A unique and relatively new program is now offering a special kind of volunteer opportunity at a hospital in Iowa. At their neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), people in the community who are looking to give back can sign up to become “baby cuddlers” at Genesis Health in Davenport, Iowa. Yes, cuddling babies is a serious job; and in this case, volunteers are checked out thoroughly before getting the position.
This program allows volunteers who have been vetted by the hospital to come into the NICU, and cuddle with premature babies when their parents may not be able to. It's currently growing in Iowa, but it's not the only state doing it. The program is popping up at at many different hospitals- including the Saint Bonaface Hospital NICU in Manitoba, Canada.
The prospect of cuddling with babies can be rewarding for both volunteers and families. Science has proven over and over again how crucial touch can be at the early stages of life. A study published in 2017 highlighted that a baby’s outcome in the NICU can rely heavily on touch. It’s why you’ll see a lot of hospitals encourage Kangaroo Care and skin to skin contact from the moment a baby is born. A mother’s touch has shown to improve sleep quality and cognitive developments in babies.
The Cuddling Program at Genesis Hospital offers parents in the NICU who are already under a lot of stress a chance to escape their current situation temporarily. Often times, the parents of a premature baby are at the hospital around the clock with no breaks, monitoring and caring for their baby's well being constantly. It can take a toll on any mother or father. With the parent’s consent, volunteers can rock, hold and soothe a baby if the parents are unable to be there for some reason. The volunteers are trained by the hospital staff to administer proper care of the infant, ensuring that they're treated delicately.
If you’re interested in volunteering through a program like this check with your local hospital or a birthing center. With such an overwhelming response in other hospitals, it may be only a matter of time before a similar program starts at a NICU near you.