A program at a Pittsburgh hospital is showing how impactful the human touch can be.
The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Magee-Women’s Hospital is home to a cuddling program designed for volunteers to snuggle and comfort babies who have been exposed to opioids during their mothers’ pregnancies and who show withdrawal symptoms.
Maribeth McLaughlin, chief nursing officer and vice president of Patient Care Services at the hospital, told The Huffington Post the volunteers provide a way to calm and console the babies, who can be a part of the program from one week or up to eight weeks.
“It’s great for our babies because it provides them with care and comfort, and it‘s an assistance to families who may not be able to be there the whole time,” she said.
Since starting 10 years ago, the program has grown from five or six volunteers to 25, partly because of growing rates of neonatal abstinence syndrome, according to McLaughlin. Before being able to cuddle the babies, program volunteers must submit an application and references, be interviewed, undergo clearances and adhere to health standards including taking a tuberculosis test and getting a flu shot during flu season.
In a study published in 2016, Notre Dame psychology researcher Darcia Narvaez stressed the benefits of cuddling after finding that providing “affection, play and support” to kids throughout childhood contributes to their well-being as adults. Volunteer cuddler Nancy Stebler, who has been a part of the program for almost four years, has seen more immediate effects.
“I think that the human touch and the cuddling and swaddling really helps to give them comfort and calm them down,” she said.
Though they are there to provide comfort to the babies, the volunteers also benefit from the program, according to Stebler. She said her work at the hospital has been “a huge eye-opener” when it comes to learning about neonatal abstinence syndrome. Most importantly though, she described her time comforting the babies as a “gratifying” and “humbling experience.”
“It just makes us feel so rewarded that we can bring such peace and calming as they are trying to go through such a difficult time,” she said.