Grant recipients share stories
No Baby Unhugged grant recipient Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital used the $10,000 to enhance its existing cuddler program, according to Boriana Parvez, MD, IBCLC, FAAP, a neonatologist and director of the hospital’s donor milk program.
“We used [the grant] to develop a detailed education program, dedicated to the cuddlers. It’s specifically to educate them about the needs of these patients--how to pick up when the patient is becoming unstable, so they’re obviously no longer suitable to be held; how to respond to the baby’s general cues,” Parvez says. “We also used the funds to purchase new reclining chairs. Obviously, these chairs are used by the cuddlers during the day, but they’re also utilized by the parents when they come to visit their babies. We also find that these chairs are comfortable for promotion of breastfeeding.”
Although Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital, which received the Huggies’ grant in August 2017, hasn’t conducted studies looking at program outcomes, Parvez says that, anecdotally, nurses have told her they can better concentrate on the medical needs of the patients when huggers are there.
“At the same time, they feel the other needs of the babies are met. The babies are receiving the warmth and human touch that they need while their parents are not at the bedside,” Parvez says.
Parvez says the need for cuddlers is heightened for what she says are growing numbers of babies born to opioid-using mothers. In many cases, these mothers are incarcerated or they might live too far away to visit daily. Sometimes, families have to go back to work and can’t be at the bedside day and night. In other cases, family members simply need a break to take a nap or to go home, and cuddlers can relieve them.
Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, Lebanon, New Hampshire, also received the Huggies’ grant in August 2017 and used the grant to expand an existing cuddler program, according to Deirdre Sheets, RN-C, MSN, quality practice patient safety nursing specialist and cuddler program coordinator at Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock.
“Our infant cuddler program had initially begun in the summer of 2013 on the inpatient pediatric unit to help support our moms and babies who were going through withdrawal. About 9 months after we started there, the intensive care nursery approached me about expanding the cuddler program, with a particular focus on the babies who were going to be there for a longer-term hospitalization, which could be anywhere from a few weeks to a few months,” Sheets says.
The grant money helped the hospital to buy special chairs, which are comfortable, and rock, recline, and slide, for the intensive care nursery. Having the right chair is important, Sheets says. Cuddlers are encouraged to read and sing to the babies, while rocking or gently moving in the chair. The soothing motion, she says, helps to calm the babies.
The grant to Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock was also used to buy compact disc players and soothing music, including lullabies and soft piano, as well as snuggle wraps, which are fairly tight wraps that help to soothe babies who are going through withdrawal, according to Sheets.
“Music has also been demonstrated to help lower respiratory rates and pulses when a baby is upset,” Sheets says.
A recent study found that premature infants in a NICU who were exposed to music had lower respiratory rates, while heart rates increased in the no-music control group.6
Sheets says that although the hospital has not conducted studies on whether the program helps, the fact that staff and families are requesting additional cuddlers on weekends and evenings suggests the program is a win for clinicians and patients’ families.
Words of wisdom for a good cuddler program
Training, beyond regular volunteer training at a hospital, is important for cuddlers, according to Sheets. “Our cuddlers go through regular volunteer training, but then they spend between 6 to 8 additional hours training specifically to be able to cuddle the babies,” she says.
It’s also important to have buy-in from the hospital’s volunteer services department on the cuddler program, according to Sheets.
“Volunteer services definitely has a part to play in this and does a lot of the background checks. They do the initial orientation piece, as far as patient confidentiality, hand hygiene--some of those hospital-wide things that volunteers need to know,” Sheets says.
Nurses at the Children’s Hospital then teach volunteers about what they’ll need to do on the unit with the tiny babies. Volunteers learn how to change diapers, do appropriate bottle feedings, and more.
Finally, not every well-meaning person is cut out to be a cuddler, according to Sheets. “These are very special babies. They have a lot of needs. The cuddlers are not going to be holding a baby that’s going to sleep the whole time. That’s an important piece for people out in the community to understand,” she says. “So, the screening of the cuddlers, here, is initially done by volunteer services, but all cuddlers have to interview with somebody from one of the nursing units that’s involved. Then, we can really help them to understand what it is that they’re going to be doing when they’re here.”
Note to pediatricians
The importance of human touch isn’t a new concept to physicians, according to La Gamma. “The hand on the shoulder—it’s taught in medical schools,” he says. “But if we think about it, we can all relate to those feelings of personal touch-—the hug you get from a loved one. There’s something about that human contact that is very necessary to anchor us in our humanity.”
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8. Esser M. Diaper dermatitis: What do we do next? Adv Neonatal Care. 2016;16(suppl 5S):S21-S25.