Objective: To evaluate the association between preterm birth and major birth defects by maternal and infant characteristics and specific types of birth defects.
Study design: We pooled data for 1995-2000 from 13 states with population-based birth defects surveillance systems, representing about 30% of all U.S. births. Analyses were limited to singleton, live births from 24-44 weeks gestational age.
Results: Overall, birth defects were more than twice as common among preterm births (24-36 weeks) compared with term births (37-41 weeks gestation) (prevalence ratio [PR] = 2.65, 95% confidence interval [CI] 2.62-2.68), and approximately 8% of preterm births had a birth defect. Birth defects were over five times more likely among very preterm births (24-31 weeks gestation) compared with term births (PR = 5.25, 95% CI 5.15-5.35), with about 16% of very preterm births having a birth defect. Defects most strongly associated with very preterm birth included central nervous system defects (PR = 16.23, 95% CI 15.49-17.00) and cardiovascular defects (PR = 9.29, 95% CI 9.03-9.56).
Conclusions: Birth defects contribute to the occurrence of preterm birth. Research to identify shared causal pathways and risk factors could suggest appropriate interventions to reduce both preterm birth and birth defects.