Hospital uses 'cuddle hormone' to help babies in NICU

Oct 16, 2015 at 4:44 p.m. ET

When a newborn lands in the neonatal intensive care unit of a hospital, so much of its patient care will be dedicated exclusively to their medical needs. And as much as parents want to be with their baby at all times, it’s not always possible. With that in mind, Saint Boniface General Hospital in Winnipeg, Manitoba, launched the Baby Cuddler Program, recruiting a group of dedicated volunteers.

Lucette Parent was one of the first volunteers to join the Baby Cuddler Program. “I love babies, so when I heard about the program, I said, ‘Sign me up,’” says Parent. “When I come in for my volunteer shift, I know I am going to give out a lot of love.”

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“Babies can really benefit from someone holding them, talking to them, singing to them,” says Sue McMahon, program team manager, NICU.

In an exclusive online segment of Keeping Canada Alive, a CBC series that captures a day in the life of health care across Canada, they feature a few volunteer baby cuddlers in action.

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Even one hour of cuddling a day can have a dramatic impact on a premature baby’s physical health and stress level, and the effects seem to last for many years. “At times, the babies can be really fussy, but after a few minutes, they start to relax,” says Parent. “You can tell that they are breathing easier. Just from the body contact, they settle down and often fall asleep.” Physical contact is important for babies to develop, grow and gain strength.

The nurses and other health care providers are also committed to the program. “It’s hard to be a busy nurse and see a baby crying who may just need to be held, or rocked or talked to,” says McMahon. “They know babies can benefit from the cuddlers.”

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Though this particular volunteer position is full (quelle surprise!), people are welcome to apply for other much-needed volunteer positions at the hospital instead.

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