Intubated newborn baby
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Opioid Addiction Is So Pervasive That U.S. Hospitals Need “Baby Cuddlers” To Help Newborns In Withdrawal

As a result of America’s opioid crisis that affects millions, many babies are born with harrowing inherited-withdrawals from their addicted mothers.

This opioid crisis has turned into a national crisis. Of course there are addicted adults, but the babies of these addicted adults suffer from withdrawal as well. They begin suffering the very moment they enter the world.

These poor babies end up in an ICU for babies – the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Before experiencing anything else, these babies experience pain and suffering.

Crying newborn
Credit | Wikimedia Commons

There are stark and prevalent nationwide consequences of the opioid epidemic. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there are more and more babies that are suffering from opioid withdrawal because of their parents.

Hospitals are trying to deal with this case by receiving volunteers that serve as “baby cuddlers”. In this way, the babies can feel human connection that gives them moments of peace.

Plus, in Iowa, Virginia, Massachusetts and San Antonio, there are individual cuddler programs as part-time jobs.

The largest number of babies born with NAS has University Hospital, Texas, and it has spiked by 60% over the last several years.

According to Texas Public Radio, Army Veteran Doug Walters, a volunteer, has been in this job for over three years and has specialized on those who enter the NICU with NAS. The symptoms of NAS are the following:

  • Tight muscles
  • Subsequent body stiffness
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Overly increased reflexes
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Trouble with being fed
  • Trouble with breathing
baby wrapped in blanket

Laurie Weaver, a nurse in the University Hospital, has come to care for babies with NAS more that any other types of patients. She says that they have been given a rough start and she wants to be there for them and comfort them.

Vicki Agnitsch, a former nurse and a cuddler, says that touch is very important to babies, and when someone touches them, they feel safety and warmth. She added that the human connection supports the immune system of the babies born with NAS.

She has been in this job for several years and says that it has been the best part of her week.

Va.’s Fauquier Hospital, Warrenton, has a cuddler program of its own. According to WTOP, Cheryl Poelma, director of women services, has stated that infants born with NAS received morphine minutes after being born.

When in withdrawal, babies are irritable, can’t eat and sneeze a lot. Fauquier Hospital made a decision to implement a two-pronged cuddler program in conjunction with the administering of morphine.

They like to hold a blanket, they like to suck on pacifiers, they like to have their hands close to their chests. Cuddlers have shown results in a very short time. When they start engaging you more, you will see that their eye contact is getting better, they will start feeding and sleeping better as well.

In 2014, there was a study published by Biological Psychiatry which suggested that if infants born in the NICU are regularly cuddled, they form healthier sleep habits and showed increased attention.

The New York Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital, UCI Health in Orange County, Calif., the Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines, Iowa — these programs are springing up all over our country. These are only currently at capacity.

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