In honor of January being National Birth Defects Awareness Month, DHEC’s Vinita Oberoi Leedom, SC Birth Defects Program (SCBDP) Manager, recently had the opportunity to talk to one of the leading experts on the matter, Dr. Sonja Rasmussen.Continue reading
Our next installment of the 2018 Live Healthy State Health Assessment summaries covers maternal and infant health. Because the document is 346 pages, we will summarize each section. Check out our previous posts: overview of the report, South Carolina demographics, leading causes of death and hospitalization, cross-cutting, and access to healthcare.
The five leading causes of infant death in South Carolina were:
- Birth defects (85%)
- Preterm birth and low birthweight (14.2%)
- Unintentional injuries (9.7%)
- Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) (6.7%)
- Maternal complication of pregnancy (5.0%).
Targeted education and interventions focused on infant death prevention and contributing factors helps to reach audiences in greatest need. Although the infant mortality rate decreased from 8.5 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2007 to 7.0 deaths in 2016, this rate is higher than the national infant mortality rate and the Healthy People 2020 targeted goal.
Babies affected by birth defects are at an increased risk for long-term physical, cognitive, and social challenges. Families affected by birth defects often deal with complex medical conditions that require surgery and early intervention services within the first three years of life. Approximately 8,074 birth defects were reported in South Carolina from 2009-2015. Birth defect types include: cardiovascular, central nervous system, chromosomal, orofacial, musculoskeletal, renal, genital, gastrointestinal, limb defects, and eye and ear defects.
Strategies to prevent birth defects include maintaining a healthy diet and consuming at least 400 micrograms of folic acid daily, regularly visiting a healthcare provider for chronic disease management and infection prevention, and avoiding exposure to drugs and alcohol.
Preterm birth is the live birth of a baby before 37 weeks of pregnancy. The earlier a baby is born, the greater the chances of having health problems in the short-term and long-term for the newborn. These health problems can include respiratory distress, bleeding of the brain, anemia, or other health issues.
In 2016, preterm birth in South Carolina was higher than the United States. The percent of preterm birth increased as the age of the mother increased. Approximately 14.7% of non-Hispanic Black women experienced preterm births.
Low birthweight is the birth of a baby weighing less than five pounds, eight ounces. Although some low birthweight babies are healthy, others may require special care at birth due to respiratory distress, intestinal complications, bleeding of the brain, or other health problems. Babies born at a low birthweight also have increased risk for developing chronic health conditions later in life.
The birth rate for teenagers aged 15 to 19 has continuously declined since 1991, reaching historic lows across the United States. Success in the decline may be attributed to increased access to long-acting reversible contraception, delayed onset of sexual activity, and effective abstinence education. Although the teen birth rate has declined significantly from 2007 to 2016, South Carolina’s teen birth rate is higher than national rate.
For more information about South Carolina maternal health statistics on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), intended pregnancy, prenatal care, breastfeeding, and pregnancy-related death, read the full Maternal and Infant Health chapter of the 2018 State Health Assessment.
Every 4 ½ minutes a baby is born with a birth defect in the United States. It doesn’t have to be that common. That’s why DHEC is joining with leading prenatal health experts from the National Birth Defects Prevention Network (NBDPN), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Academy of Pediatrics, the March of Dimes, Teratology Society and MotherToBaby this month to increase awareness of five critical tips to reduce the chances of having a baby with a birth defect.
The National Birth Defects Prevention Month campaign theme, “Best for You. Best for Baby,” aims to raise awareness about the infants born with birth defects in South Carolina each year. In 2017, 1,142 infants were identified by the SC Birth Defects Program as having a birth defect. While we can’t prevent all birth defects, the following steps increase a woman’s chance of having a healthy baby.
- Be sure to take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day.
- Folic acid is very important because it can help prevent some major birth defects of the baby’s brain and spine.
- Book a visit with your healthcare provider before stopping or starting any medicine.
- There are often benefits to continuing treatment throughout pregnancy. Discussing a treatment plan before a pregnancy allows a woman and her health care provider to weigh the pros and cons of all options to keep mom and baby as healthy as possible.
- Become up-to-date with all vaccines, including the flu shot.
- Having the right vaccinations, like the flu and Tdap vaccines, at the right time during pregnancy can help keep a woman and her baby healthy.
- Before you get pregnant, try to reach a healthy weight.
- Obesity increases the risk for several serious birth defects and other pregnancy complications.
- Boost your health by avoiding harmful substances during pregnancy, such as alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.
- There is no known safe amount of alcohol that can be consumed during pregnancy and exposure to it can cause major birth defects.
- Smoking during pregnancy can cause dangerous chemicals to damage the placenta and/or reach the baby’s bloodstream.
- The opioid addiction epidemic has led to a sharp increase in Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), premature birth and drug withdrawal in developing babies.
According to Jason Salemi, PhD, MPH and president of the NBDPN, “Birth defects are a common cause of death in the first year of a baby’s life, but change happens through awareness.”
How You Can Help
DHEC encourages health advocates as well as the public to be an active participant in National Birth Defects Prevention Month. Follow and share #Best4YouBest4Baby messages on social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Linkedin. The complete 2019 NBDPN Birth Defects Prevention Month information packet, including this year’s primary tips for birth defects prevention, “Best for You. Best for Baby. 5 Tips for Preventing Birth Defects,” is available online at: www.nbdpn.org/bdpm.php.
Additional Resources to Support Healthy Pregnancies
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD) strives to advance the health and well-being of our nation’s most vulnerable populations.
American Academy of Pediatrics
Dedicated to the health of all children, providing age-specific health information.
MotherToBaby, a free service of the non-profit Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (OTIS)
Communicate directly with experts about exposures, like medications, vaccines and more during pregnancy and breastfeeding by calling toll free (866) 626-6847, texting questions to (855) 999-3525, live chatting or emailing at
The Teratology Society
An international and multidisciplinary group of scientists, including researchers, clinicians, epidemiologists and public health professionals from academia, government and industry who study birth defects, reproduction and disorders of developmental origin.
March of Dimes
An organization aiming to make sure babies get the strongest start possible as well as reducing the rate of prematurity.
The SC Birth Defects program is committed to improving birth defects prevention, research, and referrals in South Carolina. The program can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week — January 7-13 — is Folic Acid Awareness Week. Did you know that taking folic acid before and during early pregnancy can prevent up to 70 percent of some serious birth defects of the brain and spine?
Folic acid is a B vitamin that is necessary for proper cell growth. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Public Health Service recommend that all women between the ages of 15 and 45 consume 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid daily to prevent two types of neural tube defects, spina bifida and anencephaly. These birth defects develop within the first few weeks of pregnancy, which is why it’s important to have enough folic acid in your body BEFORE becoming pregnant and to continue getting enough during early pregnancy.
Every woman needs folic acid daily, whether she’s planning to get pregnant or not. For one thing, almost half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned. Also, folic acid helps the body make healthy new cells. The body — the skin, hair, nails and other parts of the body — makes healthy new cells daily.
Women who could possibly become pregnant can consume 400 mcg of folic acid every day by:
- taking a daily multi-vitamin containing folic acid, and
- eating fortified foods like grains, pastas, or breakfast cereals.
By Adrianna Bradley
The first year of life for newborn babies are exciting and scary. As proud new moms and dads fawn over their bundle of joy that joy is tempered by the loss of sleep and a fear of losing their child to some illness, accident or other condition.
Infant deaths are a great concern for our country and the world. Its impact on families and society is devastating.
DHEC monitors infant deaths
DHEC annually collects data to monitor infant death rates across South Carolina.
“Infant mortality has always been a long-standing indicator of population health across the board,” said Kimberly Seals, director of DHEC’s Bureau of Maternal Child Health. “We measure infant mortality to have a broad perspective of population health overall.”
South Carolina’s infant death rates from 2006 to 2016 have dropped 16 percent. The positive trend in reducing infant deaths is due to the work of DHEC staff, our public health partners, parents, and doctors. Some of those partners are the S.C. Hospital Association, PASOs, and the March of Dimes South Carolina Chapter.
Campaigns and programs help curb deaths
DHEC also conducts education campaigns and support programs to address prenatal and post-natal care for infants. These campaigns, programs, and initiatives are vital in keeping S.C.’s babies from becoming a death statistic.
These efforts are critical and on any given day, things can go wrong and they can go wrong quickly. New and first-time mom, Angelica Smith, is familiar with how the routine can quickly turn into an emergency.
It happened March of 2016 when a DHEC newborn home visit nurse, Ann Gordon, went to visit the new mom and baby at their Cherokee County home. Ann was talking with the family when she noticed Angelica had a strange look on her face as she held baby Jacob.
“I looked at him and noticed that his face had started turning blue,” Angelica Smith said.
“I said, Angelica, let me see the baby! He was not breathing and he had no heartbeat,” Ann Gordon said. “I told Angelica to call 911 and started doing CPR on the baby.”
Thanks to this DHEC program and Ann’s actions, little Jacob’s life was saved.
Leading causes of death
Data shows the leading causes of death for newborns are the following:
- Birth defects
- Preterm birth and low birth weights
- Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
- Pregnancy complications
DHEC is working with its partners to continue its progress in keeping even more of the youngest and most vulnerable alive. DHEC is determined to give every child in South Carolina the best chance possible for a happy and productive life.
View the below video for a closer look at DHEC’s efforts to address infant mortality in our state.