Hospitals across the country are hiring more people than ever to cuddle newborn babies. Sadly, this spike in demand has been attributed to the growing opiate crisis, because more mothers than ever are going into labor while addicted to opiates. It is essential for newborn babies to receive human touch, especially in their first days and weeks. Babies who are born with congenital conditions, addictions, or other complications are even more vulnerable than the average newborn.
Hospitals in Bexar County, Texas, have the highest percentage of newborns suffering from withdrawal systems in the state, at a rate of double what is seen in neighboring counties.
Many area hospitals, including the University Hospital in San Antonio, have hired an extra staff of baby cuddlers to see that all of the children are cared for.
University Hospital has had baby cuddlers for years, and have pioneered the program in the region. Doug Walters has been working at the hospital as a baby cuddler for three years, since the early days of the program.
“You can tell when kids cry because they’re mad, or they’re hungry, and (babies with NAS) just…it’s a very sad cry. It’s just sad, because they don’t understand what’s happening, and they don’t understand why things hurt. They just don’t understand,” Walters told TPR.
Nurse Laurie Weaver, who has worked in the NICU at the hospital for 27 years, says that there are not enough people on the nursing staff to keep up with the demand.
“I just feel like they were given a rough start, and I just like holding them and comforting them. 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,” Weaver said.
University Hospital Pediatrician Dr. Meredith Flores says that the cuddling program has very noticeable results.
“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. So we would love to have volunteers come and get the training that they need to come help us,” Flores said.
This is not unique to Bexar County, Texas, it is sadly taking place across the country.
Dr. Jodi Jackson, a neonatologist at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, is witnessing many of the same issues. Jackson told NPR that the heavy-handed approach that hospitals have taken in the past by separating children from their mothers actually does far more damage than it does good.
“What happened 10, 15 years ago, is [drug dependent] babies were immediately removed from the mom, and they were put in an ICU warmer with bright lights with nobody holding them. Of course, they are going to be upset about that! And so the risk of withdrawal is much higher,” Jackson said.
If you want to get involved at your local hospital, give them a call to see if they have any openings.
Some examples of places that take volunteers are below, provided by UpLift.
Here is a list of participating hospitals in the US:
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.
Australian participating hospitals:
Sunshine Hospital, Victoria
Image credit: 123RF