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Volunteer cuddle program helps babies in the NICU

Volunteer Craig Provost, holds a NICU baby at Intermountain Medical Center. (Courtesy Intermountain)

SALT LAKE CITY — People are spending hours at a volunteer cuddle program, rocking and talking to NICU babies around Utah.

Intermountain Healthcare is expanding its Cuddling Program. This is where volunteers go hold NICU babies when their parents can’t be there.

The literature calls it an intentional, positive touch. And the social, intended interaction makes a difference.

“There’s a whole list of how it provides stability for the newborn,” said Anne-Marie Savage, executive nursing director for obstetrics and neo-natal operations for Intermountain. “It helps control heart rate and temperature, they have better pain tolerance, they sleep better.”

There are neurological, behavioral, cognitive and social benefits to a developing baby, Savage said.

“And quite frankly, I think mom feels better when she knows someone is cuddling when she can’t be present.”

Some of these babies have to be in the NICU long-term, and parents can’t be there around the clock. That’s when these volunteer cuddlers really can make a difference.

volunteer cuddlers

Volunteer Craig Provost, holds a NICU baby at Intermountain Medical Center. (Courtesy Intermountain)

Many who work for the volunteer cuddle program are retired with time on their hands. Some are grandparents themselves. Others are former NICU moms or dads who come to give back.

The program used to be exclusively at the Murray location, but is expanding to other Intermountain hospitals and to different levels of nurseries.

Savage says not just anyone can be a cuddler.

“We do a full-on background check, we have to prove all your immunizations are done and we put you through some infection prevention and some clinical education on what you can do and can’t do,” Savage said.

They also need 80 hours of volunteer service already in the hospital.

Savage said they have received a lot of interest already. Anyone interested in becoming one of the volunteer cuddlers should contact the volunteer services department in the hospital nearest them.