Congenital Abnormalities | Pediatrics


Congenital Abnormalities

For all types of anomalies present at birth, we provide expert care and support.

Medically reviewed by Amy Powne, R.N. on June 29, 2023.

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What Are Congenital Abnormalities?

Congenital abnormalities, also known as birth defects or congenital disorders, are conditions that occur as your unborn child (fetus) develops. Some disorders are life-threatening, while others have no visible signs.

Congenital abnormalities can affect your child’s appearance, how their body functions or both. Examples of some common congenital abnormalities include:

Chromosomal Disorders

Congenital Abnormalities

Fetal Conditions

Tumors and Masses 

You may find out during pregnancy, after birth or later in life that your child has a congenital abnormality.


Causes of Congenital Abnormalities

While some congenital abnormalities have known causes, health care providers are not exactly sure why most happen. Potential causes include:

Genetic Changes (Mutations)

Genes are stretches of DNA that carry instructions for everything your cells do. Changes in some genes can affect how your baby develops.

Chromosomal Abnormalities

Chromosomal abnormalities are changes in the number or form of chromosomes (structures that carry genes). These changes can interfere with fetal development.

Prenatal Exposures

Contact with substances such as chemicals, radiation and organisms that cause infections can lead to congenital disorders.


Risk Factors for Having a Child With Congenital Abnormalities


The risk of chromosomal changes rises the older you are during pregnancy.

Family History

Some congenital abnormalities may run in families.

Health Conditions

Obesity, poorly controlled diabetes, fever and other medical conditions may increase your risk of having a baby with a congenital abnormality.


Certain infections during pregnancy, such as toxoplasmosis from cat feces and Zika virus, are linked to congenital abnormalities. Learn more about Zika virus (PDF).

Lack of Folic Acid

Not getting enough folic acid in your diet increases the risk of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida.

Medication Use

Some prescription medications can affect the health of your unborn child.

Unhealthy Behaviors

Drinking alcohol, smoking and using drugs while pregnant are associated with congenital abnormalities.


Diagnosing Congenital Abnormalities

Health care providers diagnose most congenital abnormalities at birth or within the first year of birth. Early diagnosis can help your child get the care needed to lessen the long-term effects of their condition.

Health care providers detect some congenital abnormalities during prenatal testing and screening. Routine tests include ultrasound imaging and blood tests.

If you are older than 35 or have a family history of congenital abnormalities, your provider may recommend more specific tests. Our Prenatal Diagnosis Centers provide complete prenatal testing and consultations.

Congenital Abnormality Care at UC Davis Health

At UC Davis Health, our specialists have extensive experience in diagnosing and treating congenital abnormalities. We are here for you and your child at every step with expert care, guidance and support. Our programs and services include:

High-Risk Obstetrical Care

We offer expert care for pregnancies at high risk of complications due to maternal and fetal conditions, including congenital abnormalities.

Find out more about maternal-fetal medicine
Fetal Care and Treatment Center

Nationally recognized physicians diagnose and treat fetal abnormalities using a range of approaches, including advanced fetal surgery.

Learn more about fetal care and treatment
Birth Center

Our labor and delivery teams are highly trained and well-prepared for high-risk deliveries.

Take a virtual tour of our birth center
Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)

As a level 4 NICU, we have the experience and technology to care for infants born with serious congenital abnormalities.

Read more about our NICU
Pediatric and Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (PCICU)

Children with congenital heart or other congenital abnormalities receive lifesaving treatment in our PCICU.

See more about our PCICU
Pediatric Specialty Care

No matter what type of specialty care your child needs, you’ll find it at UC Davis Health.

Explore our pediatric specialty services

Preventing Congenital Abnormalities

You cannot prevent all congenital abnormalities, but good health and nutrition can improve your chance of having a healthy baby. Steps you can take include:

  • Checking with your health care provider before taking any prescription or over-the-counter medications
  • Eating healthy and avoiding alcohol, smoking and drugs
  • Managing health conditions
  • Preventing infections and fevers
  • Taking 400 milligrams of folic acid daily before and during pregnancy

Who does it affect?

1 in 33Children born in the U.S. have congenital abnormalities

Known causes

70%Of birth defects have no known cause

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Birth Defects 

B. Weinhold, Environmental Health Perspectives: Environmental Factors in Birth Defects: What We Need to Know

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