African American dad holding baby

Birth Defects are Common, Costly, and Critical

Common: Nationally, 1 in 33 babies are born with a birth defect. In Massachusetts, approximately 1,300 birth defects cases are ascertained by the Birth Defects Monitoring Program each year.

Costly: The Massachusetts combined lifetime cost for babies born with 12 major structural birth defects was estimated at $141.8 million (2010 dollars). In the U.S. birth defects lead to $2.6 billion per year in hospital costs alone (2004 data).

Critical: Birth defects are a leading cause of childhood hospitalization, as well as infant and childhood mortality. Early identification of a child with a birth defect, along with early interventions, can improve the child’s quality of life and may save his or her life.

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Established in 1996, the Massachusetts Center for Birth Defects Research and Prevention is a collaboration between the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH), Boston University's Slone Epidemiology Center (SEC), and Brigham and Women's Hospital Active Malformations Surveillance Program (BWH ). The Center is located in the Bureau of Family Health and Nutrition at MDPH offices at 250 Washington Street in Boston and is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a Center for Excellence in Birth Defects Research.

The Massachusetts Center for Birth Defects Research and Prevention (MCBDRP) is responsible for the collection of information regarding all newly diagnosed cases of birth defects to Massachusetts residents. Birth defects surveillance is a critical component of public health strategies to reduce the occurrence and impact of birth defects. Through surveillance and related activities, the MCBDRP is able to detect the prevalence of birth defects, to monitor trends, to investigate potential causes, to plan appropriate interventions, and to ensure services and appropriate care for children with special health needs.

Slone Epidemiology Center and Brigham and Women's Hospital bring to the Massachusetts Center more than 20 years of combined experience in birth defects research. The Massachusetts Center draws on the experience of and fosters communication among the region's strong network of clinicians and researchers. The Center's areas of expertise include surveillance and methodology; pediatric, reproductive, and social epidemiology; heart defects and drug teratogenicity research; and experience conducting health service needs assessment.

The MCBDRP is a member of the National Birth Defects Network and collaborates with 9 other states in the National Birth Defects Prevention Study. This national study is the largest effort in the U.S. to collect risk factor information about birth defects.


To support surveillance, research and dissemination of information aimed at preventing birth defects.

This program is part of the Bureau of Family Health and Nutrition.


Contact Us

Cathleen A. Higgins, Surveillance Coordinator
Bureau of Family Health and Nutrition
250 Washington Street
Boston, MA 02108
Tel. 617-624-5510