Having to leave your baby in the hospital is heart wrenching. I was talking with one fellow MOM (mother of multiples) recently who recounted her experiences with her preemie twins. She said she spent 16 hour days at the hospital with her twins for 6 weeks while they were in the NICU. However, not every mom can spend that much time in the hospital for extended periods of time. Enter the Volunteer Cuddler Program. These special ladies (and I suppose men could do it too), volunteer their time to go to the hospital and cuddle preemies.
Cuddling Gets Started
Preemies need intensive care. There is constant monitoring, and there can be feeding tubes, oxygen, incubators and those darned alarm systems. This all falls into the capable hands of NICU doctors and nurses. However, preemies need human contact as well.
In developing countries, where advanced NICU medical technology is scarce, resourceful doctors and nurses began asking mothers to come to the hospital to hold their babies. They actually ‘wrapped’ them to the mother and discovered that a mother’s body is able to regulate the baby’s temperature to the tenth of a degree! This is one of the first benefits of kangarooing. Based on the same premise, volunteer cuddler programs began to crop up at hospitals across the United States.
The Benefits of Cuddling
The benefits to preemies who have been cuddled are numerous. Human contact enhances every aspect of the preemie’s development. Research suggests that cuddled preemies develop better cognitively. They say also that preemies who have been cuddled often meet their social milestones closer to their actual age rather than their adjusted age.
To me though the real benefits come for the parents. The NICU experience is extremely stressful. In fact, one trend in NICU medicine is to offer support groups for parents whose babies are in the NICU because doctors are recognizing that it’s so stressful for the parents. Many parents whose babies have been cuddled report feeling more confident and better about their own parenting. Researchers suggest that it’s because parents feel like they can leave their babies in the hands of someone else and it releases them to take care of themselves for a bit. If you’re a mom, I’m sure you can understand how taking care of your needs at times can make you a better parent.
To become a volunteer cuddler, start by calling your local hospitals to see if they have a volunteer cuddling program. Ask to speak with the volunteer coordinator to discuss the idea.