Louisiana children are dying from sudden infant death syndrome at twice the rate of the national average, according to the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.

The cause of SIDS is still unknown, but Crystal Pichon, the executive director of Lexlee’s Kids, a Baton Rouge organization devoted to preventing such deaths, says most deaths related to SIDS involve sleeping incidents.

October is SIDS awareness month, and according to the national CJ Foundation for SIDS, it is the leading cause of death among infants ages 1 month to 1 year old.

Some 238 children died of SIDS in Louisiana from 2008-10, according to the National Center for Child Death Review. Pichon said most of the deaths happen when a parent or sibling is sleeping with a child and the child suffocates.

Pichon said a disproportionate number of such deaths are happening in low-income and African-American communities because of a lack of resources to create safe sleeping spaces for infants and a lack of education about sleep-related SIDS.

“Some parents have five kids, and they can’t afford five beds,” Pichon said.

Sleeping with the baby is the last thing most new parents fear. Markasa Brown, of Baton Rouge, a new mom, says her “biggest fear is falling while holding him. … I had no idea that sleeping with my baby was dangerous.”

To create a safe sleeping space for the baby, Pichon said, follow the ABCs of safe sleep.

“Babies should sleep Alone, on their Back and in a Crib,” she said.

To reinforce the proper sleeping position message, Lexlee’s Kids has joined the national campaign “This Side Up,” a project started by Kyra Oliver, a mother who lost her child to SIDS in 2002. The campaign’s goal is to raise awareness through one-piece pajamas — onesies — emblazoned on the front with “This side up” and SIDS prevention tips on the back.

Keep the crib clear, Pichon said.

“No fluffy stuff, bumpers, blankets, pillows, stuffed animals,” she said. “All that stuff is beautiful in the catalog, but it’s dangerous for your child.”

Anything extra in a crib poses a suffocation hazard, she warned.

Founded by personal injury lawyer Lexlee Overton, of Baton Rouge, Lexlee’s Kids is committed to preventing unintentional injury to children.

Overton’s website notes that each year “I see children injured in so many ways that could easily be prevented if only there were more awareness or more accountability. With each injured child I see, I have a stronger commitment to advocating for preventing injuries and keeping kids safe.”

In partnership with Amerigroup, Lexlee’s Kids is holding a free baby shower Oct. 4 at the Cortana Mall to educate the community about the SIDS epidemic. Tools necessary for parents to equip themselves for a safe and healthy baby will be given away.

The event will be held at the mall’s Amerigroup storefront from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Those who attend will receive a free diaper bag filled with baby essentials, and 10 Pack ’n Play portable playpens will be raffled. Educators will be on hand with information about SIDS, breast-feeding and other issues.