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Latest South Carolina Infant, Maternal Mortality Reports Reveal Alarming Trends

April 12, 2023

COLUMBIA, S.C. — New data released today in separate reports by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) show a dramatic increase in both the state’s infant mortality and maternal mortality rates.

The agency’s 2023 Infant Mortality Report, released annually by DHEC’s Bureau of Maternal and Child Health, shows that South Carolina’s infant mortality rate rose by 12% from 2020 to 2021 (the most recent data available) and has grown by almost 40% since 2017 for infants born to non-Hispanic Black mothers.

The report shows that number of children who died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) (27) more than doubled the total from the previous year (12), and the total number of infant deaths, 416, was the highest in nearly a decade (435 in 2012).

Black infants continued to suffer disproportionately, dying at a rate nearly 2.5 times that of White infants.

The three leading causes of infant death in South Carolina in 2021 were: 

  1. congenital malformations or birth defects, 
  2. disorders related to short gestation and low birthweight, and 
  3. causes related to maternal complications of pregnancy. 

Deaths due to SIDS ranked fourth, while accidents were the fifth-leading cause of infant deaths in 2021, with 25 of the 26 accidental deaths due to suffocation or strangulation in bed.

“As DHEC’s director of Public Health, this increase in the infant mortality rate is alarming and counter to what our year-round prevention efforts aim to impact,” said Dr. Brannon Traxler. “As a mom, my heart aches for those parents who have experienced the unimaginable loss of a child.

“DHEC will use this data to help determine the best ways we can work with our partners to improve health outcomes for all mothers and their babies in the years to come.

The agency also released the latest report by the South Carolina Maternal Morbidity and Mortality Review Committee (SCMMMRC), which investigated 66 pregnancy-associated deaths from 2019 (the most recent data available) and determined 22 deaths to be directly related to the pregnancy itself, an increase of 9.3% from the year before.

Similarly to the infant mortality report, the SCMMMRC found that Black mothers experienced a 67% higher pregnancy-related mortality ratio than White mothers in both 2018 and 2019.

The top three underlying causes of maternal deaths for 2018 and 2019 were: 

  1. cardiomyopathy, 
  2. mental health conditions, and 
  3. hemorrhage. 

The SCMMMRC defines mental health conditions as psychiatric disorders such as depression, suicide and substance use disorder. The fourth- and fifth-leading causes were cardiovascular conditions and infections, respectively.

“The rising infant mortality rate in Black women and the continued racial disparity in mortality rates remains a concern here in South Carolina,” said Kimberly Seals, director of DHEC’s Bureau of Maternal and Child Health. “We must continue our work to ensure we are reaching more expecting parents so we can close this gap, which will assist in bringing the total infant mortality rate down as well.”

DHEC and South Carolina’s Title V program continue to partner with organizations such as the S.C. Hospital Association, S.C. Department of Health and Human Services, and the S.C. Chapter of the March of Dimes. DHEC remains an active participant of the S.C. Birth Outcomes Initiative to address access to quality maternal, infant and child health services, including preventive and primary care, access to prenatal, delivery and postnatal care to women and regular screenings and follow-up.

“DHEC, together with its partners, is committed to a renewed focus and effort on identifying the best evidence-based strategies and actions to decrease maternal and infant mortality in South Carolina, with a significant emphasis on decreasing the disparities that exist with the mortality rates,” said Traxler.

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