NEWARK — A single North Jersey county counted three baby deaths in less than two days, adding to a longer death toll of Essex County infants and newborns who may have died because of improper sleeping conditions.

The numbers prompted the Essex County Prosecutor's Office to warn parents about sleeping dangers.

The causes of death have not been determined, but Essex County Acting Prosecutor Robert D. Laurino said Wednesday that the tragedies reinforce the importance of parents taking "simple steps to protect their children." Those steps can include ensuring that very young children sleep in cribs and bassinets.

According to Laurino, on Sept. 23 a baby died in East Orange just 11 days after being born. The child's parents fell asleep with him in the bed and they later found the baby unresponsive. He was taken to University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

That same day, Newark police were called to a home for an unresponsive baby. The baby had been placed on a futon after feeding. When the mother woke up she found both the baby and her 2-year-old daughter on the futon, police said.

On Sept. 26, Laurino said a 26-day-old baby died in Belleville from what he called a "medical incident."

"While the investigations in all three cases remain open, we felt it was important to remind parents of the dangers of sleeping with infants or keeping infants on sofa surfaces," Laurino said. "We further wanted to remind parents that there are resources int he community to obtain cribs and bassinets which are designed for young infants."

Laurino said how they sleep is also important. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends babies sleep on their backs alone, and that things like blankets, stuffed animals and other things be kept clear of the sleeping area. The Academy also suggests babies sleep on a firm surface.

"Babies who sleep in the bed with the parents are at increased risk for SIDs and SUDs, suffocation or strangulations," Laurino said, noting that parents or siblings could "accidentally roll over on the baby."

The announcement from Laurino comes two years after a Newark family lost its third young child who slept in the same bed as their parents. According to an report this year, 3-month-old Josiah "JoJo" Lemons died August 2015 when five members of the family fell asleep in the same bed.

Their first child died in 2004, when the 9-day-old child did not wake up after sleeping in the same bed with the mother's husband and her 1-year-old daughter. The medical examiner determined the cause of death to be sudden infant death syndrome. Five years later, 8-week-old Hakeem Lemons Jr. fell asleep on two couches that had been pushed together, sharing it with his mother, father and cousin. He was found with his face in a pillow and unresponsive with the cousin on top of him, according to the report.

According to the report, the state took Jordan's children away after the second incident but returned them after determining the deaths were all tragic accidents. His mother, Micaél Jordan, and Lemons pleaded guilty to child endangerment charges last September.

In an effort to prevent incidents like this from happening, the state announced this year that all expecting and new mothers can get a Baby Box for free. The boxes are made of cardboard and can be used as either a crib or a bassinet early in a child's life.

"All babies need a safe sleep environment, which includes a firm mattress with a well fitted crib sheet, and nothing else," Dr. Kathryn McCans of Cooper University Hospital said at the time the program was announced. "The Baby Box gives one option for parents. I think it's great that it's portable. A parent can choose what's best for them."

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