Volunteer cuddlers say they find holding the babies to be soothing for them, too!
Through the Cuddler Program, trained volunteers comfort babies during their hospital stay when their families can’t be there. Neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) Manager, Gilda Villarreal, RN, explains, “A lot of parents work, live outside of the city or have no way to get to the hospital. Mom could be sick or home with other children. Some of the babies are born dependent on substances, are in custody of the state or are pending adoption and may be there for two or three months.”
A neonate, preemie or baby who is sick and has to stay in the NICU benefits from being held or cuddled during that time. The Touch Research Institute of the University of Miami has found that touch therapy can promote weight gain in preterm infants, reduce stress and increase immune function.
Cuddler programs are growing at hospitals around the U.S. because they help everyone involved: the NICU staff, the babies and their families and the volunteers who often find it to be soothing for them as well!
Volunteers must have the same screening, background checks and immunizations as hospital employees, and they receive training and education on safety, risk management and confidentiality at the hospital. Volunteers spend at least an hour with babies at the NICU once or twice a week.
The importance of this additional human touch for babies in the NICU cannot be emphasized enough. As Villarreal says, “When we are sick, we want someone to care for us. The nurses are busy, and these babies really need someone to cuddle them to feel that they are being cared for and being loved.”
Interested in volunteering for the Cuddler Program? Call 956-523-2113 for information or stop by to pick up an application!