MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – In the wake of a recent study, state health officials are urging parents and child care providers to make sure infants are put to sleep alone, on a firm surface and with no blankets or pillows nearby.

The Minnesota Department of Health says an analysis of sudden unexpected infant deaths in 2014 shows that the majority of infant deaths happened when the child was put to sleep in an unsafe environment.

Of the 56 babies that died unexpectedly last year, 52 were in an unsafe sleeping environment, the study showed.

Half of the babies that died were sharing a sleeping area with another person. The other half were in an unsafe sleeping position, such as being placed on their side or stomach, or having loose objects (pillows, toys, blankets) around them.

So how should infants be put to bed?

Health officials say they should be dressed for the temperature and not covered with a blanket, which can be a suffocation hazard. They should also be placed on a firm mattress, separate from other children and adults.

Officials say these criteria apply for naps, as well as nighttime sleeping.

Data shows that Minnesota sees significant racial inequalities in infant deaths, and research suggests that income, education and housing strongly influence infant mortality outcome.

State officials say the rate of sudden unexpected infant deaths is twice as high for African American babies as it is for white babies. The rate is four times as high for American Indian babies as it is for white babies.

In an effort to make parents, child care providers and hospitals more aware of the risks posed by unsafe sleeping environments, Gov. Mark Dayton has declared the week of November 1-7 to be Infant Safe Sleep Week.

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