How To Become an Infant Cuddler Volunteer
If holding precious sweet babies and providing comfort is something that brings a smile to your face, becoming an infant cuddler volunteer might be the perfect opportunity for you! Volunteer cuddlers at hospitals are responsible for spending one-on-one time with preemies, newborns, and infants in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
They comfort babies when their parents can’t be there because of work, other family obligations, or limited visitation hours. The role of a cuddler is far more than simply holding babies. The care and comfort provided is invaluable. This may be one of the most sought-after volunteer opportunities, and for a good reason. Holding a precious newborn baby and comforting them and then seeing them grow stronger and going home with their parents or caregivers is absolutely so rewarding.
Role and Responsibilities of a Cuddler
Requirements for becoming an infant cuddler volunteer will vary slightly depending on the hospital or care facility. However, common requirements may include having experience with infants, passing a background check, and undergoing medical screening. Volunteers may need to commit to a minimum number of hours per week or undergo specific training related to infant care or infection prevention. Please consult with your local hospital or care facility for more information on their specific requirements and how to apply to become a volunteer infant cuddler.
The main responsibility of volunteer cuddlers is to provide comfort and care to newborns in the NICU. They supplement the visits of parents and medical staff by building relationships with these tiny patients. It’s important to make sure that each baby feels loved during their stay in the NICU. The goal is not just physical comfort but also emotional support: creating moments of peace and calm for newborns when they need it most. Often, they can provide comfort and soothing after a necessary treatment that might be scary or uncomfortable for a tiny baby. In what is often a cold, sterile environment, the warmth of physical touch and calm is valuable and appreciated.
Volunteer Cuddlers should be:
- And nurturing
Responsibility and reliability are important traits as well, because it’s crucial to show up on time for assigned shifts. This can make a massive difference in the routine of the babies they’re caring for. Often, infants have a set schedule based around feeding or medication, or other therapies. Volunteer cuddlers also need to be comfortable around babies and able to work in an intensive care environment.
What does a Baby Cuddler do exactly?
A volunteer will provide tender care to soothe sick or premature babies in the NICU. This may include:
- Holding and rocking baby
- Reading to baby
- Singing/Talking to babies
- Swaddling, hugging, cuddles, etc.
A hospital staff member will usually be nearby to supervise NICU cuddlers. The volunteer does not change babies’ diapers or provide feeding. The nurses and staff need to attend to these needs and keep careful records. Being an infant cuddler is about comforting and soothing the youngest of patients, with love and attention. The impact of this work on newborns is significant.
- As of 2023, there are over a dozen hospitals across the United States that offer dedicated cuddling programs for newborns in NICUs.
- Cuddling initiatives like those at NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital and NYU Langone Long Island have consistently shown to improve babies’ developmental results—shorter hospital stays by up to 4%, quicker weight gain by around 6%, and improved overall development by nearly 10%.
- Despite being a relatively new intervention, demand for this kind of volunteering is high—with programs like the Care Cuddler Program at NYU Langone Long Island having a waiting list of close to 75 prospective cuddlers as of February 2023.
Impact of Cuddler Programs on Newborns
Volunteer cuddlers are often seen as an additional resource for understaffed NICU departments. According to researchers from pediatric hospitals around the country, consistent contact with volunteer cuddlers has a direct impact on improving certain health outcomes for premature infants—shorter hospital stays, quicker weight gain, and improved development.
One study found that physiological markers indicated lower stress levels among newborns who were coddled by volunteer caregivers. Low-stress hormone levels are key because cortisol can potentially lead to long-term negative health outcomes, such as cognitive delays and reduced growth. On the other hand, those cuddled by volunteers were able to grow healthier with robust psychological and emotional well-being.
Volunteering as an infant cuddler can be a truly rewarding experience. The effects of cuddling can also lead to healthy bonding and socialization development in infants. The immersive experience of holding the babies, singing songs to them, and reading books out loud helps infants develop socially and cognitively. The human touch is powerful and provides comfort that machines cannot offer, according to Dr. Smith.
According to Researcher Brown from NYU Langone, “Studies have shown that when newborns stay in NICUs for extended periods without receiving enough physical contact, they’re more likely to suffer from extreme separation anxiety.” Having a volunteer provide comforting touches on a regular basis mitigates this because it maintains a sense of normalcy and stability during what can be an incredibly difficult time for new babies and their families.
The benefits provided by effective cuddling can go beyond excelling in early development. They can also equip premature babies with a fighting chance at better long-term health by shaping their overall growth trajectories.
Wellness Benefits for Babies
There have been hundreds of studies on the benefits of touch for infants in the NICU, and it has been proven to benefit infants: physiological, cognitive, and psychological. Simple touch or light massage can release serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins all the healing and “feel-good” hormones needed to grow and develop normally. This helps in the following ways:
- Pain relief
- Physiological stability
- More regulated sleep
- Weight gain and growth
- Reduced time in hospital
Babies who are born preterm or face health complications spend their first days, weeks, and sometimes even months in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). These tiny warriors are vulnerable and need all the love and support they can get to thrive. This is where cuddler volunteers play a special role in a newborn’s wellness journey. The rocking and snuggling provided is like therapy for the smallest of patients at hospital locations all over.
Cuddling infants has been shown to lead to shorter hospital stays, quicker weight gain, and improved development, as demonstrated by E. McDuffie et al. in their study “Feeding outcomes of extremely premature infants after neonatal care by multiple versus single primary nurses”. A cuddle session provides comfort and warmth that promotes restful sleep, which is linked to an increase in growth hormone production. Cuddling encourages babies to relax and release hormones such as oxytocin that can help regulate their body functions like breathing, heart rate, and body temperature control.
Beyond the physical benefits, cuddling also plays into emotional and social wellness. A study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics titled “The Impact of Mother-Infant Skin-to-Skin Contact on Developmental Outcomes of Preterm Infants” found skin-to-skin contact was associated with better cognitive development in preterm infants than incubator care alone. Building social and emotional skills at an early age is critical for lifelong healthy relationships.
Volunteer cuddlers at NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital have reported countless cases of cuddling benefits for babies leading to medical improvements. The NICU unit at this hospital sees a constant flow of premature babies who require round-the-clock monitoring and care from medical specialists and volunteers alike. Hospital staff have observed many noticeable differences between infants who receive regular cuddles versus those who don’t.
For instance, one mother shared how her baby struggled to gain weight while confined to the incubator; however, when he started receiving regular cuddles, his appetite increased, and he started gaining weight consistently. Another mother mentioned how her premature child would always cry and seem distressed when alone but would calm down and sleep soundly during a cuddle session. These testimonials are just a few examples of how the soothing powers of touch can foster wellness in newborns.
Every experience that an infant has matters in shaping their development – cuddling included. The warmth and affection exchanged with visitors has a positive ripple effect on their physical and emotional health.
Supportive Role for Families
As much as NICU babies need cuddles, their families require support too. Caring for an infant in distress can be mentally draining, especially for parents who have other children or work commitments. Volunteer cuddlers take some of the pressure off by providing an avenue for parents to step away from the hospital setting temporarily.
Often, parents can’t spend as much time with their newborns as they would like to because they have obligations outside the hospital. Knowing that there are trained professionals available to keep an eye on and provide comfort to their babies can ease some of their anxieties.
The benefits of Cuddler Programs go further than just the cuddle sessions themselves. The presence of a volunteer provides an extra pair of hands to assist with things like feeding, diaper changes, or keeping watch on the babies while medical staff attend to emergency cases. Volunteers also provide emotional support for parents, listening to their concerns and sharing tips on how they can be more involved in their infant’s care.
Some people might argue that it is not essential to have cuddlers in hospitals when there are already skilled nurses and doctors, and parents present. However, as Volunteer Cuddlers are trained in infection prevention and safety, medically screened and undergo background checks, their presence reduces the workload of medical professionals, allowing them to focus solely on medical treatments for babies. It also allows parents to step away for quick breathers, to regroup or to take care of siblings or work obligations. Providing some reprieve from overwhelming childcare experiences allows parents to regroup and recharge, leaving them better equipped to handle anything thrown their way.
Requirements and Training for Cuddlers
If you’re thinking of becoming an infant cuddler volunteer, it’s crucial to understand the necessary requirements and training involved with the role. While a heart full of love is essential for this volunteer position, there are also some practical aspects that need to be taken into account.
Typically, hospitals require volunteers to complete an application process, attend orientations and interviews, pass background checks, obtain clearances for criminal records, fingerprints, and provide proof of immunizations. The application process may vary from one hospital to another. Still, every hospital will conduct an interview process to determine the candidate’s suitability and willingness to fulfill the requirements that come with this position.
In addition to completing the application procedures, infant cuddler volunteers must undergo basic health and safety training. Volunteers are required to enroll in classes that cover infection control precautions, proper hand hygiene techniques, emergency protocols in case of respiratory distress or cardiac arrest while holding a baby. These classes will help volunteers take mindful care of their well-being while providing support to newborns in critical situations.
Some people may have concerns about their eligibility for cuddling programs because of health issues or age restrictions. However, hospitals often have reduced physical demands when it comes to infant cuddler volunteer programs. With the approval from medical physicians or general practitioners at your current facility, it is possible to participate in a caring volunteer program and bring joy into a child’s life, even with underlying health conditions. Age restrictions may vary depending on hospitals; but all of the programs we investigated required a minimum age of 18 to volunteer as a cuddler. Therefore, it’s essential for prospective volunteers always to understand the hospital’s guidelines for volunteering.
By understanding the commitment involved in becoming an infant cuddler volunteer, prospective volunteers can get a sense of the responsibilities and prepare themselves accordingly. However, having suitable personality traits is equally essential for effective cuddling.
- Becoming an infant cuddler volunteer is a wonderful way to provide comfort and support to sick or premature newborns, but it’s essential to understand the necessary requirements, including completing an application process, attending orientations and interviews, passing background checks, obtaining clearances for criminal records and fingerprints, and providing proof of immunizations. Prospective volunteers must also undergo basic health and safety training, which covers infection control precautions, proper hand hygiene techniques, and emergency protocols. While age restrictions may vary depending on hospitals, prospective volunteers should always understand the hospital’s guidelines for volunteering. By understanding the commitment involved in becoming an infant cuddler volunteer, prospective volunteers can get a sense of the responsibilities and prepare themselves accordingly. However, having suitable personality traits like compassion and patience is equally essential for effective cuddling.
Personality Traits for Effective Cuddling
As an infant cuddler volunteer, you will hold an essential role that requires a unique set of personality traits. While no extensive experience or degree is necessary for the role, hospitals are looking for individuals who have specific emotional and social abilities.
A calm and patient approach is one of the essential personality traits required in infant cuddle programs. These traits are necessary to provide a suitable environment for babies who may be sensitive to loud noises, unfamiliar faces, or uncomfortable situations.
Nurturing skills are a must-have to be considered for these programs. It’s vital that volunteers can soothe crying babies, establish trust through physical touch and eye contact and allow infants to feel safe.
Volunteering as an infant cuddler could be compared with babysitting an infant for a few hours because it often entails feeding, changing and tending to the infant’s most basic needs while keeping them calm and comfortable. It’s important to keep in mind that comfort is the key goal when holding newborns, not trying to achieve any significant developmental milestones.
Infant cuddling may sound like a breeze, but it demands reliability and responsibility. Hospital officials expect volunteers to always show up on time and complete their weekly tasks without fail. Volunteers must also maintain professionalism while under the hospital staff’s supervision while adhering to the ethical standards upheld by the medical facility.
Overall, being part of an infant cuddle program gives volunteers the chance to make a massive difference in a baby’s life while providing some form of relief for families during critical times. Understanding what’s needed of you before choosing this heartwarming role helps prepare potential applicants adequately if they want to contribute positively to society.
Volunteer Cuddlers is very popular amongst retirees, and most hospitals have a long waiting list for their programs. Don’t be discouraged though, many hospitals are expanding their programs and new programs are being started at many hospitals as well. A lot of volunteer seniors report how rewarding the experience is for themselves and they look forward to their volunteer time slot each week. The calm and patience seniors bring to the job is invaluable.
Basic Health and Safety Training
Volunteering as an infant cuddler is a heartwarming way to give back to your community. But like any other volunteer position, safety and health considerations must be taken seriously. Fortunately, most hospitals and organizations that offer cuddling programs have strict requirements for their volunteers to ensure babies receive the highest level of care.
The training you will receive as part of your role as a cuddler will vary depending on the organization you choose to volunteer with. However, basic health and safety training should be your top priority.
For instance, the NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital’s Volunteer Cuddlers program requires all volunteers to go through an initial orientation where they learn about patient confidentiality, infection control procedures, and proper hand hygiene techniques. The program administrators also provide detailed training on how to handle infants properly and safely secure them during cuddling sessions.
The interaction between cuddler and infant should be first and foremost safe. Adults who wish to fill these positions may be asked to watch a video on proper cradling and care. Care providers such as nurses and doctors will always be nearby if there are concerns that come up.
The Care Cuddler Program at NYU Langone Long Island takes the training requirements even further by requiring its volunteers to complete courses in neonatal intensive care unit education before they participate in the program. All volunteers in this program must have a CPR certification before beginning their volunteering bedside.
Volunteers will also be informed and become familiar with federal patient privacy regulations that must be strictly adhered to by volunteers. Patient privacy is very important, and hospitals will train their volunteers regarding how to maintain patient privacy while in the program.
Participating in a Cuddler Program
Participating in a cuddler program can be incredibly rewarding for volunteers who are passionate about providing comfort and love for newborns during what is likely a stressful time for both them and their families. In addition to receiving initial health and safety training provided by hospitals or organizations, there are several things to consider when becoming a cuddler volunteer.
Time commitment is one of the critical aspects to discuss before making the decision to participate in a cuddler program. Many hospitals and organizations require volunteers to commit to regular shifts, typically around two hours per week for at least six months. These requirements ensure that every infant in need of cuddling receives consistent attention and care.
But what if you are unable to commit to regular shifts? Some programs are more flexible than others and may allow volunteers to sign up for individual cuddling sessions. While this may not provide the same level of consistency, it still allows volunteers to contribute their skills and love whenever they can.
As an example, Seattle Children’s Hospital welcomes “cuddlers on call.” These volunteers do not hold regular shifts but may be called upon when a child needs comforting or soothing outside of regular hours. This option allows volunteers to keep their schedules free yet still assist in times of need.
Challenges of Being a NICU Cuddler
A doctor or nurse may have a lot of experience in challenging and heartbreaking situations such as a very sick infant. They are still affected by it, but usually can remain professional. One major challenge that may arise as a NICU cuddler is the emotional toll of seeing very sick babies or possibly even realizing a baby did not survive. This is obviously rare, but a possibility that must be lived through. Remind yourself that you provided love, which is all you can provide for that infant as much as you could and that means something. If this proves too challenging, don’t be ashamed, but make sure to let your volunteer coordinator know well in advance if you can no longer continue as a baby cuddler.
Volunteer cuddlers are also paired with babies born with narcotics in their systems. These precious babies will usually not have family around to hold and cuddle, and they often need the most comforting as their tiny systems process illegal substances. This can be a challenging situation for a cuddler, but just remind yourself you are only there for the baby and the best you can do for the child is love them as much as possible during your shift and leave the rest to the professionals, both law enforcement and the medical team.
You also need to remember that your role is very limited. Do not overstep or try to provide care beyond what you are asked to do by the volunteer program. Even if it seems super simple and small, you need to have explicit permission for everything.
Another challenge for some, might be remembering that patient confidentiality applies to all, even teeny, tiny infants. Don’t discuss things about a patient with anyone else. If a medical professional asks you questions, it is fine to answer them, because they are also bound by confidentiality. You do not know who may be around the corner or behind a door and you shouldn’t be discussing a baby’s condition, their challenges, their situation with anyone at any time.
Tips for Being an Effective Baby Cuddler Volunteer
- Be on time and reliable-the babies and the staff are relying on your help during your scheduled time.
- Be patient and gentle always- babies cry, and sick or scared babies cry a lot more. Make sure you stay calm and relaxed through it all.
- Stay away if you may be sick- never risk a baby’s health and call ahead if you cannot come in if you even think you might be getting ill. A minor cold can be life-threatening to an already struggling infant.
- Always follow patient privacy rules- stick to comforting the baby and don’t discuss any details about the patient or family.
- Dress in comfortable clothes and shoes-you may be standing a lot to soothe a crying baby.
- If your hair is long, wear it back and out of the way- hygiene is important and babies also tend to grab and pull anything they get in their hands.
- Follow all the hygiene rules and wash your hands often- be sure to wash your hands if you sneeze, clear your throat, or touch your face at all.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you have a concern or don’t understand something.
- Leave the medical care to the medical team-don’t go beyond what is asked of you.
Organizations That Offer Baby Cuddler Volunteer Programs
Recently, the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at Ascension St. Vincent announced they are expanding their NICU volunteer program and will be accepting applications for cuddlers. The hospital is located in Indianapolis, Indiana, but hospitals all across the country and the world are either beginning or expanding their baby cuddler volunteer programs.
Another program is Koala Corps, which is focused on the Los Angeles area. This is a program for training and coordinating baby-holding volunteers at several hospitals in the area. https://koalacorps.com From coast to coast there are NICU cuddling programs, and also around the world. We’ll provide a list below, but remember it is not all inclusive. If you don’t see an organization in your immediate area, you can call or reach out to your area hospitals volunteer liaison.
Australian Baby Cuddler Programs:
- Royal Hobart Hospital
- Sandringham Hospital
- Northern Health
- Children’s Hospital Foundation
- Lyell McEwin Hospital
- The Women’s Hospital
Canadian Baby Cuddler Programs:
- Horizon Health Network
- Family and Children’s Services Niagra
- Victoria General Hospital
- Nanaimo General Hospital
- Michael Garron Hospital
- North York General Hospital
- St Michael’s Hospital Foundation
- St Boniface Hospital
Baby Cuddler Programs in the United Kingdom:
- Great Ormond Street Hospital
- Alder Hey Children’s Hospital
Baby Cuddler Programs in the United States:
- CHOC Children’s
- Brayn Health
- Boston Medical Center
- Aurora Healthcare
- Care New England
- East Tennessee Children’s Hospital
- Children’s Hospital New Orleans
- Good Samaritan Hospital San Jose
- UCLA Medical Center
- Indiana University Health
- Lenox Hill Hospital
- Lowell General Hospital
- Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC
- Medical City Plano
- Miller Children’s Hospital
- Sharp Mary Birch
- St Mary’s Medical Center
- UCI Health
- Woman’s Hospital of Texas
- UMass Memorial Medical
- Valley Children’s Healthcare
- University of Utah Health
- University of Chicago Medicine
- Wesley Healthcare
FAQs About Baby Cuddler Volunteering
Who can volunteer as a baby cuddler?
Nearly anyone over the age of 18 can volunteer as a baby cuddler. However, they will need to go through an application process, which includes a background check. They will also attend an orientation and training, and be required to show proof of all their immunizations. Also, keep in mind that there may be a waiting list if you are interested, so you need to be willing to wait until an opening comes up.
How often do volunteer cuddlers work?
The shifts for a volunteer cuddler vary greatly from hospital to hospital. Overall, the program usually requires a minimum of 2 hours per week for each volunteer. Some cuddlers might work slightly more, but that is the average.
Is there room for more baby cuddler volunteers?
With estimates of more than 500,000 infants born prematurely every year in the United States, the demand for neonatal intensive care unit volunteers seems to be significant. More and more hospitals are getting on board and beginning NICU Cuddler programs, or expanding existing training programs for more volunteers to join.