CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Numbers released this month from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control show more babies died last year than the year before in South Carolina.
The infant mortality rate is even worse for minorities.
Last year, 406 babies died in South Carolina, which was 35 more than the year before. It was almost an 11% increase year over year.
DHEC’s detailed its findings in this report and and said numbers have improved over 20 years but are still too high when compared to the rest of the country.
Rural areas across the Lowcountry tended to have worse infant mortality rates, indicated by dark blue on this map from DHEC.
The Tri-County area including Charleston, Dorchester and Berkeley counties has better numbers, likely in part because of access to more resources and big hospitals like MUSC.
“In South Carolina we lose more than one baby a week from unsafe sleep environment,” MUSC Nurse Manager Katy Decker said. She works in the hospital’s Mother-Baby unit. “We really try to focus a lot on education and mimic what we think is a safe sleep environment while our families are in the hospital.”
The new state data showed of the 406 infant deaths last year in south Carolina, 20% were due to birth defects, 14% because of short gestation and low birth weight, and 9% because of accidents such as unsafe sleep.
“This is something very near and dear to me. I take it very seriously,” Decker said. “If I go in a [patient’s] room and see lots of blankets and pillows around, I always come grab the nurse and we do education on the spot.”
Nurses- like Nancy Couch are educating new moms daily. “I always explain to the mom that the baby should be swaddled. And then we lay him or her flat on his back. That’s the safest position to keep baby in,” Couch said. “You don’t want any hats or anything on its head. They’ll sink down and can cover his airway.”
The baby doesn’t need to be tilted to the side or on its belly, Couch added. “A lot of people worry if the baby spits up – they think the head should be elevated. That is proven not to help. No bumpers, no pillows, no stuffed animals, no big fleece blankets that everybody loves to give. Just one swaddle and they’re good.”
MUSC also puts a blue card on every baby’s crib showing the ABCs of safe sleep: Alone on their backs in cribs.
They also show moms a video and offer brochures to all family members.
It’s important for anyone, of any age, to understand the latest approved methods for baby care and safe sleep, said Couch and Decker.
Experts from the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that “infants sleep in the same bedroom as their parents – but on a separate surface.”
Couch recommends setting an alarm during your baby’s feeding times, especially overnight. “Being a mom is exhausting. It’s scary that when you’re tired you could roll over on that baby. That baby doesn’t have a chance. He baby can’t push you, wake you up, say hey or anything. Unfortunately, it happens more than it should.”
The AAP says, ideally, the baby can sleep in the same room as a parent for six months. A year is even better.
Infant mortality is more than two times higher for African Americans than whites.
The federal department of health indicates one reason is that fewer black mothers are receiving or have access to prenatal care.