Just over 2 per cent of all babies born in 2011 had anomalies, with congenital heart problems the most common, according to a new study collating data from regional registers in England and Wales.
A report by the British Isles Network of Congenital Anomaly Registers (Binocar) estimates there were 15,966 babies with defects in 2011 – 2.2 per cent of all of those born during the year.
The most common anomalies are congenital heart defects, which affect at least six in every 1,000 babies.
Neural tube defects, such as spina bifida, affect one in 1,000 babies – a higher rate than most other European countries.
The report, by researchers at Queen Mary, University of London, estimates that overall in 2011, 4,461 babies suffered heart defects, 1,739 had defects of the nervous system, 1,223 had problems with the digestive system, and there were 1,143 cases of cleft lip or palate, alone or alongside other defects.
Some 1,973 babies had Down’s syndrome – a rate of 25.7 per 10,000 births.
One in 46 babies were thought to have a defect in 2011, although we know it’s likely to be closer to one in 40. Professor Joan Morris
The south east and London had the highest rates of Down’s, reflecting the fact that more mothers over 35 live in these areas. Older mothers have a higher risk of having a baby with the condition.
Overall, mothers aged 25 to 29 were the least likely to have a baby with any defect (187 per 10,000 babies), rising to 243 per 10,000 babies among the under-20s.
The figure was considerably higher in the 40 and over age group.
Binocar’s research collates data from six regional registers, giving a national coverage of 36 per cent of the births in England and Wales. Researchers then provided estimates for all of England and Wales.
Overall, 61 per cent of defects are diagnosed before birth, and of these cases 44 per cent result in a termination.
“One in 46 babies were thought to have a defect in 2011, although we know this is an underestimate and it’s likely to be closer to one in 40,” said Joan Morris, professor of medical statistics at Queen Mary, University of London.”
“Overall, our impression is that we’re pretty similar to Europe, although we have higher rates of abdominal defects, particularly among younger mothers. People feel this is lifestyle-related.”
Professor Morris called for better overall reporting of defects to give a more accurate picture of what is going on.
“We remain concerned that data for substantial parts of the country, including London, are not currently monitored, meaning large regional increases in congenital abnormalities could go unnoticed and their causes not investigated.”