The Drug-Affected Newborns Being Healed Through Touch

The Drug-Affected Newborns Being Healed Through Touch
This powerful program is having great success in healing babies of addicted mothers.

There’s nothing like the smell, grace and promise of a beautiful new baby. It’s like they symbolise a fresh hope for the world. Connecting with, and cuddling, a newborn is a sweet and magical experience, but for thousands of babies around the world, it’s something that is vital to their wellbeing.

Increasing numbers of babies are being born into a fight for their lives, as their bodies desperately try to rid themselves of the drugs their mothers took during pregnancy. With varying degrees of painkillers or heroin in their little bodies, their first days of life are a traumatic and painful experience.

Opioid addiction has reached crisis levels in America, with the number of drug addicted babies born in the US having quadrupled in the last decade. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, one baby every 25 minutes is born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), which requires the babies to go through a withdrawal program where they are given decreasing doses of morphine. The situation is getting so serious now that some hospitals are introducing programs to help drug-addicted mothers and their babies.

These tiny babies experience intense withdrawal symptoms of diarrhoea, shaking, vomiting, crying and intense pain. If you imagine what a drug-addicted adult experiences when they go cold turkey – that’s what these vulnerable babies go through as well.

Increasing numbers of drug-affected babiesThe number of drug-affected babies born in the US has quadrupled in the last decade. Image: Christian Bowen.

Nurses report that drug affected babies shake, sweat, cry, get severe acidic diarrhoea that burns their skin, as well as suffer the pain of being overstimulated by lights and sound. But, there is hope; the same nurses note that when held and cuddled for long periods, these babies are comforted and can cope with their ordeal much better.

It is vital to their recovery that they get tender, loving care so they can survive this painful experience so early on. One nurse has started a program calling for volunteers to cuddle these babies.

The Birth of The Program

Jane Cavanaugh, a nurse at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, is encouraging volunteers to hold, cuddle and soothe the babies suffering through withdrawal. She told the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News:

These babies going through withdrawal and need to be held for extended periods … They need human touch. They need soothing. They need talking.

Often they spend months alone in hospitals as they are weaned off the heroin or painkillers that filled their bodies during their time in the womb. Sometimes the infants have been removed from their parents, or their drug addicted mothers are attending drug rehabilitation programs, so there is no one there to comfort and soothe them, except the already overworked nurses and hospital staff.

Loving touch and soothing is a lifeline to these babiesLoving touch and soothing is a lifeline to these babies. Image: Aditya Romansa.

Doctors have also reported that volunteers cuddling the babies reduces both the amount of medication they need, as well as the length of their stay in the hospital.

Cabell Huntington Hospital, in West Virginia, was one of the first hospitals to recognise a need for specialised care for these chemically dependent newborns, with the opening of a second neonatal unit specifically for withdrawal babies. It also has an off-site rehabilitation centre, Lily’s Place, where babies are given dedicated treatment.

Lily’s Place opened its doors in October 2014 as the first Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) Centre in the United States, with specialised care and a volunteer program, housing newborns away from fluorescent light and noise of the busy hospital.
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Cuddle care programs are popping up all over the US in response to the soaring rates of drug-affected babies being born. Most hospitals have seen huge success with having cuddlers come in to soothe premature babies, and now hospitals can use the same loving care for these vulnerable babies battling to heal their drugged systems.

The Importance of Secure Attachement and Bonding

Along with simply surviving the difficult process of being weaned off the drugs in their system, these babies need to experience secure attachment and bonding. All babies need to experience secure attachment to their mothers or caregivers early on, and this is vital in developing basic qualities like trust in life, trust in others, a trust that your needs will be met, as well as developing the ability to connect and be intimate later in life.

Psychologists define attachment as a ‘lasting psychological connectedness between human beings’, and babies have a universal need to seek close proximity with their caregiver when under stress or when they feel threatened. The need for secure attachment and love is even greater in these babies suffering through the first months of their lives, and loving touch, care and support is a tremendous lifeline to them. Adults with healthy relationships experienced an abundance of physical touch and love as babies.

The need for secure attachment and love is even greater for these babiesThe need for secure attachment and love is even greater for these babies. Image: Gustavo Cultic.

Though the thought of these precious babies crying as they endure the pain of coming off the drugs in their system is not pleasant, there is hope. In a forum for parents who have adopted drug-affected babies, each parent shared that the screaming and incessant crying of these vulnerable babies was dramatically improved through wearing the baby in a sling or cuddling them. And every parent reported an amazing transformation in the baby after they had been successfully weaned off the drugs.

These beautiful parents adopted babies born with chemical dependencies and through their loving care, are supporting these children to live the most normal life possible, despite a terribly rocky start. Here is a comment from one parent:

We have one child born addicted to drugs and he is now six. As a baby, he had difficulties, he was more needy and less screamy…as long as you had him in your arms, he was content. We never put him down for long. He slept with me on the couch, we laid him on our legs to change him. He wanted to touch us all the time, so we let him. He was sickly, with feeding issues, and breathing issues, had multiple surgeries and procedures, was on meds daily for over four years for different issues and was diagnosed with ADHD at age one by his neurologist. He is very active. He has trouble paying attention. But do you know what? He is the light of my life, quite possibly the sweetest child I have ever met. Caring and loving and thoughtful. No, he can’t pay attention in a regular school setting, and yes, during homeschool he does read while hanging upside down off the back of the couch, but he can read. And he is so smart! He loves life and loves people, is helpful, likes to bake cookies and do chores!

While it’s easy to vilify the mothers of these precious infants suffering so much; so early on, it’s also important to remember that drug addiction is an illness. Hopefully, these support and cuddle programs can support babies and their mothers to heal the trauma that caused the problems they were trying to fix with drugs. Fortunately, we have the ability to help, as the antidote is the simplest thing possible – love – the one thing we all know how to give. Even if it may be a little flawed or imperfect, we can all share love and cuddles.

If you feel moved to help you could contact your own local hospital and offer your services. You could also check with women and children’s shelters in your communities to see if they need support with families of moms battling addiction.

Some examples of places that take volunteers are below.

Volunteer Opportunities

Here is a list of participating hospitals in the US:

The Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, in Philadelphia, has a four-hour training course for cuddler volunteers.

The Boston Medical Center has a program called CALM – Cuddling Assists in Lowering Maternal and Infant Stress.

Lily’s Place

Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC in Pittsburgh

The Woman’s Hospital of Texas

The Children’s Home of Pittsburgh & Lemieux Family Centre

Miller Children’s Hospital

University of Chicago Medicine

Australian participating hospitals:

Sunshine Hospital, Victoria

Royal Women’s Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

These lists are compiled as a guide only and may not be up to date or completely accurate. Please check with your local hospital or women’s outreach for programs near you.

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Judith Behrendt
Judith Behrendt
3 years ago

Great Idea but doesn’t help if there isn’t a link to a way to find out if local hospitals in my area take volunteers. A few years ago when I asked at a hospital I was told they no longer had “cuddlers” due to liability issues.

Pilar
Pilar
3 years ago

Participating hospitals were listed in the article. Use your phone and Google to find out for your area. Easy.

Chandra
Chandra
3 years ago

I agree with you, I would love to join but where and how? Please advice.

Maria
Maria
3 years ago

Me too

Marlene Sensenig
Marlene Sensenig
2 years ago
Reply to  Maria

I would love to volunteer too Maria. please share the info. I Googled for Florida and could not find a hospital. Thanks

Trina Rivera
Trina Rivera
1 year ago

I’m in Tampa Florida I would love to volunteer also. It would also help my health too. Win win for both of us!!!

Donni
Donni
1 year ago
Reply to  Trina Rivera

I live in Los angeles. Please send me hospitals that have the cuddle program

Alexa
Alexa
1 year ago

I am also from Florida, in the panhandle! There is a hospital in Panama City, FL with this program and trust me, it’s needed. Huge drug problem

MARY TYLER
MARY TYLER
2 years ago

Hi Judith and others in FL. I found an application process for the Florida Children’s Hospital in Orlando, did anyone try that. It requires certain documents and a criminal search as well as a commitment to 100 hours a year.
I’m in the process of application now,

Trina Rivera
Trina Rivera
1 year ago
Reply to  MARY TYLER

Well darn I posted before I saw this. Do they have anything or are working on anything in the Tampa area?

Alexa
Alexa
1 year ago
Reply to  MARY TYLER

Hi, There is also a hospital in the panhandle called Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center in Panama City! They have a huge drug problem and this program.

Dorothy Gee
Dorothy Gee
2 years ago

yes and I experienced the same at my local hospital. so where can I find a program for adults who really want to become a volunteer cuddler?

Marny Martin-Beanum
Marny Martin-Beanum
1 year ago

I couldn’t agree more. I would love to be a participant in such a program. Just googled and contacted several hospitals via their websites. No such program available. Someone with the proper ” Know-how” should put together a website or some such for hospitals to register.

Tammy Fox
Tammy Fox
1 year ago

I would aslo love to do this.I live in SOUTHWEST corner of MO.

Loretta Levy
Loretta Levy
1 year ago

I would love to volunteer my time as a Cuddler. I live in Wilson, NC. 27893. I’m a Mother of Five, I’ve also raised two Grandchildren from birth ages 21 and 22. Active in my church home and babies are my passion. If you have a link for Wilson,County please email me.

Nancy Melton
Nancy Melton
3 years ago

I agree Judith. How do we start this in the Mo. area?

Amanda
Amanda
3 years ago

I would love to do this I live in Ireland mother of 3 children this is heartbreaking for me to watch

Maria
Maria
3 years ago

I would love to cuddle a baby I got custody of granddaughter she go to school I stay home alone I have 16 grandbabies

Tina Wooldridge
Tina Wooldridge
3 years ago

Do they have this at Southampton hospital? Such a lovely thing to do x

Christine Romine
Christine Romine
3 years ago

How could I start a Cuddle Program in my state?

Paula Hill
Paula Hill
2 years ago

Hi my Paula Hill how can I find out in my State where to volunteer

Gabriela Araque
Gabriela Araque
3 years ago

I love to be a volunteer in miami

Debra Kraus
Debra Kraus
3 years ago

I’m in Melbourne area of Fla. I would jump at the opportunity to volunteer.

Donna
Donna
3 years ago
Reply to  Debra Kraus

Debra,
I live in Palm Bay. I looked into this last year and was told that our local hospitals don’t utilize outside cuddlers because they are small hospitals. I was advised to look into the bigger areas like Miami and possibly Orlando.

Donna E.
Donna E.
3 years ago
Reply to  Debra Kraus

Debra,
I live in Palm Bay. I looked into this last year and was told that our local hospitals don’t utilize outside cuddlers because they are small hospitals. I was advised to look into the bigger areas like Miami and possibly Orlando.

Anita Georgia
Anita Georgia
2 years ago
Reply to  Debra Kraus

The middle of June:I will staying in Vier, Fl for 9 months – I would love to give my love and attention to these precious babies.

Amber
Amber
1 year ago
Reply to  Anita Georgia

I would like to sign up for it.. they r alot of babies here in Murphy nc as well and would like to start it here and I am willing to do it… Hi I am I’m 30 years old and have 3kids..

Gail Duryea
Gail Duryea
3 years ago

Are there any participating hospitals in Columbus Oh ? I currently have a therapy dog and visit hospitals but would love to do this as well

Allen
Allen
3 years ago
Reply to  Gail Duryea

I agree! I live in westerville. I wonder if OSU or any of the other local hospitals do this.

bonnie k lund
bonnie k lund
3 years ago

Having trouble finding out how to volunteer in the Pasadena/Los Angeles area. Children’s Hospital is no longer accepting applications.

Lori
Lori
3 years ago

I would love to volunteer to help this babies. Is there anywhere in Connecticut??

Deb
Deb
3 years ago

Are there participating hospitals in NY? I had the same experience as Judith.

Laura
Laura
3 years ago

I would love to do this but there nothing in my area

Susan
Susan
3 years ago

I’m a mother of 3 and grandmother of 4. Would love to do this. I live in Canada on Vancouver Island in a small community where drugs are rampant. I’m retired and have had a criminal record check so I could take on foreign students. Looking for something to do that’s more meaningful.

Todd
Todd
3 years ago

Is this program available n NC

Crystal
Crystal
3 years ago

Im now concerned …. what kind of people do they have because this scares me as people that have been arrested and charged with sexual abuse dont techically have a criminal conviction yes uts pick up if they were wanting to be a working in police etc. but not for a general workimg with childens check… this breaks my heart that someone high up cant be paid to do this job to be there thats had full test on everything….
I have so many trust issues when it comes to certain adults around children.

Allison
Allison
3 years ago
Reply to  Crystal

I thought the same thing. But if you look at the application for some of the hospital application requirements. They do a background check on you and test you for TB. They should also make sure they do not put their lips on the babies. But I would love toe do this myself also.

Dorothy Gee
Dorothy Gee
2 years ago
Reply to  Allison

glad that you looked into the hospital application requirements…..I also found the requirements needed to be a volunteer cuddler. And wasn’t aware that the volunteer cuddler DON’T put their lips on the babies.

These babies need the POWER OF TOUCH !! Touching is part of the human bonding experience, and will help the baby develop the brain also.
In ways that the baby can learn to trust, especially in the first months of life. Also as they develop through life with all these & other helps they will be able to express intimacy with others.

These “special babies” need alot of cuddling and extra attention as their mothers or families are absent in their lives while they are hospitalized weaning off the opiodes that the mother took. The mothers are going through rehabilitation while these “special babies” suffer the effects of withdrawal symptoms—–the crying, screaming, diarrhea, high fevers, until these “special babies” are well to go home or placed in a good home environment. Most times hospitals are understaffed and overworked and these “special babies” have mp pme!!! as they are in pain and suffering for what the mother took into their system and passed onto their baby without the mother even realizing it. Only thinking of their instant gratification.

thank you for expressing your research ……….I hope we both find a hospital where we can be volunteer cuddlers………..if not I’ll be waiting as I volunteer elsewhere for now.

Where did you say you filled out an application or did you?
I didn’t as yet after I inquired about whether my local hospital
(St. Mary’s (St. Joseph Health System) Hospital her in the High Desert in Southern Ca. specifically Apple Valley, Ca. —– and was given the answer that St. Mary’s Hospital in Apple Valley, Ca. doesn’t volunteer in that program for the protection of these infants.

Micnele
Micnele
1 year ago
Reply to  Crystal

I would love to do it. Could i get an application to become a volunteer

Vanessa
Vanessa
3 years ago

I’d love to do this

Donna
Donna
3 years ago

Am looking for a hospital near me that participates in this or similar programs. Long Island, ny. Any suggestions.?

Liaa r
Liaa r
3 years ago

Is there any in Brooklyn NY

Kimberly nino
Kimberly nino
3 years ago

I want to join so bad but there are no programs in Fresno ca

Arelis tejada
Arelis tejada
3 years ago

I want to do this , but is look like they don’t have the program in my area , Burlington North Carolina

Natasha
Natasha
3 years ago

I live in Orange County, Southern California. Do we have such program here?

Dunya Larisa
Dunya Larisa
3 years ago

I would love to do this… I live in Jakarta, Indonesia. If there’s more info about it I would love to… iam a mother of three , so it’s hear breaking to see these babies just needs cuddles… I Wish I can help

Samantha
Samantha
3 years ago

I would love to volunteer. Is tbere a place in Toronto that does this ?

Jennifer Shaw
Jennifer Shaw
3 years ago

Where in Sydney can one volunteer at a participating hospital ?

IOLA
IOLA
3 years ago

I would love to join. Where and what time? Do I need some training?

Deshei
Deshei
3 years ago

None in Georgia??

Allison
Allison
3 years ago
Reply to  Deshei

They do have a location in Georgia, you just have to Google it. But they probably aren’t taking applications.

Gala 870
Gala 870
3 years ago

We need to make people and hospitals aware that they people should not be able to leave the hospital with out them contacting DSS OR DHS!! And have monitoring on their parenting abilities! This is a serious crises and baby’s are dying after leaving the hospital but unfit parents on drugs… one mother put her baby in the washing machine with a load of laundry and passed out found the baby later that day! This needs attention!!

Allison
Allison
3 years ago
Reply to  Gala 870

How sad!

Dorothy Gee
Dorothy Gee
2 years ago
Reply to  Gala 870

What!! how horrible!! did you ever find out if the baby was alive!!!
and wasn’t the baby injured as the washing machine went into all the cycles??????? yes, this needs attention!!!!! I agree that these people shouldn’t leave the hospital even after the child has been weaned off the opiodes or etc. until they contact DSS Or DHS as “”required” by the social services department in these hospitals. Unfit parents are released to take the baby home despite everything that has happened to th baby & parents think they are well enough after rehabilitation but in actuality are unfit parents going home to take care of the baby.

What happens as in the above reply, the unfit parent as stated above
breaks with their rehabilitation pattern and then the baby “SUFFERS AGAIN”!!!

That’s why DSS or DHS needs to be involved when these fragile little lives are just infants. Grown people SHOULD know better !!!!!

thank you for your comment.

Alina Omar
Alina Omar
3 years ago

I would really love to volunteer in this program during my semester break. However, there isn’t a link to find out if local hospitals in Malaysia participitate in this program or take volunteers.

Norma Giron
Norma Giron
3 years ago

How do you find out if there is a program like this in your own area?

Linda
Linda
3 years ago

I live in Levittown NY
I would love to volunteer helping new borns dealing with moms addicted to drugs.

Debra
Debra
3 years ago

It’s a great idea and I would love to volunteer. The reality is that the program isn’t well established everywhere. And no how to or diy information to get one started. You don’t just walk into your local hospitals and say I want to volunteer to cuddle addicted babies.
I’m sure there is protocol.

Roxanne aguilar
Roxanne aguilar
3 years ago

I love to be a volunteer here in tucson az

Trish Nemeth
Trish Nemeth
3 years ago

Are there any volunteer options in Palm Beach County, FL?

Joyce Higdon
Joyce Higdon
2 years ago
Reply to  Trish Nemeth

If you find one, Trish, let me know. Joyce in Boca Raton.

Connie Nobles
Connie Nobles
3 years ago

Please pass along information for East TX to [email protected]

J&J Whitehead
J&J Whitehead
2 years ago

I live in Buffalo NY… I would love to get this program started here. Is that even possible and if so how do I get it started? This is such a great idea!

MikeB
MikeB
2 years ago

Is there an accessible list of hospitals.or locationd in Canada at all?

Lisa G Mirabile
Lisa G Mirabile
2 years ago

I’m very interested in doing this! These babies need special care & love & hugs & it would be of such wonderful help to them

I live in the county of New London,Ct

Valerie
Valerie
2 years ago

Is there any of these programs in Canada?I live near Vancouver B.C

Joanne Madorma
Joanne Madorma
2 years ago

Are there any facilities for huggers in Fort Lauderdale Florida?

Vicky
Vicky
2 years ago

I’d love to do this, i really would but they don’t do it in UK

PATRICIA ARMSTRONG
PATRICIA ARMSTRONG
2 years ago

I live in Melbourne Australia. Please let me no if any help is needed here

Donna
Donna
2 years ago

Do you have any in the LA Calif area

Katharine Payne
Katharine Payne
2 years ago

This is a program that I am really interested in because these poor children have no choice in the matter they are helpless and the fact that there is an opportunity for caring people to step in and do what we can is great so please let me know if there is anywhere near North Carolina 27262 and I’m willing to travel that I can step in.

Mary
Mary
2 years ago

Is there a way to get updates on new hospitals that will do this? Is there anything I can do to help my local hospital get involved?

Rhonda Woolbright
Rhonda Woolbright
2 years ago

I would love to be a part of this in my community, are there locations that support this in Murfreesboro, Smyrna, or Lavergne Tennessee?

Brenda Corbett
Brenda Corbett
2 years ago

I am VERY INSTERESTED in helping out as a cuddler….have some training and am available immediately
……909-223-8823

Lynn Bush
Lynn Bush
2 years ago

I would so much love to help with this wonderful cause. Is there a place in Georgia that I can volunteer?

Alyssa I Duran
Alyssa I Duran
2 years ago

When can i get a application for this program ?

Brenda Rock
Brenda Rock
2 years ago

Looking for a chance to cuddle babies in Green Valley or Tucson Az

TERRI MOORE
TERRI MOORE
2 years ago

looking to volunteer in the Henderson,Las Vegas area.
I could not locate any programs.
do you know if they offer program in NV?

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