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CDC: Infant deaths from birth defects drop 10% from 2003-’17 :

January 16, 2020

Fewer infants are dying from birth defects, but racial gaps persist, according to a new study.

Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and AAP found about 11 of every 10,000 infants died from birth defects in 2017, a 10% drop from 2003.

“Of course we would always like to see a bigger decrease in infant mortality, but overall, we were pleased to see a continuation of the downward trend in infant mortality due to birth defects,” said senior author Jennita Reefhuis, Ph.D., chief of the CDC’s Birth Defects Monitoring and Research Branch.

The data come from the National Vital Statistics System and were published Thursday in a new Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Dr. Reefhuis attributed the decline to more women getting medical care before and during pregnancy and taking steps like increasing daily folic acid intake. Once infants are born, screening and care are better than in 2003.

Rates varied significantly by race, a gap the CDC and AAP are working to improve. About 13.3 of every 10,000 infants born to black mothers died from birth defects in 2017 compared to 12.5 infants born to Hispanic mothers and 9.9 infants born to white mothers. Compared to 2003, mortality rates were down 11%, 4% and 12%, respectively.

Those differences “might be influenced by access to and utilization of health care before and during pregnancy, prenatal screening, losses of pregnancies with fetal anomalies, and insurance type,” according to the study.

“The AAP is committed to addressing inequities in the health care system including disparities in these mortality rates," said Debra Waldron, M.D., M.P.H., FAAP, AAP senior vice president, Healthy and Resilient Children, Youth and Families. "It is vital that all mothers and their babies have access to the care they need to prevent, detect and treat birth defects.”

Researchers also found mortality related to birth defects dropped significantly for infants born at 20-27 gestational weeks and 39-44 weeks but rose for those 32-36 weeks.

About one in every 33 babies is born with a birth defect, and these children accounted for about 21% of infant deaths in 2017. Dr. Reefhuis stressed the need for awareness and prevention.

The CDC recommends pregnant women see a doctor regularly; take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily; avoid harmful substances like alcohol, cigarettes and drugs; prevent infections; avoid overheating; maintain a healthy lifestyle; get recommended vaccinations; and check with a doctor before taking any medication.

Pediatricians also need to be vigilant so they can spot infants who need additional care.

“Pediatricians especially, but also other health care professionals, are really on the front lines of helping these infants that are born with birth defects,” Dr. Reefhuis said. “I think early detection of birth defects and timely treatment are essential in reducing deaths in the first year of life.”

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