Try not to get emotional as you read about this incredibly rewarding volunteering opportunity. You're basically a granny or an auntie to some truly special babies fighting for their lives in Neonatal Infant Care Units (NICUs) all across the country.
These poor babies are born with a drug addiction, but lots of love and snuggles from volunteers just might be the prescription for healing. Unfortunately, drug addiction rates are rising around the country, which is resulting in an increase of neonatal abstinence syndrome, where the child inherits the mother's addiction in the womb.
As a result, they require a lot of extra care when they are born, as they are going through an excruciating process of withdrawal. As noted earlier, however, specially-trained volunteers may just be the answer to saving these babies' lives.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that incidents of NAS have increased 383% in the United States since 2000. That's almost quadruple!
That's why these cuddle care programs have popped up across the country to help babies born addicted to opioids. The volunteers are a welcome respite for the already-overwhelmed nurses.
Pennsylvania nurse Jane Cavanuagh knew she had to do something to help as substance-abuse rates soared in her home state. So, she started a volunteer program at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.
"These babies going through withdrawal need to be held for extended periods," she explains. "They need human touch."
Maribeth McLaughlin, chief nursing officer and vice president of Patient Care Services at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC in Pittsburgh couldn't agree more. She also oversees a group of cuddle volunteers at Magee, who help soothe at-risk babies who can't soothe themselves.
From what she's seen, it works. McLaughlin reports that, on average, babies in withdrawal who are held often require less medication and go home sooner than babies who aren't.
"[Cuddling] is helping them manage through these symptoms," she says. "They are very irritable; they are hard to console. This is about swaddling them and giving them that comfort and safe, secure feeling."
If snuggling babies sounds like something you want to be a part of (I mean, really, who wouldn't?) then you're in luck. Most states now have some form of cuddle care program in place, and a quick Google search should help you narrow down programs in your area.
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