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News Releases

DHEC data reveals drop in infant mortality rate

October 28, 2020

Women of color infant mortality rate 2.4 times higher than others

COLUMBIA – Data released today by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) shows that South Carolina's infant mortality rate decreased from 7.2 infant deaths per 1,000 live births in 2018 to 6.9 infant deaths per 1,000 live births in 2019. This is reflective of 26 fewer deaths in 2019 than in the previous year.

While the population has experienced a 4.2 percent decrease in the infant mortality rate from the previous year, racial disparities remain a concern. The infant mortality rate remained relatively unchanged from 2018 to 2019 (11.1 and 11.2 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, respectively) among non-white women. The 11.2 infant deaths reflects a 2.4 times higher rate among women of color than the infant mortality rate of infants born to white women (4.6 infant deaths per 1,000 live births in 2019).

"While the decrease in the overall infant mortality rate in South Carolina is encouraging, the disparity in the mortality rates between babies born to women of color and those born to white women shows that there is still significant work to be done to protect the health and safety of all babies in the state,” said Dr. Brannon Traxler, DHEC Interim Public Health Director. “DHEC, along with our partners, remains committed to this mission."

Notable changes were observed among the top leading causes of infant deaths from 2018 to 2019, which included:

  • Infant deaths due to preterm birth/low birthweight increased from 58 infant deaths in 2018 to 68 infant deaths in 2019 (17.2 percent);
  • Infant deaths due to birth defects decreased from 82 infant deaths in 2018 to 63 infant deaths in 2019 (-23.2 percent);
  • Infant deaths due to maternal complications of pregnancy increased 43.5 percent from 23 in 2018 to 33 in 2019 (with 27 of the 33 seen in black infants and infants of other races);
  • Infant deaths due to accidents decreased from 38 in 2018 to 32 in 2019 (-15.8 percent); and
  • Infant deaths due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) increased from 14 percent in 2018 to 19 percent in 2019.

South Carolina has made significant progress in reducing infant mortality over the past 20 years. To continue to make progress, officials say there must be collaborative work across sectors, thereby improving the systems that support women and their families before, during and after pregnancy.

“This year’s report shows progress in some areas, yet reinforces the need for persistent education on the use of safe sleep practices among infants, the importance of early and consistent prenatal care among women, and the role grassroots efforts can play in eliminating disparities,” said Kimberly Seals, DHEC’s Director, Bureau of Maternal and Child Health. “DHEC is committed to understanding the root causes behind the disparities that exist in our state and working with our partners to eliminate them.”  

The number of sleep-related infant deaths, specifically those cited as accidental suffocation and strangulation in bed, decreased by 13.3 percent from 2018 (34 deaths) to 2019 (27 deaths). These are potentially preventable deaths and DHEC, in collaboration with the South Carolina Birth Outcomes Initiative (BOI), continues to provide educational materials to communities, hospitals and childcare facilities throughout the state to provide consistent messaging on safe sleep strategies for infants.

The agency continues to work with partners like the S.C. Hospital Association (SCHA), S.C. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the March of Dimes South Carolina Chapter, and others to explore and implement innovative strategies to improve the health of moms and babies in South Carolina. All who are engaged in this work are determined to give every child in the Palmetto State the best chance for a happy and healthy life.

  • For Infant Mortality data, visit DHEC’s website here.
  • Click here to view a video about reducing head trauma.
  • Click here to view a video on the ABCs of Safe Sleep.




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