– SIDS, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, is the leading cause of death for babies aged one to 12 months, and the third leading cause of death overall from birth to one year. SIDS is defined as “the sudden death of an infant less than one year of age that cannot be explained after a thorough investigation is conducted, including a complete autopsy, examination of the death scene, and review of the clinical history,” according to the Centers for Disease Control. We can significantly reduce the number of infant deaths due to SIDS by using some simple, but important, sleep practices.In recognition of National Baby Safety Month in September, here are 10 ways to provide your infant a safe sleep environment:1. Always place your baby on his or her back to sleep, for naps and at night. The back sleep position is the safest, and every sleep time counts. The annual incidence of SIDS has decreased by more than 50 percent since 1992, when the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) began recommending the back to sleep position. It is o.k. to place your baby on his or her stomach when the baby is awake and an adult is watching. This stomach positioning, commonly known as “tummy time,” will help your baby’s head, neck and shoulder muscles get stronger while preventing flattening of the back of his head. But remember: “stomach to play, back to sleep” is best for babies. No one as yet clearly understands why sleep position has such an effect, but we know that it does.2. Keep your baby’s sleep area close to but separate from where you sleep. It is beneficial for your infant to sleep in the same room as you but not in the same bed. Co-sleeping poses some risk to the baby because a parent or sibling could roll over during sleep and suffocate the child. If you bring your baby to bed with you to breastfeed, the AAP recommends that you put your baby back in a separate sleep area, such as a bassinet, crib, cradle or an infant bed that attaches to an adult bed when finished.3. Proper assembly of baby’s bed is paramount. The safest place for a child is in a fully functional, properly assembled crib, bassinet, cradle or playpen. Follow the instructions provided, and make sure that every component included is used. Parents are urged to closely inspect the hardware and stability of their cribs regularly to ensure all parts are in place and secure when assembling and re-assembling cribs. If you are not sure, call the manufacturer for assistance. (Dads, read the instructions.)4. Place your baby on a firm sleep surface free of soft objects. A safety-approved crib mattress, covered by a fitted sheet, is recommended. There should be no gaps larger than two fingerbreadths between the sides of the crib and the mattress. To avoid suffocation, do not place your baby to sleep on pillows, quilts, sheepskins or other soft surfaces. Also, keep fluffy, soft objects, toys and loose bedding out of your baby’s sleep area. Stuffed animals and heirloom blankets are nice to have, but they don’t belong in the crib with a baby. Bumper pads could also do more harm than good; if you use them, make sure to secure them to the slats of the crib wherever possible.5. Do not use old, broken or modified cribs. These beds could pose many dangers. Infants can strangle to death if their bodies pass through gaps between loose components or broken slats while their heads remain trapped. If a standard (12-oz.) soda can will fit through the slats or other baby-accessible openings in the crib structure, then the crib is unsafe and should not be used. Furthermore, never place a crib near a window with blinds or curtain cords to prevent strangulation. Federal safety regulations exist for these products, but realize that many products are approved only to be recalled later. Just because something is “approved” does not mean it is a safe product. As always, use your judgment.6. Avoid products that claim to reduce the risk of SIDS. Most have not been tested for effectiveness or safety. In addition, do not use home monitors to reduce the risk of SIDS as they have never been shown to decrease the rate of SIDS in the infant population. Home monitors can be effective tools to help you hear when your baby wakes, but they are not a substitute for supervision. If you have questions about using monitors, talk to your pediatrician.7. Try using a clean, dry pacifier when placing your baby down to sleep. Research suggests that the sucking action performed as the baby is falling asleep may help reduce the baby’s risk for SIDS. Breastfeeding has been shown to reduce the rate of SIDS as well. If you are breastfeeding your baby, it is recommended to wait until your baby is one month old or until breastfeeding is firmly established before introducing the pacifier. Don’t ever force the infant to take a pacifier, however. Often, at one month, a baby cannot keep one in the mouth very well anyway.8. Do not allow smoking around your baby or your baby’s environment. Smoking, both maternal and environmental (second-hand smoke), has been shown to be a risk factor for SIDS. Most recently, third-hand smoke – the kind that can linger on clothes, bedding and upholstery; the “I never smoke around my child” smoke – has been found to be harmful to newborns. So keep your baby’s environment smoke-free. And quit if you’re smoking. If necessary, seek help to quit.9. Do not let your baby overheat during sleep. Dress your baby in light sleep clothing, and keep the room at a temperature of about 68 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. If you are comfortable in short-sleeved pajamas, then your baby will be too. Use sleep clothing, such as a long-sleeved, one-piece sleeper or a sleep sack during the cooler months. Sleep sacks are specially designed to be safely worn by infants in lieu of a blanket.10. Talk about safe sleep practices with everyone who cares for your baby. A growing number of SIDS deaths occur in child care, so before leaving your baby with anyone, be sure that person agrees to abide by these safe sleep guidelines. Be prepared to stand your ground. Even if your own mother tells you, “I always put you to bed on your stomach, and you survived.” The current AAP recommendation is back to sleep, even for premature babies. Compromising on any of these standards can be detrimental to your child.Babies are unable to control their own sleep environments. They can’t move out of a harmful situation nor do they understand danger. They rely on their parents and caregivers to protect them. Practicing healthy sleep measures is essential for a baby’s proper growth and development, and indeed their survival. If you have questions about these infant sleep safety guidelines, you should discuss them with your pediatrician.