Hospital Volunteers Cuddle Babies with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome
Volunteer “cuddlers” at Boston Medical Center and Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC in Pennsylvania are helping infants with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) to heal faster using the power of touch.
Neonatal abstinence syndrome is a condition that occurs when infants are exposed to drugs in utero. Babies born with NAS and their mothers are separated after birth to treat the newborns for withdrawal symptoms.
In Boston, the cuddlers are part of a center program known as CALM (Cuddling Assists in Lowering Maternal and infant stress) which helps newborns who are suffering from NAS.
Infants born with this condition often suffer from tremors, problems with eating, and general discomfort. When volunteers cuddle infants, however, they appear to be more comfortable and benefit from improved sleep.
According to a spokesperson for CALM, the program helped to reduce infant hospitalization time by half, and also help 50% of the babies recover without the use of medication.
The hospital has enlisted 100 volunteers in the program since December, and 150 more are on a waiting list. The Center says there are plans to expand the program in this spring.
In Pennsylvania, hundreds of applicants have vied to become volunteer cuddlers at Magee-Womens Hospital program. According to a program spokesperson, babies there are also benefitting from reduced medication, and shorter hospital stays.
These volunteers also help unburden nurses and model good parenting skills for the new, recovering mothers. And these are just two examples of programs being used in hospitals nationwide.
According to researchers from five leading pediatric hospitals, the number of cases of NAS and maternal opioid use increased five-fold in the U.S. between 2000-2012.
The trend is occurring in rural and urban areas alike, but rates are increasing at a much faster rate in small, rural towns.
The incidence of babies born with NAS increased from 1.2-7.5 per 1,000 births among rural infants, and from 1.4-4.8 per 1,000 hospital births in urban infants. On average, babies stay in the hospital for 24 days.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology