In Louisiana, approximately 80 babies die each year from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), which is the broad medical term for sudden, unexplained deaths of infants before they reach their first birthdays. This October, as part of SIDS Awareness Month, the Department of Health is encouraging families to create a safe sleeping space for their babies.

SIDS occurs when otherwise healthy babies die in their sleep for no apparent reason.  While health professionals do not know what causes SIDS, there are a number of steps parents and caregivers can take to reduce a baby's risk of SIDS. LDH's Bureau of Family Health runs a SIDS Risk Reduction and Safe Sleep campaign to educate parents about the importance of safe sleep in lowering a baby's SIDS risk.

"The biggest key to preventing SIDS is to create a safe sleeping environment for your baby," said Dr. Takeisha Davis, medical director for the LDH Office of Public Health. "First, parents should never share a bed with their baby. Place your baby to sleep on his back, in his own crib, and make sure there is no excess bedding, pillows or toys in bed with him because these are  smothering risks. It's also important that parents quit smoking because babies who are exposed to secondhand smoke are more likely to die of SIDS."

Parents should also create a safe sleep environment in this separate sleeping area for their baby. LDH recommends that families follow these guidelines:

  • Place your baby on his or her back;
  • Do not share the bed with your baby;
  • Remember that pillows, cushions, sofas and adult beds are NOT safe sleep surfaces for an infant;
  • Use a crib with a firm mattress that meets Consumer Product Safety Commission guidelines;
  • Remove excess bedding, comforters or pillows in the baby's bed;
  • Do not place bumper pads, toys or stuffed animals in the crib;
  • Avoid using wedges or positioners, as these are not recommended for babies;
  • Dress your baby in light clothing so he or she does not overheat;
  • Keep the bedroom temperature comfortable as for a lightly clothed adult.

For more information on SIDS and how to create a safe sleep environment for your baby, visit

SIDS can occur in any family, regardless of race, ethnic background or socioeconomic level.  There are some known factors that increase a baby's risk of SIDS, including:

  • Sleep position (babies sleeping on their tummies or sides are a higher risk of SIDS than those who sleep on their backs);
  • Exposure to cigarette smoke;
  • Sleep environment and bedding (softer surfaces have a higher risk of SIDS and suffocation);
  • Low birth weight (babies weighing less than 5.5 pounds at birth have a higher risk);
  • Premature birth (babies born at less than 37 weeks have a higher risk);
  • Baby overheating during sleep;
  • Mother smoking during pregnancy.

Health officials have worked in the past several years to educate parents about the dangers of co-sleeping, which is when infants sleep in a bed or other location where others, adults and/or older children, are sleeping. This places the infant at a higher risk of suffocation or having his airway crushed when parents or other bedmates roll over on the baby. Co-sleeping babies have also strangled between head boards and mattresses.

Because of the high risks, co-sleeping is not recommended for babies, and parents and caregivers should not fall asleep with an infant in their beds, or on a sofa or recliner.  Parents can bring an infant in bed with them for nursing or comforting, but should always put the baby back in his own crib or bassinet when the parents are ready to sleep. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a separate but nearby sleeping environment for babies, such as a separate crib in the parents' bedroom.  

Tobacco cessation is another important aspect of lowering a baby's SIDS risk. Pregnant women, parents of babies under age one and their family members who wish to quit smoking or using other tobacco products can call the State's tobacco cessation Quitline, 1-800-QUIT-NOW, to receive personalized counseling sessions from a  quit coach. More information about tobacco cessation resources is available at