Melanie Christensen, contributing writer

Every year, approximately 3,500 infants die from sleep-related deaths in the United States, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

Sleep-related deaths can include strangulation, suffocation or entrapment. If the death is inexplicable, it’s called Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). The AAP has issued guidelines for creating a safe sleep space to decrease the risk of sleep-related deaths.

1. Back to sleep. “Back to sleep” means just that — lay your baby down to sleep on his or her back for every nap or bedtime for the first year of life. It’s the safest position for all babies, even those with reflux. Once your baby learns to roll in all directions, it’s okay to sleep on their tummy or side.

2. Just a fitted sheet. Blankets, pillows, soft toys and crib bumpers pose a suffocation hazard, so the AAP recommends they stay out of baby’s sleep area. The safest way for a baby to sleep is on a firm mattress — which means no memory foam or mattress toppers — with nothing on top but a fitted sheet. If baby is cold, use a wearable blanket or warmer clothing.

3. Breastfeed. Breastfeeding a baby may reduce the risk of SIDS. The AAP says risk reduction “increases with exclusivity,” but breastfeeding for any amount of time will help.

4. Share a room. Parents who share a room with their infant are more likely to hear them if they are in distress. Because the risk of SIDS is highest during the first six months of life, the AAP recommends room sharing for at least that long, but encourages one year. Don’t confuse the room-sharing recommendation with bed-sharing, though, as bed-sharing might increase the possibility of a sleep-related death.

5. Pacify. Studies have shown that babies who are put to sleep with a pacifier have more protection against SIDS than babies put to sleep without one. If your baby won’t take a pacifier, there’s no need to force them — just try again when they’re a little older.

6. Avoid smoke, drugs and alcohol. Exposing a baby to drugs and alcohol, whether pre-natal or post-natal, may increase the rate of SIDS. Adults should keep their homes and cars smoke-free, and mothers shouldn’t use drugs, alcohol or cigarettes while pregnant and nursing.

7. Fewer layers. Don’t bundle baby too snugly or they might overheat, which increases the chance of a sleep-related death. As a rule of thumb, only dress a baby in one layer more than an adult would need to feel comfortable, and avoid covering the baby’s head or face. Keep the baby’s room at a comfortable temperature.

8. Go to the doctor. Mothers who receive regular prenatal care reduce their baby’s risk of SIDS, according to the AAP. Vaccinated babies also have a decreased risk of SIDS. Babies should be seen by a doctor regularly.

SMARTBEAT

Many new parents are terrified by the possibility of a sleep-related death. Nate Ruben, a Utah State University engineering graduate, experienced that fear first-hand when his son was born four weeks premature. Because their son’s risk of SIDS was elevated, his wife felt compelled to check on him at least six times per night for months and watch for breathing. Nate decided to invent a device that could track his son’s breathing.

The resulting product — SmartBeat — is a video monitor that can sense a baby’s breath, and will alert the parents if the baby is having trouble breathing. Although there are other products on the market that can monitor a baby’s vital signs, they aren’t all in line with the AAP’s recommendation to keep items out of the crib. Some baby monitoring products may malfunction if they aren’t put on properly, or if the baby removes them in their sleep. SmartBeat, however, is non-intrusive and can give peace of mind to concerned parents. SmartBeat is being beta tested right now, but Nate says it will be available for purchase early next year. For more information about SmartBeat, visit mysmartbeat.com.