DHEC Urges Expectant Parents to Monitor Baby Health by ‘Counting the Kicks’

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) is committed to improving maternal health and birth outcomes for South Carolina families. This Mother’s Day, DHEC is partnering with Count the Kicks to raise awareness about the importance of tracking fetal movement in the third trimester of pregnancy as a proven way to improve birth outcomes for mothers and babies.

According to a recent report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the maternal mortality rate in the United States continues to rise. In 2021, 1,205 women died of maternal causes in the U.S. compared with 861 in 2020 and 754 in 2019. This is an increase of more than 50% since 2019.

The South Carolina Maternal Morbidity and Mortality Review Committee (SCMMMRC) completed a review of the 66 pregnancy-associated deaths from 2019 (the most recent data available) and determined 22 deaths to be directly related to the pregnancy itself. Of the cases reviewed, more than 80% were determined be preventable.

The health of a mother and the health of her baby are intrinsically connected. Research shows a change in a baby’s normal movement pattern is sometimes the first or only indication there may be an issue with the pregnancy.

Count the Kicks is a stillbirth prevention program that teaches expectant parents the method for, and importance of, tracking their baby’s movements daily in the third trimester of pregnancy.

After a few days of using the free Count the Kicks mobile app, web-based counting platform (available in 16 languages) or counting on a paper chart, expectant parents will begin to see a pattern: a normal amount of time it takes their baby to get to 10 movements. If their baby’s “normal” changes during the third trimester, this could be a sign of potential problems and is an indication that both the mother and baby should be checked by a healthcare provider right away.

“Research shows that stillbirths can be prevented when expectant parents learn how important it is and how to track their baby’s movements every day in the third trimester,” said Kimberly Seals, DHEC Director of the Bureau of Maternal and Child Health. “Since becoming part of Count the Kicks, more than a thousand expectant moms in South Carolina have downloaded the app and thousands of printed materials have been disseminated among area providers and partners.

“In light of the state’s recent infant mortality data, stillbirth prevention campaigns like Count the Kicks are critical. We are proud to partner with Count the Kicks to provide a simple, free and proven method to help improve birth outcomes for all moms and babies in South Carolina.”

The 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.

Women who experience a stillbirth, defined as the loss of a baby after 20 weeks of pregnancy, face an increased risk of adverse health outcomes themselves. South Carolina lost approximately 338 babies to stillbirth in 2020, a decrease from 351 in 2019.

Racial disparities persist, and Black, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, American Indian and Alaska Native families face the greatest risk of experiencing a stillbirth. Data also shows that more than 15% of maternal deaths within 42 days of delivery occur in women who experienced a stillbirth.

New research published by the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology shows a more than 30% reduction in Iowa’s stillbirth rate in the first 10 years of the Count the Kicks stillbirth prevention program at a time when America’s stillbirth rate remained stagnant. The results have led researchers to call for urgent action to address the stillbirth crisis in the United States and to study Count the Kicks on a national level.

DHEC hopes to bring the same success that Iowa has seen to South Carolina, which would save more than 100 babies in the state each year.

“When we aren’t feeling well, we want to sit on the couch or lay down in bed,” said Emily Price, CEO for Healthy Birth Day, Inc. “Our movement changes. Babies are much the same. It is a warning sign to mom when their baby’s movements change.

“By providing evidence-based tools like Count the Kicks to everyone in the third trimester of pregnancy, we can work together to improve birth outcomes for both the expectant parent and their baby.”

Through this partnership, maternal health providers, birthing hospitals, social services agencies, childbirth educators and other providers across the state have access to free Count the Kicks brochures, app reminder cards and posters to place in offices that care for pregnant patients and to share with expectant parents.

Learn more about Count the Kicks and request educational materials at CountTheKicks.org. To find more information about resources offered by DHEC’s Bureau of Maternal and Child, visit scdhec.gov/health.

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