Aiken County's infant mortality exceeds state

COLUMBIA --- Aiken County's infant mortality rate of 9.8 babies per 1,000 live births exceeds the state rate, which has crept up a tenth of a point to 8.5, according to new data from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.

The new rate for Aiken County reflects a trend over several years, in which the county has usually suffered a higher rate than the state as a whole. From 2001-2007, Aiken County's average infant death rate was 10.6, while the state's was 8.9.

Of 62,933 babies born in South Carolina during 2007, the most recent year available, 538 babies died before turning 1 year old. Premature births and low birth weight, in which a baby weighs less than 5 pounds 8 ounces, are the leading causes of death.

DHEC Commissioner Earl Hunter said the state's slight increase from 2006 to 2007 should be viewed as part of a trend spanning many years.

"There will naturally be fluctuation from year to year, but to get a real sense of whether progress is being made, you have to look at the numbers over the long term," he said, noting that the death rate has declined from 12.2 in 1988 to 8.5 in 2007.

Brenda Martin, the state's Bureau of Maternal and Child Health director, listed ways to reduce the risk of a baby dying before turning 1 year old.

- Women should consult with their doctor before becoming pregnant.

- Women who find out they are pregnant should visit a health care provider as soon possible.

- Pregnant women should eat a healthy diet and not smoke.

- To reduce Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, another leading cause, babies should be placed on their backs to sleep.