With the rapid increase in the number of babies born as victims of the opioid crisis, the demand for volunteer cuddlers is also increasing. The more cuddles these babies receive, lesser would be the need for medication.
"ICU Grandpa," is the name given to 82-year-old David Deutchman who has been religiously visiting the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, twice a week for the last 12 years. For those of you who might be wondering what he does there, you are in for a bit of a surprise. The elderly man has been volunteering to cuddle babies admitted in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). According to KCCI, babies born to opioid-addicted mothers suffer from opioid withdrawal symptoms. These babies who are ill and mostly prematurely born for transferred into the NICU.
Reports say that over the past few years, there has been a rapid growth in the number of opioid addicts in the country which in turn has resulted in more innocent babies falling victim to this drug crisis. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that there has been a four-fold increase in the number of babies born to opioid-addicted moms between 1999-2014. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a baby suffering from opioid withdrawal is born every minute. This crisis has called for immediate attention and has resulted in the demand for "baby cuddlers."
As the name suggests, the job of a baby cuddler is to provide the same warmth and touch of a mother. These volunteers help provide the necessary human connection that is integral for the recovery of these newborns.
“Touch is so important to babies. Without that, there would be failure to thrive," said Vicki Agnitsch, a former nurse who has been part of the Cuddler Volunteer program at Blank Children’s Hospital quoted KCCI. The nurse, who enjoys a couple of hours every week cuddling babies, adds that it is the “the best part of my week.” Cuddling and touch play a great role in the recovery from addiction and the infants who receive more touch require less medication, Vicki states.
“When they know someone else is touching them, it gives them that warmth and safety and security that they crave. They had that inside the mom, and then they come out into this cold, bright world. They don’t have that, so all of that swaddling, touch, and talk helps their development,” said Agnitsch who has been a volunteer since the beginning of the program in 2011.
Several hospitals across the United States have also been carrying out similar programs to help the babies. University Hospital in San Antonio has also had a cuddling program for years. According to Texas Public Radio, the hospital with a large number of babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome are looking for more cuddlers due to the opioid crisis. Babies born with NAS suffer from a variety of problems such as body stiffness, hyperactive reflexes, and breathing problems. They also have trouble feeding.
Volunteers like Doug Walters, a retired army officer, have been actively helping these babies go through the struggle with their love and cuddles. As the numbers of babies born with this condition increases, the need for volunteers is greater than ever, especially considering just how important the human touch is to their recovery, says Nurse Laurie Weaver who has worked in the NICU for 27 years. People who are interested in volunteering can contact the hospital. It can change the lives of many children and their families.