You Can Volunteer To Cuddle Babies Suffering From Drug Withdrawals

by Jerriann Sullivan
Image via Shutterstock.

Cuddler program for babies is helping newborns recover faster from withdrawal symptoms

A cuddle program for babies born addicted to opioids is helping the newborns withdraw from the drugs, require less medication and recover sooner. The volunteer-led program is helping the youngest victims of America’s opioid epidemic.

The babies in the program suffer from neonatal abstinence syndrome, which is a group of symptoms had during their withdrawal from heroin or other opioids, the Today reported. The precious newborns have painful experiences including muscle stiffness, tremors, skin irritation, watery stool, and vomiting. They also cry in a high pitch much more than the average baby and are very irritable. Thankfully they’re responding incredibly well to the cuddling received from strangers.

Staff at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC in Pittsburgh explained that infants who are part of the Cuddler Program need less of the medication doctors commonly use to help babies withdrawal. They also go home sooner. “Cuddling is helping them manage through these symptoms,” said Maribeth McLaughlin, chief nursing officer and vice president of Patient Care Services at Magee. “They are very irritable; they are hard to console. This is about swaddling them and giving them that comfort and safe, secure feeling.”

[shareable_quote]Maybe it would make them a better or stronger or happier person and, for me, that is the best thing you can give a person.[/shareable_quote]

The program is desperately needed as America goes through a serious problem with opioid addiction. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more people died from drug overdoses in 2014 than in any year on record with the majority (more than six out of ten) involving an opioid. About 78 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose, research shows. Heroin is the most well-known opioid, but the driving factor in overdoses and addiction are prescription pain relievers. “Deaths from prescription opioids – drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone – have also quadrupled since 1999,” the CDC explained.

Back in Pittsburgh, these statistics are all too real for the hospital staff and volunteers. The cuddle program was started 10 years ago when officials noticed the increase in babies born addicted to opioids. Now they see at least five to seven infants withdrawing on any given day. The benefits are real too, though. Nancy Stebler has snuggled babies as a volunteer for about four years and keeps in touch with at least one of the infants through the child’s adoptive parents. “She has turned into a beautiful sweet, sweet little girl. It is a very rewarding thing for me [to see] her life,” she shared.

While hospital staff and volunteers can’t cure the opioid epidemic, they’re making a significant improvement in the lives of addicts who never had a choice. “Hopefully, cuddling gives them a little bit of comfort,” Stebler explained. “Maybe it would make them a better or stronger or happier person and, for me, that is the best thing you can give a person.”

There’s a long waiting list, but you can sign up to volunteer for the Cuddle Program at Magee-Women’s.