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Birth Defects

About 3% of babies, or 1 of every 33, are born with a birth defect. Birth defects are problems that happen as a baby develops in the mother's body. A birth defect may affect how the body looks, works, or both. Some birth defects are so serious they can cause a baby to die; others are very minor problems that can be easily repaired. Babies born with birth defects have a greater chance of illness and long-term disability than babies without birth defects.

Not all birth defects can be prevented, but you can take some actions that increase your chance of having a healthy baby. Most birth defects are thought to be caused by a complex mix of genetic, behavioral, and environmental factors. However, for many birth defects, exactly how these factors work together is unclear.

When a woman comes into contact with an environmental hazard early in her pregnancy, it may increase the risk of her baby being born with a birth defect. More research is needed to study the links between environmental hazards and birth defects, which is why birth defects are part of the Environmental Public Health Tracking Network.

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