ABSTRACT Diseases of respiratory system caused by acute infections are among the most common maternal diseases during pregnancy. The objective of the study was to estimate the association between congenital abnormalities and acute respiratory infections during the first trimester of pregnancy. The data set of the Hungarian Case-Control Surveillance of Congenital Abnormalities including 22 843 cases with congenital abnormalities, 38 151 population controls without congenital abnormalities and 834 malformed controls with Down syndrome between 1980 and 1996 was evaluated. 2118 cases with congenital abnormalities (9.3%), 3455 population controls (9.1%) and 92 malformed controls with Down syndrome (11.0%) had mothers with acute respiratory infections. Of 25 different congenital abnormality groups, esophageal atresia/stenosis showed a high adjusted prevalence odds ratios (POR) with 95% confidence interval (CI) for acute respiratory infections during the first trimester of pregnancy in case mothers compared with population controls (3.6, 1.4–9.1) and malformed controls (1.9, 1.0–3.5), respectively. In addition there was an association between medically recorded acute respiratory infections during the first trimester of pregnancy and a higher risk for some other congenital abnormalities, such as posterior cleft palate and multiple congenital abnormalities. In conclusion a possible association between some congenital abnormalities, particularly esophageal atresia/stenosis and maternal acute respiratory infections cannot be excluded due to the interactions of the microbial agents, related drug treatments and last but not least the indirect effect of maternal diseases, such as fever-hyperthermia, hypoxia and dietary deficiency. However, periconceptional multivitamin/folic acid supplementation during the early pregnancy was able to reduce the acute respiratory infection related risk for congenital abnormalities.