Fewer newborn infants died in South Carolina last year, according to new data released last week by state health officials.
The Department of Health and Environmental Control said 6.5 infants per every 1,000 died — a decline from 7 percent in 2016. That ties 2017 for the lowest recorded mortality rate since health officials began keeping track. However, it remains higher than the 5.9 percent national average.
Bureau of Maternal and Child Health director Kimberly Seals said the decline is largely due to healthier mothers. “We saw a decline in tobacco usage during pregnancy,” she said. “We also saw where women are getting adequate or more prenatal care. And we saw that among all racial groups.”
Racial disparities do remain a problem. Black infants were nearly twice as likely to die as white ones (9 percent vs. 5.2 percent). While deaths due to premature birth complications or birth defects declined in 2017, DHEC said the state did see a 70 percent increase in infant deaths due to maternal complications (from 20 in 2016 to 34 last year).
“It’s actually more related to chronic disease factors among… those populations where we know chronic disease is more persistent,” Seals said. She noted mother’s health issues such as diabetes, hypertension and weight struggles can increase the risk of complications.
Malformation and deformations were the leading cause of death, followed by premature births.
DHEC recommends several tips to help a newborn survive its first year: Women planning a pregnancy are urged to take a multivitamin which includes at least 0.4 mg of folic acid daily. Folic acid can help prevent birth defects like spina bifida and anencephaly. The agency also says caregivers should never smoke around babies, as second-hand smoke can contribute to sudden, unexplained infant death. They also said many instances of “Sudden Infant Death Syndrome” (SIDS) are due to a baby suffocating in their sleep. They recommend placing a sleeping infant on his or her back and keeping their crib free of other objects.