Opioid abuse is very vast in the world and the most devastating fact is that even newborn babies come to this world with addiction to opioids. As per the National Institute of Drug Abuse, a baby is born suffering from opioid withdrawal every 15 minutes. Once they leave the womb of their mothers these babies experience great pain and suffering due to withdrawal symptoms.
The newborns need special care, especially the ones that suffer from an addiction and because of that they are placed in Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). This ward takes care of these babies and offers the needed cuddling, but they have limited staff members and because of that there is a great need of volunteers that would act as “baby cuddlers”.
Citizens all across the country volunteer in the ICU holding and rocking the babies and thus offering the needed love and affection. In some states, baby cuddling has become a part-time job like in Iowa, Virginia, San Antonio and Massachusetts.
Hospitals are looking for volunteers for baby cuddling like the University Hospital in Bexar Country, San Antonio. The volunteering is not only done by females but as well as males can take part like an Army Veteran, Doug Walters. He was among the first volunteers and for three years he is being a part-time baby cuddler.
Babies with NAS (Neonatal Abstinence Symptoms) struggle with tremors, seizures, breathing issues, tremors, overly increased reflexes, gastrointestinal problems, body stiffness, and tight muscles. These infants are prone to letting out a high-pitched shriek which is not common for normal babies. Doug explains this cry as very sad and hurtful for these babies, and it is very sad to come to this world and experience pain.
Staff that works in hospital says that the human touch is of great importance for these babies making them feel better. According to Nurse Laurie Weaver, who is an active nurse for 27 years in the NICU, states that the number of these babies born with this syndrome are more every year, namely there are three to four hundred in Bexar County and because of that the need for volunteers is higher than before.
These babies need to be cuddled in order to quickly get recovered. Weaver says that their ward can have three and four babies assigned on a particular day that need to be fed on every three hours which leaves no time for either holding or talking to them. However, this interaction with another human being is of great value in their recovery.
Dr. Meredith Flores, a pediatrician in the NICU states that those babies that have NAS do much better when they are cuddled and held every day. Their scores are significantly better when they are held by their mom or a volunteer. Thanks to the received human touch the dose of medication that they need gets lower and they can wean faster off that dose.
Vicki Agnitsch is a former nurse who wanted to do something for these poor souls and because of that volunteered in the Cuddler Volunteer program at Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines, Iowa. She also confirms that these babies desperately need the human touch to thrive better and all that offered cuddling lowers the need for administered medications. She claims that the babies crave for experiencing the feeling of safety and warmth. These feelings they have felt when they were inside the womb of their mother are needed in the outside as well. The touch, cuddling and talking stimulates their development.
Va.’s Fauquier Hospital, in Warrenton has also introduced a cuddling program along with the administration of morphine. Cheryl Poelma states that babies with NAS have problems with the suck, so they are not properly fed, plus they have loose stools, may sneeze a lot and all these symptoms are just a part of the withdrawal process.
Hence, the help of volunteers is very valuable thus offering the needed comfort to these babies. They sit with the babies holding them tight and rocking them. The infants keep their hands close to their chests, and like to suck on pacifiers, which helps in the reduction of the withdrawal symptoms. Holding them and feeling the human touch in a quiet environment soothes them and the need for additional medicine is reduced.
After just couple of weeks, the babies are feeling better, they are not fussy anymore, eat better, the eye contact is improved and they have better sleeping patterns. Just a small amount of attention is needed for these babies to feel the warmth and feel better.
So, if you want to help, Uplift published a list of some other hospitals where you can offer your services:
The Children’s Home of Pittsburgh & Lemieux Family Centre
Miller Children’s Hospital
Magee-Women’s Hospital of UPMC in Pittsburgh
University of Chicago Medicine
The Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, in Philadelphia, has a 4-hour training course for cuddler volunteers.
The Boston Medical Center runs a program named CALM – Cuddling Assists in Lowering Maternal and Infant Stress.
The Woman’s Hospital of Texas