Birth defects are common, costly, and critical conditions that affect 1 in every 33 babies born in the United States each year.1 Read more about what we have learned about birth defects and how women can improve their chances of having a baby born without a birth defect.
Every 4 ½ minutes, a baby is born with a birth defect in the United States. That means nearly 120,000 babies are affected by birth defects each year.1
Birth defects are structural changes present at birth that can affect almost any part or parts of the body (e.g., heart, brain, foot). They may affect how the body looks, works, or both. Birth defects can vary from mild to severe. The well-being of each child affected with a birth defect depends mostly on which organ or body part is involved and how much it is affected. Depending on the severity of the defect and what body part is affected, the expected lifespan of a person with a birth defect may or may not be affected.
Most birth defects are caused by genetic or environmental factors or a combination of the two (multifactorial birth defects). In most cases, however, the cause is unknown.
Genetic or inherited causes include:
An environmental cause can include a drug, alcohol or a disease the mother has that can increase the chance for the baby to be born with a birth defect. An agent that can cause a birth defect is known as a teratogen.
Multifactorial birth defects are caused by a combination of genes and environmental exposures. In other words, a person can inherit a gene that increases sensitivity to an environmental trigger. Examples include cleft lip or palate, certain heart defects, and neural tube defects.
What is Cleft Lip?
The lip forms between the fourth and seventh weeks of pregnancy. As a baby develops during pregnancy, body tissue and special cells from each side of the head grow toward the center of the face and join together to make the face. This joining of tissue forms the facial features, like the lips and mouth. A cleft lip happens if the tissue that makes up the lip does not join completely before birth. This results in an opening in the upper lip. The opening in the lip can be a small slit or it can be a large opening that goes through the lip into the nose. A cleft lip can be on one or both sides of the lip or in the middle of the lip, which occurs very rarely. Children with a cleft lip also can have a cleft palate.
What is Cleft Palate?
The roof of the mouth (palate) is formed between the sixth and ninth weeks of pregnancy. A cleft palate happens if the tissue that makes up the roof of the mouth does not join together completely during pregnancy. For some babies, both the front and back parts of the palate are open. For other babies, only part of the palate is open.