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Baby Cuddlers: Volunteer to Cuddle Babies

by Linda J. Hutchinson
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Baby cuddlers are needed in orphanages, neonatal hospital units, group homes, nurseries, and wherever else there are babies and young children who may not have adequate human contact early in life to begin developing social interaction skills.

Sometimes infants are removed from parental care at birth. This is especially true when the mother is addicted to drugs. The baby cuddler programs now in place at most children's hospitals grew out of the "crack baby" epidemic of the early 1990's. Touch is especially important for these tiniest of humans to develop into loving and caring adolescents and adults. You can make a life-long difference in their lives when you choose to become a baby cuddler.

When a baby is born too early, or has ailments that must be corrected shortly after birth, worried parents often can't be with their baby as often as they'd like to be. Often times, the baby is transferred to a specialized children's hospital far away from the parent's home. These parents, already highly stressed, may have other children to care for, and jobs they must keep to safeguard the family's way of life. You can provide the love and nurturing each baby needs so desperately while his or her parents must be away.

Children who have been deprived of close physical contact have lower levels of social-bonding hormones, according to baby cuddler research by The University of Wisconsin and published in the National Academy of Sciences. Early cuddling is vital to a child's emotional well-being. Infants cared for by volunteer cuddlers may demonstrate greater growth, physiologic stability and have shorter hospital stays than babies without cuddling.

You may be able to help a baby to develop social skills, increased learning ability, and stronger self-esteem. Research shows that preterm babies who are held, cuddled, and talked to while they are in intensive care can have a significant impact on the infant's language skills later in life. On the other hand, under-stimulated babies who have suffered neglect may struggle to form secure relationships when they are older.

As a volunteer baby cuddler, you would be specially trained to handle, hold, rock, and pat hospitalized infants. You would provide a foundation of care as you hold and soothe newborns and preemies. For instance, at Miller Children's Hospital in Long Beach, California, the neonatal intensive care unit baby cuddlers are required to cuddle babies for a minimum of 45 minutes up to 4 hours. They do not walk around with the infant nor change diapers or perform any other activities. They do, however, hold and cuddle the baby and can sing or read to the infant during the cuddle time. 

You can make a life-long difference in a child's future. Can you imagine what that means to the parents of these at-risk babies? By volunteering a little of your time to love babies back to health, you can also reduce the trauma their parents face day after day.

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Baby cuddlers are needed in hospitals, orphanages, and nurseries. Other opportunities to cuddle babies exist in group homes providing longer-term care to infants and children.

The training is usually free and provided at the hospital or other facility. Tuberculosis tests, immunity tests for childhood diseases (e.g., measles, mumps, chickenpox), and background checks are usually mandatory for the protection of the babies.

To get started, find a children's hospital in your area and contact the volunteer coordinator at the facility. She or he will tell you what you need to do to become a baby cuddler. The minimum age requirement can be as young as 16 but is usually 18 or 21. 

Here are a few of the baby cuddler programs across the country--one may be near you--but there are many more.

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center NICU, Boston MA

North Carolina Children’s Hospital, Chapel Hill

San Francisco Medical Center

University of Chicago Comer Children’s Hospital

Opportunities abound to become a volunteer baby cuddler. With your help, many struggling and at-risk infants will start a better life.

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