One in 50 babies has a birth defect as detailed new study shows numbers nearly DOUBLE previous estimateAt least 14,500 in England and Wales in 2009Increase down to more comprehensive statistics, say researchersMore than half are detected during pregnancyOf those, 43per cent resulted in termination

More than one in 50 babies has a birth defect – almost double the previous estimate, according to the most comprehensive report of its kind.

Previous figures have suggested one in 80 babies suffers a defect, which include Down”s syndrome, congenital heart disease and neural tube defects such as spina bifida.

The report, from the British Isles Network of Congenital Anomaly Registers (Binocar), covers five registers of defects in England and Wales.

Fragile: New figures show that one in 50 babies has a birth defect compared to one in 80 from previous estimates (picture posed by models)

Fragile: New figures show that one in 50 babies has a birth defect compared to one in 80 from previous estimates (picture posed by models)

It includes babies born with a defect as well as those babies where the defect led to a termination of the pregnancy.

The researchers estimate there were at least 14,500 babies with birth defects in England and Wales in 2009.

Joan Morris, professor of medical statistics at Queen Mary, University of London and editor of the report, said researchers did not believe the overall incidence of birth defects is on the rise.

“We know that the incidence is not increasing,” she said. “What we are now saying is that we have good figures on what it actually is.”

However, she said large parts of the country, including London, do not submit any data, making it difficult to identify whether these regions are experiencing an increase in any types of defect.

Tragic: More than half the birth defects studied in the report were picked up during pregnancy which resulted in 43per cent of cases being terminated

Tragic: More than half the birth defects studied in the report were picked up during pregnancy which resulted in 43per cent of cases being terminated

The report included data from five regional registers. No registers exist in London and the South East, theNorth West and East Anglia.

Thereport said the most common defect is congenital heart disease, which affects at least five in 1,000 babies and can require major surgery.

Around 6per cent of babies born with a heart defect will die before the age of one.

SOME MOTHERS NOT TOLD ABOUT BABY”S CONDITION

Parents whose newborns need special care are not always told about their baby”s condition after birth, according to a survey.

The poll of 9,000 parents whose infant was admitted to a neonatal unit, which specialises in the care of premature or ill babies, found a mix of positive and negative experiences.

More than one in five (22per cent) said a member of staff did not talk to them about their baby”s condition and treatment after the birth and 81per cent said their partner or family member was not allowed to stay with them overnight following delivery.

Some 46per cent of parents were not clearly told about the purpose of the machines, monitors and alarms used in the unit, but they were largely positive about the neonatal staff.

The survey, carried out by the not-for-profit Picker Institute Europe, is supported by Bliss and the Department of Health.

Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of Picker Institute Europe, said: “Although our survey showed some positive responses about care and treatment in neonatal units, it also highlights a worrying lack of support for parents in terms of the information they receive”

Neuraltube defects, such as spina bifida, affect one in 1,000 babies. Most ofthese cases could be prevented through women taking folic acid supplements while trying to conceive and during early pregnancy.

Gastroschisis – a defect where the intestines develop outside the abdomen – affects one in 1,000 babies.

Regionalmonitoring has shown that this condition has become more common in someareas, including Wales, and that babies born to younger mothers are at greater risk.

Prof Morris said: “Over the last decade, it”s doubled in Wales. Your risk is much higher if you are a younger mother.”

She said factors such as alcohol, smoking and lifestyle were believed to influence the risk.

According to the report, the estimated incidence of cleft lip and/or palate is 15.2 per 10,000 babies.

Some 27 per 10,000 babies across England and Wales are also affected by Down”s syndrome, two per 10,000 by another chromosomal condition called Patau syndrome and seven per 10,000 by Edwards syndrome.

London has the highest prevalence of Down”s syndrome (34 per 10,000 babies) while the North West had the lowest (21 per 10,000).

The report said these differences “probably reflect the different maternal age distributions”, with mothers in London tending to be older, thereby having a higher risk of Down”s.

More than half (53per cent) of all birth defects studied in the report were detected during pregnancy.

Where the birth defect was detected in pregnancy, 43per cent resulted in a termination.

Of those babies born alive, where the time of diagnosis was known, 68per cent were diagnosed at birth, 9% were diagnosed in the first week, 7per cent between the second and fourth weeks and 17per cent after the first month.