) even when not trying to get pregnant. Avoiding alcohol while trying to get pregnant and quitting smoking also can help women have a healthy pregnancy. Chronic disease, like diabetes and obesity, can put women at risk of having a baby born with a birth defect. Trying to reach and maintain a healthy weight and keeping diabetes under control before pregnancy reduces the risk. During pregnancy, it is important to continue to take folic acid daily, not smoke, and not drink alcohol throughout pregnancy. Find more information about birth defect prevention. 

Increase your chance of having a healthy baby

Not all birth defects can be prevented, but some can. To help prevent birth defects:

  • Take 400mcg of folic acid every day, from when menstruation begins through menopause.
  • Don't drink alcohol, smoke, or use illegal drugs.
  • See a health care professional regularly and get prenatal care as soon as possible:
    • Talk about medications, including prescription and over-the-counter medications, dietary supplements, and herbal supplements.
    • Talk before stopping any medications that are needed to treat health conditions.
    • Learn how to prevent infections during pregnancy.
    • Get recommended vaccinations.
  • Control any medical conditions before becoming pregnant. Some conditions that increase the risk for birth conditions include diabetes and obesity. Plan carefully and use contraception until you are ready for a healthy pregnancy.
  • Know your family medical history, potential genetic risks, and seek reproductive genetic counseling if appropriate.

What is being done about birth defects?

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