The pain of experiencing the agony of losing an infant to Sudden Unexpected Infant Death (SUID) is unimaginable. “For most cases of SUID, there is no answer, and that is a horrifying grief,” says Barbara Ostfeld, Ph.D., professor of pediatrics at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. SUID, which includes Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), which only applies to completely unexplained deaths, accounts for 3,500 deaths in the country each year. These deaths occur in the first year of life, most often between 2 to 4 months. “Although the causes of SUID mostly remain unknown, we have learned how to reduce the risk,” says Ostfeld. How and where you put your baby to sleep could save your child’s life.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends following these safe infant sleep recommendations from birth to one year:

  • Put babies to sleep on their backs for the first 12 months of life.
  • Babies can share your room, but not your bed.
  • Babies should sleep only in a crib, bassinet, portable crib or play yard that meets current Consumer Product Safety Commission standards. Use the type of mattress intended for the product.
  • The crib must be clutter free—no bumpers, pillows, blankets, quilts or stuffed animals.
  • If warmth is needed, use sleep clothing, such as a wearable blanket
  • Dress baby in layers to avoid overheating. There are other factors that are associated with an increased risk for SUID, including smoking, premature birth, being Black and poverty. Fortunately, parents can help compensate for the increased risk by using safe sleep practices.

The SIDS Center of New Jersey is committed to helping save lives, and offers programs for new parents and healthcare workers, including SIDS Info, a free mobile phone app that teaches safe sleep for infants. The organization also offers webinars on its Facebook page, @SIDSCenterNJ. Thanks to programs like these, New Jersey has one of the lowest SUID rates in the nation.

Complementing the work of the SIDS Center is Cribs for Kids, a nonprofit founded by Judy Bannon. After discovering that 90 percent of SUID cases were caused by babies sleeping in unsafe conditions or in locations such as couches and adult beds, she found a way to help. Through Cribs for Kids, cribettes (Pack ‘n Plays) and educational materials are distributed to individuals through the organization’s 1,800 safe sleep partners nationwide including the Central Jersey Family Health Consortium. “When community health workers make home visits and see unsafe sleep situations, they can get a Pack ‘n Play from us for the family,” reports chief program officer Laura Taylor. Find a location at cribsforkids.org. Through this program you can get a certificate for a free cribette so your baby—and you—can sleep safe and sound.

—Karen B. Gibbs is a freelance writer specializing in health, parenting and lifestyle.