HOMEWOOD, AL (WBRC) - Inside the walls of Brookwood Baptist medical center is a tiny baby girl. She was born at just 24 weeks old, but she is strong and thriving, and nurses say that partially because of cuddles.
The hospital just launched a new "cuddler" program. Carefully vetted volunteers are invited to hold, rock, sing to and soothe the tiny humans in the neo natal intensive care unit.
"This program is important to our babies because it really helps promote growth, helps with their oxygen levels, just helps with their maturity. Our babies seem to have a shorter stay after the cuddle program was initiated and its good for the nurses, they have really benefited and enjoyed the program," says Annette Ingle, she's the Nurse Manager of the neo natal intensive care unit.
Ingle explains that many of these premature babies stay in the hospital for weeks and months. Their parents often have other children to care for, jobs to return to, or just live too far away to be there all the time. That's where the cuddlers come in.
"I think they have a comfort knowing that someone is here to cuddle with their baby. A lot of times they aren't able to come in as much. Our first priority is that our parents bond with their baby, but sometimes when that's not allowable and our cuddlers are able to step in," explains Ingle.
The program is the result of teamwork between the neonatal team and the director of volunteers. After researching similar programs and their benefits for over a year, it launched in May. Right now there are three approved volunteer cuddlers. For one of them, this assignment is incredibly personal. Her son was here almost 20 years ago.
"He was in the NICU for 12 days, he was very very tiny. Now he's 19 and I get to pay it forward and do what I love to do and hold those babies. It's just a lot of fun," says Volunteer Cuddler Charlene Ryan. "You're helping another parent out who can't be here because they are working or they have other kids at home like I did, so I couldn't be here, and you have that mom guilt. So if I can help another baby who just needs a little love and attention, that's why I am here. I love it!"
Volunteers have to go through a rigorous background check, and training, and must put in 75 hours volunteering in other support roles before they make it to the coveted cuddler status. Ryan says it's well worth it.
"It's so important to hold that baby and bond with them but some parents can't. That's why we are here to give that human touch to the baby. It helps them sleep better, eat better, and that's the goal," says Ryan.
For more information on volunteering with Brookwood Baptist medical center click here