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A Decade of Cuddling at Woman’s Hospital

June 21, 2011

For the past decade, babies in Woman’s Hospital’s NICU and Special Care nursery have enjoyed the warmth, tenderness, and TLC of volunteer “Cuddlers.” While these women are strangers to the infants, they are well known and valued by the Woman’s staff. Celebrating its 10th year of existence, the volunteer Woman’s Cuddler Program is a division of The Woman's Auxiliary and is made up of 29 volunteers.

The role of the Cuddler is three-fold: to calm and interact with premature babies, offer support to families of NICU infants who can’t be at the hospital with the babies, and to offer assistance to the nursing staff in providing additional human touch.  The Woman’s Cuddlers don’t give medications, feed the babies or walk around with them. They just hold them, rock them, read, or sing songs to them, providing whatever stimulation the baby responds to best.  Sometimes, when all the babies are at rest, the Cuddlers help sort and fold blankets, clothing, and other laundered items used in the NICU.

Cuddler

Cuddlers volunteer their time specifically in the NICU and Special Care Nursery and are trained on the special techniques required to handle the babies. The sensory stimulation and warmth that a premature infant requires is different than a full-term infant.  For example, “A premature infant may enjoy being held close but find patting or rubbing painful,” explains Staci Sullivan, RN, Vice President of Infant and Pediatric Services.

Studies show that tactile stimulation such as massage, human touch, and cuddling can help improve weight gain in newborns, especially premature babies. The calming effects allow the infant to relax and focus its energies on growing and hopefully go home sooner.

Sullivan adds, “The cuddlers are a valued support system in the NICU. In fact, many nurses request Cuddlers to help hold the babies and reassure parents that someone is nurturing and loving their child while they are away.”  On average, there are 40-50 babies in the Womans’ NICU and Special Care Nursery, many of which are from around the state.

“We appreciate the continued gift of each volunteer's time, and recognize this service as a true asset to the exceptional care our patients receive,” says Pam Parker, Director of Volunteer Services. Each Cuddler chosen to participate in the program must pass a detailed screening process, and over the last ten years, there has almost always been a waiting list of people eager to be chosen.

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