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Parents can’t always be there to hold their babies who are in the hospital for an extended period, but that’s where a group of core volunteers step in.

They are called the Baby Cuddlers and across the United States are men and women volunteers showing up in orphanages, neonatal hospital units, group homes, nurseries, and wherever there are babies and young children who may not have adequate human contact early in life to begin developing social interaction skills.

Sometimes infants are removed from parental care at birth. This is especially true when the mother is addicted to drugs. The baby cuddler programs now in place at most children’s hospitals grew out of the “crack baby” epidemic of the early 1990’s. Touch is especially important for these tiniest of humans to develop into loving and caring adolescents and adults. You can make a life-long difference in their lives when you choose to become a baby cuddler.

When a baby is born too early, or has ailments that must be corrected shortly after birth, worried parents often can’t be with their baby as often as they’d like to be. Often times, the baby is transferred to a specialized children’s hospital far away from the parent’s home. These parents, already highly stressed, may have other children to care for, and jobs they must keep to safeguard the family’s way of life. You can provide the love and nurturing each baby needs so desperately while his or her parents must be away.

Children who have been deprived of close physical contact have lower levels of social-bonding hormones, according to baby cuddler research by The University of Wisconsin and published in the National Academy of Sciences. Early cuddling is vital to a child’s emotional well-being. Infants cared for by volunteer cuddlers may demonstrate greater growth, physiologic stability and have shorter hospital stays than babies without cuddling. You may be able to help a baby to develop social skills, increased learning ability, and stronger self-esteem. On the other hand, under-stimulated babies who have suffered neglect may struggle to form secure relationships when they are older.

As a volunteer baby cuddler, you would be specially trained to handle, hold, rock, and pat hospitalized infants. You would provide a foundation of care as you hold and soothe newborns and preemies. For instance, as part of the baby cuddling program at the Oklahoma University Medical Center, a picture of a rocking chair is posted on the cribs of the infants who have been cuddled by volunteers, reassuring parents that their baby has been cuddled that day.

You can make a life-long difference in a child’s future. Can you imagine what that means to the parents of these at-risk babies? By volunteering a little of your time to love babies back to health, you can also reduce the trauma their parents face day after day.

To get started, simply use the American Hospital Directory to call the hospital or long-term childcare facility nearest to you. Just ask to speak with a volunteer coordinator. The training is usually free and available at most hospitals. Tuberculosis tests and background checks are usually mandatory for the protection of the babies.  (Reported by Linda J. Hutchinson)

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