Birth defects in babies ‘more than estimated’

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More than one baby in 50 has a birth defect – almost double the previous estimate, a new report has found.

The report, from the British Isles Network of Congenital Anomaly Registers, estimates there were at least 14,500 babies with defects in England and Wales in 2009.

Experts said they did not believe the overall incidence of defects was on the rise.

Heart disease was the most common, affecting five in 1,000 babies. Neural tube defects affect one in 1,000, with rates higher than in Europe. Most could be prevented by women taking folic acid before and during early pregnancy.

Cases of Down’s syndrome are increasing, mainly due to mothers becoming older. More than half of defects are found during pregnancy.