Hospital Recruits Volunteers to Cuddle Opiate-Addicted Babies

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Asian mother with newborn baby in the hospital


All babies need to be cuddled. They need to be held like they need food and warmth, and to help some of the most vulnerable babies, one hospital has recruited a team of volunteers who donate their time to cuddle babies born with opiate addictions.

According to Stat News’ Megan Thielking, Boston Medical Center has instituted a program called CALM for “Cuddling Assists in Lowering Maternal and infant stress.” It’s not the tidiest acronym, but it’s doing a lot to help babies that are suffering from opiate withdrawal symptoms. The hospital has about 100 volunteers, and each spends two-hour shifts cuddling a baby to help it through withdrawal symptoms.

Pregnant women with opiate addictions can have babies who suffer from the same addiction. They are exposed to the opiates or methadone in utero, and when they’re born they suffer withdrawal symptoms. It’s extremely stressful for them, and one of the things that seems to help is skin-to-skin contact. Parents can do that, but parents may have work schedules that do not allow them to be near their children full-time. Some parents are in their own treatment programs. And babies suffering from opiate addiction can need cuddling through withdrawal symptoms at all hours of the night. That’s why having a team of volunteers around to hold babies in the middle of the night can be extremely valuable.

Volunteers sing, they tell stories, they count. Basically, they just do what anyone does to comfort a newborn baby.

Many of the program’s volunteers are hospital employees or medical students, and so far it looks like it’s extremely successful. The hospital says that since starting the CALM program last month, they’ve seen a significant drop in the amounts of medication needed to treat the babies’ withdrawal symptoms.

People in Boston can volunteer for the program here, and several other hospitals keep have similar programs.