By this time, you may have heard something about the NICU baby cuddler program. Are you curious about what it is? Or maybe you never heard of it. Do people really get to hang around all day cuddling a baby? Why?
How can you become a baby cuddler? What is it all about?
In this article I will explain why a growing number of neonatal intensive care units (NICU) are hiring volunteers to cuddle babies.
Stay to the end for a list of NICU cuddler programs so that you can find out if there is one near you.
The Power of Human Touch
You may have heard that the human touch is really powerful. Maybe you believe in the power of hugs. Although some time ago those thoughts may have been considered mystic and unscientific, that is not the case anymore. As time passes, we are learning more about the powerful impact of human contact.
Human skin contact has been shown to be beneficial for many biological processes, such as when a baby is born. Skin-to-skin care with the mother is very important in helping the mom-baby pair to transition to the next stage of their lives. Touch, hugs, and cuddles can also be useful in a variety of other situations. For example, in premature babies, a mother’s touch can help them weight gain and grow. This in turn related to the development of motor and cognitive skills.
Another important issue that can be managed with the help of touch and cuddles in neonatal abstinence syndrome. This is a diagnosis given to babies who were exposed in the womb to drugs that the mother used or abused during he pregnancy, and then suffer symptoms as a consequence of suddenly being remove from the drug environment (when they are born).
Neonatal abstinence syndrome
Babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) may have been exposed to a variety of drugs. Not all drugs will cause the same withdrawal symptoms, and the timing and intensity of the symptoms can vary.
The symptoms may include a high pitch cry, tremors, poor feeding, increased yawning or sneezing, etc. The babies may also be extra sensitive to loud sounds or bright light.
Treatment with hugs, drugs, or both
Some babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome have to be treated with drugs that somewhat mimic the effect they were exposed to in the womb, then slowly weaned off the drug. This process can take days to weeks.
Other babies with mild cases of NAS can be treated without medicine. Even if they are not given medicines, babies with NAS need to be watched for symptoms in the NICU for some time.
For all the babies, a big chunk of getting better will involve treatment other than medicines. This treatment includes gentle handling, feeding on demand, and extra mindfulness in not waking up the sleeping baby. Swaddling decreases the stimuli that make the baby feel uncomfortable, lessens the crying time, and allows them to sleep with fewer interruptions. Environment is controlled to keep dim lights and low noise around the recovering baby.
Family’s Touch is the Most Important
For most situations in which a newborn would benefit from human contact, the first choice is the baby’s mother or other family members. In some situations, the mother is sick, or family needs to tend to other children at home. Maybe the family lives really far away and they can’t be with baby all the time. In those situations, having an extra pair of cuddly arms may come in handy.
In some cases when babies are rooming in with their mothers if they are still in the hospital and in with stable health. The typical role of a volunteer cuddler is not to replace the baby’s family, but to provide additional support.
Each hospital will have unique rules and guidelines for their volunteer programs. In general, most will include some type of consent process in which the newborn’s family will be asked (written or verbally) if they agree with volunteers being involved in the care of their babies.
Other Ways to Help in the NICU
In case there aren’t any babies around that need to be cuddled when the volunteer comes in, some NICU’s may have other tasks that they could use help with. Caring for very sick babies involves many people. Even restocking the diapers and making sure there are enough warm blankets for the babies are vital tasks. Volunteers may be asked to help with those other tasks.
Benefits of being a NICU Cuddler Volunteer
I know a lot of people love the idea of these programs because the thought of a baby cuddling job is irresistible. I am hoping that any interested potential volunteers realize that babies in NICUs are either very sick or very premature and vulnerable.
Volunteers tend to report gratification with knowing that their time is being given to babies who need it. Interestingly, people who volunteer to hold the babies in particular, report that their time with the babies are very soothing and have a therapeutic effect on them as well.
Amazingly, volunteering in general has been shown to help with stress, increase self-confidence, and it is even thought to decrease the risk of depression.
Requirements to Volunteer to Hold Babies in the NICU
The requirements to partake in these programs, as you can probably imagine, vary widely from program to program. Some general guidelines that may help are
- Being comfortable holding a newborn
- Comfort around babies that may be premature or sick
- Good communication and interpersonal skills
- Empathy to understand the stress and fears of the newborn’s family
- Health and immunization clearances like those that are required for the hospital’s employees
Training to become a NICU volunteer
If you are officially going to serve as a volunteer in a NICU volunteer program, or even in any hospital settings, congrats! It will be very rewarding for you, and your help will be greatly appreciated by staff and family.
You should receive some training on the basics of your tasks before you start. You will also learn a lot of extra things along the way.
In your training, you will learn important things such as health-care handwashing procedures, any gowning policies the NICU may have, and how to recognize when a baby is in distress and what to do about it.
Make sure you have that last bit about how to identify a baby that needs urgent assistance so that you can call a nurse ASAP if you are the first one to notice this. If in doubt, get help as soon as possible!
Parents will ask questions. Let them know that you are not the baby’s nurse
Parents will critically ill babies have a lot of questions. They are going through a very difficult situation. Their understanding and interpretation of the baby’s health status may vary widely depending on how much they understand about general healthcare terms, any past experience with an ill baby, and even all their cultural and/or religious beliefs.
If parents see you around in the NICU, they may ask you questions about their baby’s health. Do not offer any medical opinions or answer questions about baby’s health to the parent’s even if you think you know the answer.
Let the doctors and nurses answer any questions related to the baby’s health. Let them know your role as a volunteer, and politely directing them to the NICU staff member that can help answer their questions.
I want to hold the babies! How to find a NICU cuddler program near me?
I put together a list of hospital that have NICU volunteer programs. I got this information from open advertisements on the hospital’s website, or from the news article published about them. I will do my best to keep it up to date. Note that hospitals that do not openly advertise their programs may have escaped my research.
Also, note that this is a very sought after position and many programs received hundreds of inquiries from interested people. Some programs are not receiving new applications but may have waitlists that you can sign up for. If this is the case for all programs near you, I encourage you to sign up for the wait list!
- Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center
- UCI Health
- California Hospital
- Sharp Mary Birch Hospital
- UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital
- UC San Diego Health
- Harbor UCLA Medical Center
- UC Davis Health
- San Joaquin General Hospital
- Stanford’s Children’s Health
- Dignity Health – Mercy Medical at Redding
- Torrance Memorial Medical Center (how to join)
- Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital
- Sequoia Hospital Foundation
- Bakersfield Memorial Hospital
- Miller Children’s and Woman’s Hospital Long Beach
- John Muir Health
- University of Colorado UCHealth Memorial Hospital
- Denver Health
- Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center (Denver)
- Health One Rose Medical Center
- Parkview Medical Center
- Centura Health St Mary Corwin Medical Center
- Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida
- UF Health Jacksonville
- UF Health Gainesville
- Medical Center of Trinity
- Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center
- Palms West Hospital
- AdventHealth for Children (Orlando)
- Orlando Health Winnie Palmer Hospital
- Sarasota Memorial
- Brandon Regional Hospital
- Sacred Heart Health System
- Palm Beach Children’s Hospital at St. Mary’s Medical Center
- Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta
- Memorial Health Georgia
- Hamilton Health Care
- Christ Child Society of Atlanta
- Northside Hospital
- Didn’t find any! Let me know if you know of a HI program.
- Lutheran Children’s Hospital
- Riley Hospital
- Indiana University Health
- Community Hospital Family Birthing Center
- Norton Children’s Hospital
- Women’s Hospital Saint Joseph East in Lexington
- Methodist Healthcare
- The Snow Bunny Baby Project
- St. Elizabeth Hospital at Edgewood
- Lafayette General Health
- Tulane Lakeside Hospital for Women and Children
- Woman’s Hospital
- Rapides Regional Medical Center
- University of Maryland Children’s Center
- Frederick Regional Health System
- Meritus Health
- St. John Regional Medical Center
- Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital
- Johns Hopkins Children Center (Child Life Inpatient Program)
- HSC Health Pediatric Center (Washington DC)
- Boston Medical Center Place
- UMass Memorial Children’s Medical Center
- South Shore Hospital
- Boston Children’s Hospital
- Brigham and Women’s Hospital
- Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
- Massachusetts General Hospital
- Baystate Medical in Springfield
- Covenant Medical Center in Saginaw
- Hurley Medical Center
- St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor (and possibly other locations)
- Beaumont Hospital in Dearborn
- Munson Medical Center
- I couldn’t find any programs here. Contact me if you know of one to add.
- Children’s Hospital and Medical Center – Omaha
- Methodist Women’s Hospital – Omaha
- Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital – Omaha
- Children’s Specialized Hospital
- Saint Peter’s Healthcare System
- Morristown Memorial Hospital
- Children’s Hospital of New Jersey at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center
- Trinitas Regional Medical Center
- Hackensack Meridian Health
York Presbyterian/ Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital
- Golisano Children’s Hospital
- Mercy Hospital of Buffalo
- Sisters of Charity Hospital
- Blythedale Children’s Hospital
- Mount St. Mary’s
- St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany
- UNC Children’s Hospital
- New Hanover Regional Medical Center
- Duke Medical Center
- Cone Health Women’s Hospital – Greensboro
- The Children’s Hospital at Saint Francis
- The Children’s Center Rehabilitation Hospital
- The Children’s Hospital at OU Medical Center
- Hillcrest Medical Center volunteer
- Doernbecher Children’s Hospital
- Providence Health & Services
- Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center in Medford
- St. Charles Bend System
- The Children’s Home of Pittsburgh & Lemieux Family Center
- UPMC Magee-Women’s Hospital
- Penn Medicine Chester County Hospital
- Excela Health Westmoreland Hospital
- Crozer-Keystone Health System
- Lancaster General Health
- Thomas Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia
- Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital
- Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh
- West Penn Hospital in Bloomfield
- Einstein Healthcare Network
- St Luke’s University Health Network
- The Woman’s Hospital of Texas
- Odessa Regional Medical Center
- McLane Children’s
- Northwest Texas Hospital in Amarillo
- St. David’s HealthCare
- The Woman’s Hospital of Texas
- Texas Children’s Hospital
- Memorial Hermann Hospital (some branches, not all)
- Winchester Medical Center
- University of Virginia Health System
- Henrico Doctors’ Hospital
- Fauquier Hospital
- Lily’s Place: A Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome Center
- Cabell-Huntington Hospital
- United Hospital Center
Select Canada Locations
- St. Michael’s (Ontario)
- Southlake Regional Health Center (Ontario)
- Kids Can Fly Charity Group (Ontario)
- St-Boniface Hospital (Manitoba)
A Note About Adoption Agency Cuddlers
There has been some confusion around the baby cuddler phenomenon in terms of mixups with adoption agency cuddlers. There have been some articles about adoption agencies looking for “cuddlers” for babies pending to be adopted. From the information I gathered, they are looking for shorter term foster home for these babies.
Some people are understandably upset when they called up adoption agencies and found out the very hard process of becoming
My article is not about babies waiting to be adopted. This article is about being a volunteer at a Hospital with a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Many NICU’s are employing the help of volunteers around the unit to provide physical skin to skin gentle snuggling to babies who can benefit from this but can’t have family member’s around all the time.