The leading cause of infant mortality in South Carolina in 2011 was birth defects, according to data released last week by the Department of Health and Environmental Control.

The overall infant mortality rate in South Carolina remained steady in 2011. An average of 7.4 infants out of 1,000 born died before their first birthdays.

In Charleston County, the mortality rate was lower than the state average. Locally, 6.7 infants per 1,000 born died before turning 1 year old.

“The simplest, most direct thing we can do is get early prenatal care and to take folic acid, which has been shown to reduce to instance of spinal defects and brain defects,” said Dr. Scott Sullivan, director of the Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina. “That is the number one thing we can do. Unfortunately, it doesn’t fix the whole problem.”

Premature birth and sudden infant death syndrome were the second- and third-leading causes of infant mortality in 2011, according to DHEC.

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.