Providing Comfort

P-W-MKT73733_Prvd_ComfortAll infants cry. They’re often fussy, letting you know when they’re uncomfortable, tired or hungry. When an infant born to a mother who took opioids during her pregnancy cries, it’s usually a sign of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), a group of physical withdrawal symptoms that go beyond the usual fussiness of a newborn. NAS can include inability to sleep, fever, jitteriness, diarrhea, vomiting, sneezing and more. 

To help provide comfort to infants while they are going through drug withdrawal, the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Miami Valley Hospital launched the Infant Cuddler Program, through which volunteers help provide the additional support these tiny patients need. 

NAS is one of the most challenging conditions faced by neonatal nurses today. The babies in their care need more than the medication they receive to help lessen the physical symptoms of withdrawal. Cuddlers help fill the gap when a nurse or parent is not available by holding, rocking and providing quiet, social interaction with the babies. 

“Activities of social interaction support the neurological development and physiologic stability of NAS babies,” said Amy Clayton, RNC-NIC, BSN, clinical nurse educator for Miami Valley Hospital’s NICU. “Creating a compassionate, comforting, safe environment for the infants is the goal.”

The volunteer cuddlers are not responsible for the physical care of the infants; they hold and gently talk to them, and sometimes walk them in NICU-provided strollers through the unit’s hallways. Volunteers must exhibit kindness, a non-judgmental nature and a sensitivity to the issue of drug abuse. They also must complete special training, health and background checks before they can work with the babies.

About 90 babies per year are admitted to Miami Valley Hospital’s NICU for NAS. If a mother has signed the consent form, cuddlers will be permitted to hold the baby and help make a positive difference in the start of life for these little ones. 

“Early detection and holistic treatment that incorporates both pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic interventions help improve outcomes for these infants,” said Clayton.

The cuddler program is exclusively for babies experiencing NAS.