Birth defects (BDs) are an important cause of infant mortality and disproportionately occur among low birth weight infants. We determined the prevalence of BDs in a cohort of very low birth weight (VLBW) infants cared for at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Neonatal Research Network (NRN) centers over a 10-year period and examined the relationship between anomalies, neonatal outcomes, and surgical care.
Infant and maternal data were collected prospectively for infants weighing 401 to 1500 g at NRN sites between January 1, 1998, and December 31, 2007. Poisson regression models were used to compare risk of outcomes for infants with versus without BDs while adjusting for gestational age and other characteristics.
A BD was present in 1776 (4.8%) of the 37 262 infants in our VLBW cohort. Yearly prevalence of BDs increased from 4.0% of infants born in 1998 to 5.6% in 2007, P < .001. Mean gestational age overall was 28 weeks, and mean birth weight was 1007 g. Infants with BDs were more mature but more likely to be small for gestational age compared with infants without BDs. Chromosomal and cardiovascular anomalies were most frequent with each occurring in 20% of affected infants. Mortality was higher among infants with BDs (49% vs 18%; adjusted relative risk: 3.66 [95% confidence interval: 3.41–3.92]; P < .001) and varied by diagnosis. Among those surviving >3 days, more infants with BDs underwent major surgery (48% vs 13%, P < .001).
Prevalence of BDs increased during the 10 years studied. BDs remain an important cause of neonatal morbidity and mortality among VLBW infants.