MADISON, Wis. -

Public Health of Madison and Dane County officials announced an initiative Wednesday focused on safe sleeping conditions for babies to try and reduce infant deaths due to unsafe sleeping conditions.

From 2009-2013, 26 babies have died in the county from sudden unexpected infant death, and 22 of those deaths died in unsafe sleeping conditions, officials said. The Sleep Safe campaign is focused on supporting families in keeping their babies safe.

SUID is the third-leading cause of death for babies in Dane County, according to the release. Over 80 percent of SUID deaths in the county since 2011 were due to unsafe sleep conditions that led to babies accidentally suffocating or strangling in their sleep.

“In response to concerning infant death data for Dane County, one of our goals with the Safe Sleep Initiative was to develop an evidence-based, clear, consistent county-wide infant safe sleep message to be used by all,” said Nan Peterson, RN, MS, co-chair of the Dane County Safe Sleep Initiative and director of child health advocacy at American Family Children’s Hospital. “We are focused on helping the families in our communities modify risk factors that can lead to an infant’s death. We need the collective impact of everyone to promote infant health.”

Tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics for providing a safe sleep environment for babies include putting the baby to sleep on their back, give them a firm mattress and keep the sleep environment clear of pillows blankets and soft toys, share the room with your baby but not the bed, and breastfeed exclusively for the first six months while avoiding exposure to tobacco smoke.

“Parents want what is best for their children. They want to protect their babies; this includes breastfeeding, sleeping near their baby, and being able to respond when their baby wakes,” said Daniel Stattelman-Scanlan, co-chair of the Safe Sleep Initiative and Public Health Nursing manager with Public Health Madison and Dane County. “We fully support these healthy behaviors and plan to work with caregivers to show how they can be combined with a safe sleep environment.”

The Dane County Safe Sleep Initiative formed in October 2012, according to the release.