Birth defects are common, costly and critical conditions that affect 1 in every 33 babies born in the United States each year. The Birth Information Network (BIN) program monitors trends, promotes prevention, and links families to resources.
The Birth Information Network (BIN) was established by Vermont legislation in 2003 (18 V.S.A. § 5087) to conduct statewide, population-level surveillance of selected birth defects and other congenital conditions. This information is used to improve outreach and referral services for families with children with special health needs, ensure adequate services are available for children and their families, evaluate efforts to prevent health problems and document possible link between environmental and chemical exposure with the special health conditions of Vermont’s infants and children.
The BIN recently released a report covering Vermont resident births from 2006 through 2012. Of the 43,786 infants born to Vermont residents, 1,624 (3.7%) were known to have one or more of the conditions monitored by the BIN. As a group, structural and chromosomal birth defects were the most common type of condition in the BIN, with 1,119 (2.6%) of infants having at least one of these conditions. Very low birthweight was the next most frequent with 495 infants (1.1%), followed by 49 with congenital hearing loss (0.11%), and 36 infants (0.08%) with metabolic or endocrine conditions.
Birth defects are problems that develop while a fetus is growing during pregnancy. These problems can cause physical and mental disabilities, and may result in death. There are thousands of different birth defects. Most occur in the first three months of pregnancy.
Most birth defects are thought to be caused by a complex mix of factors, including a person’s genes, behaviors and things in the environment. For some birth defects, the cause is known, but for most, the cause or causes are still unknown.
Some women are at higher risk of having a child with a birth defect, for example:
- The mother’s age can play a part. Women over the age of 35 and below the age of 17 are more likely to have a child with Down syndrome than other women. Teenage mothers are more likely to have a baby born with gastroschisis, which is a defect in the abdominal wall.
- Women who smoke or use alcohol while pregnant have a higher risk of having a baby with certain birth defects. Some street drugs and some prescription drugs can also cause birth defects.
- Women with certain medical conditions such as diabetes or obesity are at higher risk.
- Certain infections during pregnancy can affect the development of a growing fetus.
The father’s age can increase the risk of having a child with a birth defect. Men over about 37 ½ years of age are at higher risk of having a child with certain genetic syndromes. These are syndromes caused by single small genetic changes that can happen in sperm of older men.
Other birth defects are also caused by genetic factors. These birth defects may run in families, but they may also occur when no one else in the family has this problem.
- To provide accurate counts of children with special health needs to make sure that parents and infants can get the services they need.
- To understand why some children are born with serious health concerns.
- To prevent or reduce the impact of birth defects and other conditions.
- To improve overall health services.
Currently, Vermont collects information about 47 structural and chromosomal birth defects, 28 metabolic and endocrine conditions, congenital hearing loss, and very low birth weight (infant born with a birth weight less than 1500 grams).