Hugging: A natural part of pediatric nursing care


Hugs, whether giving or receiving them, make us feel good. Hugs are comforting, demonstrate caring acts of kindness, and genuinely express an emotional interaction, with or without words between 2 or more individuals. Many of us are pediatric nurses because we love children and love to hug them. We also love all the day-to-day interactions that make us smile as infants, children, and adolescents grow and develop each day; we have strong desires to help children grow and develop in healthy environments, and to help children and their families heal and develop coping skills to fight illnesses “head-on” in order to achieve individual and family health outcomes. Hugs are a part of our everyday life in pediatric healthcare.

When hugging heals

The article in the May 2018 issue of Contemporary Pediatrics entitled, “Hugging is healing for NICU babies,” authored by Ms Lisette Hilton, provides insight into ways trained volunteers are making a difference in the care of some of our most vulnerable infants in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). The pleasant acts of hugging and cuddling these infants have been shown to decrease their disorganized motor activity, especially in infants withdrawing from intrauterine drug exposure, calm the infants, and even to improve parent-infant bonding when parents are available to interact with their infant. 

Pediatric nursing care and caring theories

Many nursing theories are focused on human interactions and the relevance of these interactions to healing. One example is Martha Rogers theory, the Science of Unitary Human Being (nursing-theory.org1), which, when applied to the concept of hugging infants in the NICU, is interpreted as helping to establish human environmental interactions between the infants and the trained volunteer by fostering patterns and repeating patterns (hugging, cuddling) that are the foundation for infant-maternal attachment and bonding relationships. Another example is Jean Watson’s Philosophy and Science of Caring (nursing-theory.org2). In Watson’s theory, caring helps build a helping-trusting relationship, and in today’s high-technology world, emphasizes the patient focus. These theories are totally consistent with the trained volunteers practicing hugging and cuddling behaviors with infants in the NICU.   

Opportunities to find the evidence

The Huggies grant recipient hospitals that provide “hugging volunteers” in the NICU and on pediatric units are very innovative. These hugging and cuddling activities offer an opportunity to conduct research studies on whether hugging, calming and soothing behaviors are actually impacting the neurodevelopment of these high-risk premature infants. Premature infants and infants exposed to intrauterine opioids have a higher incidence of poor neurodevelopmental outcomes. Is this a window of opportunity to improve those outcomes for these precious infants? Let’s underscore what we innately sense about the healing power of hugs by gathering the evidence through rigorous scientific studies on the effectiveness of hugging behaviors in the NICU. 


1.  (n.d.). Nursing Theory, Science of Unitary Human Beings.  Retrieved from

2. (n.d.). Nursing Theory, Jean Watson, Nurse Theorist.  Retrieved from

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