‘Baby cuddlers’ help care for premature babies in NICU

NEW YORK — Hospitals are adding a new team member to the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit or NICU.

These members don't have a medical degree, but their lullaby game is top-notch.

They're known as "baby cuddlers" and they do exactly what it sounds like.

They spend hours rocking, singing, cooing, and holding the tiniest premature infants. “Baby cuddlers” let nurses and doctors stay on top of their work and give parents a chance to care for other siblings or themselves, and most important of all, they help these fragile newborns to thrive.

At Stony Brook University Hospital's NICU, they have 14 “baby cuddlers” on staff and a wait list that is years' long.

But all are incredibly grateful for their loving arms and special cuddles.

Pat Schery, one of the cuddlers on staff describes it as a task that “Warms me to the bone when I can hold them and love them and comfort them. It’s so rewarding and satisfying! They feel it. They respond by calming down. Sometimes it takes a little prodding with humming or singing, and it works.”

For third-time parents Michael and Kelsey Bottari, their harrowing delivery came unexpectedly early to mom Kelsey, on New Year’s Eve.

Baby Abigail Rose was born at just three pounds. For this mother and father it was familiar territory.

Each of their three babies was born prematurely, meaning weeks spent in the life-saving NICU unit.

But Stony Brook University Hospital’s NeoNatal Unit is different.

The cuddlers meant an extra pair of healing human hands to help these babies get home to waiting families faster.

Nurse Jessie Jellen explains, "You see their heart rates go down. Studies show it helps them mature faster, and the length of stay is shorter.”

New dad Bottari adds, “Physical love for children means something. It’s only hugs and kisses, but to know someone’s there when you can’t be there. It’s tremendous.”

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