This study was designed to evaluate the effects of maternal obesity and diabetes mellitus on the risk of nonchromosomal congenital defects. We used data from 22,951 pregnant women enrolled in a prospective cohort study of early prenatal exposures and pregnancy outcome. The relative risks [prevalence ratios (PRs)] of major nonchromosomal congenital defects associated with obesity and diabetes, alone or in combination, were calculated using multiple logistic regression analysis. In this study, in the absence of diabetes, obese women (body mass index > or =28) had no higher risk, overall, of having an offspring with a major defect [PR = 0.95; 95% confidence interval (CI) = 0.62-1.5]. Their offspring, however, did have a higher prevalence of certain types of defects, including orofacial clefts; club foot; cardiac septal defects; and, to a lesser extent, hydrocephaly and abdominal wall defects. Women with pre-existing or gestational diabetes who were not obese also had no excess risk overall of having offspring affected by a major defect (PR = 0.98; 95% CI = 0.43-2.2), although they did have a higher prevalence of musculoskeletal defects. The pregnancies of women who were both obese and diabetic were 3.1 times as likely (95% CI = 1.2-7.6) to result in an offspring with a defect than were those of nonobese, nondiabetic women, which suggests that obesity and diabetes mellitus may act synergistically in the pathogenesis of congenital anomalies. The defects were largely craniofacial or musculoskeletal.