Millions of newborn babies are affected by an opioid epidemic nationwide, and according to The National Institute of Drug Abuse, a baby is born suffering from opioid withdrawal every fifteen minutes. These babies suffer in pain before they experience anything else when they come to this world.
These babies from mothers who suffer from addiction end up in Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) – an ICU for infants and hospitals across the country receive volunteer help by citizens who serve as ‘baby cuddlers’.
These people give the needed love and affection to these babies and rock the infants to sleep. The cuddler programs are becoming part-time jobs in Iowa, Virginia, San Antonio and Massachusetts.
The most babies with neonatal abstinence symptoms (NAS) in Texas are born in the University Hospital in Bexar Country, San Antonio, so the hospital asked from more help from baby cuddlers.
Doug Walters, an Army Veteran was among the first to volunteer and has been a part-time baby cuddler for over three years now. These babies experience seizures, tremors, overly increased reflexes, body stiffness, and tight muscles, and are prone to gastrointestinal problems, and breathing issues.
They often let out a high-pitched shriek, which is an identifiable cry from this syndrome.
“You can tell when kids cry because they’re mad, or they’re hungry. When babies with NAS cry, it ’s just… A very sad cry. They don’t understand what’s happening, and they don’t understand why things hurt”.
Nurse Laurie Weaver, who has worked in the NICU for 27 years, says:
“But with so many babies coming into the NICU with NAS — there are three to four hundred born with the syndrome every year in Bexar County, the need for volunteers is greater than it has ever been because human touch is so important to these babies’ recovery.
We can have three and four babies assigned to us a day. They feed every three hours, and we don’t always have time to hold them, so to have someone to sit there and hold them for you and talk to them…that is wonderful.”
According to Dr. Meredith Flores, a pediatrician who takes care of babies in the NICU at the hospital, babies with NAS who are held and cuddled do much better.
“We see a big difference in their scores (in) the babies that either the mom, or a volunteer, or someone is here holding them all day. Their scores are lower. Sometimes the dose of the medication they require is lower. They’re able to wean faster off of that dose.”
Vicki Agnitsch, a former nurse who is a part of the Cuddler Volunteer program at Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines, Iowa, says:
“Touch is so important for babies. Without that, there would be a failure to thrive.”
She claims that the physical touch and cuddling the infants receive reduces the need for administered medications. She says:
“When they know someone else is touching them, it gives them that warmth and safety and security that they crave. They had that inside the mom, and then they come out into this cold, bright world. They don’t have that, so all of that swaddling, touch, and talk helps their development.”
A cuddling program has also been established in Warrenton, Va.’s Fauquier Hospital, in conjunction with the administration of morphine as soon as the infants are born. Cheryl Poelma, director of women says that these babies: “ aren’t coordinated with their suck, they can’t eat well, they may sneeze a lot, have loose stools — it’s all part of withdrawing.”
She adds that volunteers “ sit, and rock the infants, holding them tight. They tend to like to have their hands close to their chests, they like a tight blanket swaddled around them. They also like to suck on pacifiers, so it’s rocking, sucking, keeping them in a quiet environment, reducing stimuli.”
In a few weeks, she says that the infants show the first signs of improvements:
“You’ll see them engaging you more, their eye contact will be better, they’ll start feeding better, not being so fussy, and they’ll start to sleep better. ”
Apparently, it takes a little to make a huge difference in the world, after all.
If you are willing to help, Uplift published a list of some other hospitals where you can offer your services:
- The Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, in Philadelphia, has a four-hour training course for cuddler volunteers.
- The Boston Medical Center has a program called CALM – Cuddling Assists in Lowering Maternal and Infant Stress.
- Lily’s Place
- Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC in Pittsburgh
- The Woman’s Hospital of Texas
- The Children’s Home of Pittsburgh & Lemieux Family Centre
- Miller Children’s Hospital
- University of Chicago Medicine