TROY – Upper Valley Medical Center is introducing a volunteer infant cuddler program for babies born to mothers who took opioids during pregnancy.
The babies born to these mothers often experience neonatal abstinence syndrome, which causes them to need more physical attention than other newborns.
The UVMC program follows introduction last year of a cuddler program at Miami Valley Hospital.
“This program started at Miami Valley Hospital because they had a number of drug addicted babies and the nurses needed help with the babies who were fussy and crying. They had very good success with it so we wanted to implement it at UVMC,” said Teri Gulker, UVMC director of nursing.
The program is a good fit at UVMC, which has the only Level IIB special care nursey in the area from Lima to Dayton, Gulker said. The special care nursey can care for babies born premature at 32 weeks or above or requiring some type of special care.
NAS occurs when a baby is exposed to drugs in the womb, most often when the mother takes opioids, either illegal or prescription.
As opioid use has grown, so has the exposure of babies, Gulker said, noting it is estimated one baby is born with NAS every hour in the United States. Signs of withdrawal may not be seen for two to three days after they enter the world, she said.
“Sometimes it is unidentified because the moms don’t tell you. They are scared the baby is going to be taken from them,” she said.
If unidentified, babies can lose weight, have seizures or die.
UVMC has seen four babies born with NAS this year and three last year. In 2015, there were 15 such births at the hospital.
Those with NAS have symptoms such as fussiness, high-pitched crying, inability to sleep, sneezing, weight loss and stiffness.
“One of the things that babies need is the human touch,” Gulker said.
While nurses cuddle and hold babies as much as they can, they also have many other tasks, she said.
With the cuddler program, “We bring in volunteers to cuddle and hold the baby so that they can hear your heart beat and feel that love and warmth it is not getting laying in that crib hooked to an IV. Through research they have found the more that you cuddle and hold the babies, the more they grow, gain eight, withdraw easier,” Gulker said.
The UVMC cuddler program is coordinated through the Volunteer Services Department. Those interested in volunteering go through that program’s background checks and orientation, Gulker said.
For further information on cuddler program volunteering, call 937-440-4995 or email [email protected]