US Hospitals Need "Baby Cuddlers" To Help Infants From Opioid Withdrawal

US Hospitals Need "Baby Cuddlers" To Help Infants From Opioid Withdrawal

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, a baby is born suffering from opioid withdrawal every fifteen minutes

Every day, hundreds of people are falling victim to opioid addiction. This, in turn, is affecting millions of newborn babies, whose mothers may have been addicts, with a kind of withdrawal syndrome called the neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). It's a national phenomenon and one that is increasing as we speak. According to the The National Institute of Drug Abuse, a baby is born suffering from opioid withdrawal every fifteen minutes reports KCCI News. The suffering and withdrawal symptoms start as soon as the babies are born. Most of such babies end up in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), a kind of an ICU for infants and newborns.  In such a situation, how can such babies who through no fault of theirs have been resigned to such a sorry fate?  The least you can do is to sign up for the 'baby cuddlers' programmes that are present in hospitals across the country.  The job of a baby cuddler is to give the touch and warmth that every newborn needs similar to how a mother gives the same to her child. 

Hospitals put such babies immediately on intensive care, however, there is no replacement for the human connection and thus the need for baby cuddlers.  All over the country, baby cuddlers are becoming part-time jobs in a number of states such as Virginia, Iowa,  and Massachusetts.  Vicki Agnitsch is a former nurse is a part of the cuddler volunteer program at Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines, Iowa. 


Speaking with KCCI News, she says, “Touch is so important for babies. Without that, there would be a failure to thrive.” She goes on to say that that the more cuddling and physical touch that a baby receives has a direct correlation to a lesser amount of administered medications needed. She also says that the human connection provided through these programs support the immune systems of babies born with NAS. 


“When they know someone else is touching them, it gives them that warmth and safety and security that they crave.  They had that inside the mom, and then they come out into this cold, bright world. They don’t have that, so all of that swaddling, touch, and talk helps their development," said Viki who also calls the cuddler volunteer program as “the best part of my week.” Just being with the newborns can have a major effect on their overall health, well being and improve their recovery it in a big way. 



In Texas, the highest number of babies with NAS is usually reported at The University Hospital in Bexar County, San Antonio according to Texas Public Radio.  The numbers of spiked by 60 percent in the last five years. In order to deal with the increase in such cases and provide care, the university put out information for the need of baby cuddlers. Doug Walters, an Army Veteran was one of the first people to respond to this call.  

Texas Public Radio


It's now been three years and Walters still enjoys every bit of his part-time job.  Some of the symptoms that an infant with NAS experiences is tremors and seizures, tight muscles, body stiffness, and overly increased reflexes. These newborns also suffer from gastrointestinal problems, have trouble breathing and being fed.  They also let out a very peculiar high-pitched shriek, which according to Doug is easily identifiable. 

He told Texas Public Radio, “You can tell when kids cry because they’re mad, or they’re hungry. When babies with NAS cry, it ’s just… A very sad cry. They don’t understand what’s happening, and they don’t understand why things hurt”.  Laurie Weaver is a nurse at the hospital and has been there for 27 years caring for babies with NAS. She said these babies are “given a rough start, and I just like holding them and comforting them." For her, it’s a fairness factor — since these infants can’t speak for themselves yet, is what draws them to her more. 



There is also a cuddling program in Va.’s Fauquier Hospital, Warrenton, according to a report in the heartysoul.com. Cheryl Poelma, director of women services said that that infant born with NAS typically receive morphine shortly after their birth to help their withdrawal symptoms. She said, “They aren’t coordinated with their suck, they can’t eat well, they may sneeze a lot, have loose stools — it’s all part of withdrawing.” 


The cuddler program at the hospital has been implemented along with the administration of morphine. Poelma said,  “They sit, and rock the infants, holding them tight. They tend to like to have their hands close to their chests, they like a tight blanket swaddled around them. They also like to suck on pacifiers, so it’s rocking, sucking, keeping them in a quiet environment, reducing stimuli. You’ll see them engaging you more, their eye contact will be better, they’ll start feeding better, not being so fussy, and they’ll start to sleep better." 

Recommended for you