A new comprehensive report has revealed that more than one in 50 babies have a birth defect in England and Wales, more than double the previous estimate of one in 80.
Previous estimates, based on data from the Office for National Statistics, suggested that 1.3 per cent of all babies have a birth defect.
However, the new report, from the British Isles Network of Congenital Anomaly Registers (Binocar), indicates that that figure is actually more than 2 per cent. The overall rise is thought to be due to better data collection.
The research covered five registers of defects in England and Wales from 2005 to 2009, and includes babies born with a defect as well as babies where a defect led to a termination. It revealed that there were at least 14,500 babies with birth defects in England and Wales in 2009.
According to the report, the most common defect is congenital heart disease, which affects at least 5 in 1,000 babies. Neural tube defects, like spina bifida, affect one in 1,000 babies.
The estimated incidence of cleft lip and/or palate is 15.2 per 10,000 babies, and around 27 in 10,000 babies across England and Wales are affected by Down’s syndrome.
Gastroschisis, a defect where the intestines develop outside the abdomen, affects one in 1,000 babies. Over the last decade the risk of this has doubled in Wales.
Factors such as alcohol, smoking and lifestyle were believed to influence the risk. Joan Morris, professor of medical statistics at Queen Mary, University of London and editor of the report, said:
"Over the last decade, it's doubled in Wales. Your risk is much higher if you are a younger mother."
More than half of all birth defects studied in the report were detected during pregnancy, and where the birth defect was detected, 43 per cent resulted in termination.
Prof Morris said: "It is essential we know how many babies are being born with anomalies and how good their survival is across the whole country, so we can identify ways to reduce the occurrence of anomalies and plan for the care of these babies."
© ActiveQuote Ltd. 2011