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Drug Addicted Newborns Getting Help from Volunteer Hospital Cuddlers


With the opioid addiction crisis ravaging individuals and communities, alike, some hospitals and medical facilities are stepping up with simple yet impactful programs to help drug-addicted mothers and their newborn babies.

Take, for instance, a cuddling program at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that trains volunteers whose simple purpose is to hold and comfort babies born addicted to prescription drugs and narcotics.

These newborns suffer from neonatal abstinence syndrome, an ailment that unfolds in newborns due to opioid exposure. And for such tiny babies, the effects — tremors, crying, sweating, irritability, diarrhea, vomiting, fever and other symptoms — can be quite problematic and difficult to navigate.

Maribeth McLaughlin, chief nursing officer and vice president of patient care services at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania — another hospital that offers a similar program — told Today.com earlier this year that the cuddling helps to temper some of these issues.

"Cuddling is helping them manage through these symptoms," she told the outlet. "They are very irritable; they are hard to console. This is about swaddling them and giving them that comfort and safe, secure feeling."

Clearly, there is a deep need for these cuddling programs, as the Philadelphia Inquirer noted that many of these newborns spend weeks or months in the hospital, with nurses balancing the babies' specialized treatment — which includes weaning them off drugs through small doses of morphine or methadone — with their normal hospital duties.

So, to help alleviate that burden, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital trains volunteers to help cuddle these babies throughout their recovery process, as Jane Cavanaugh, the hospital nurse who created the program at the hospital last year, told the Inquirer these newborns must be held for long periods of time.

"They need human touch," she said. "They need soothing. They need talking."

So far, the hospital has trained 25 cuddlers, with Cavanaugh creating a 4-hour class to accomplish that goal. Prospective volunteers are checked for past abuse before being allowed to participate in the program; once approved, each volunteer works a 3-hour shift that is supervised by nurses, according to the Inquirer.

People like Addy Schultz, a speech therapist at the hospital, have volunteered to be trained to help meet this need, with Schultz saying she hums and chants to the sometimes trembling babies as she holds and comforts them.

"I've always loved babies and holding babies," Schultz said.

Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC are hardly alone in launching these initiatives, as other medical facilities across the country have been diving in deep or helping these babies recover and flourish. Boston Medical Center also has a program called CALM (Cuddling Assists in Lowering Maternal and Infant Stress), among others.

(H/T: Philadelphia Inquirer)

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