Robin Nardi spends one morning a week cuddling babies, and she loves it.
She’s a patient cuddler at Children’s Specialized Hospital, an RWJ Barnabas Health facility in New Brunswick, where young patients typically stay four to six weeks. In her role, Nardi plays with the babies, talks to them, sings songs and reads to them. If they are fussy or crying, she may hold them for a half-hour or so.
When infants are hospitalized for an extended period of time, parents can’t always make daily visits. They may have jobs, other children to care for, or a long drive to the hospital. Some New Jersey hospitals welcome baby cuddlers who fill in when the parents can’t be there. Patient cuddlers pick up the slack, easing the burden for parents and nurses and comforting the babies.
A retired occupational therapist, Nardi, 69, has been participating in the program since May. “I love kids. I worked with children my whole career,” she says. “This is something the children need.”
Most of the babies come from hospital neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) with conditions that include neonatal abstinence syndrome (caused by exposure to certain drugs before birth), respiratory distress, failure to thrive, chronic heart and lung conditions, or genetic disorders.
“We have terrific nurses, but if we have 20 babies and eight are screaming, we run out of hands,” says Charli Nobles, the hospital’s child life specialist. “The volunteers give them the special attention they wouldn’t get otherwise.”
Currently, 21 volunteers participate in the program at Children’s Specialized Hospital. Each volunteer sees at least five babies during their shift.
“With the volunteers helping, the babies don’t have to wait so long for a response to their needs,” explains Nobles.
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