The benefit “at the most superficial level” is obvious, he said. “A baby is crying, mom’s not there, the nurse is busy with other sick babies, and it’s an unpleasant life experience to be crying and unattended to, and, voila! A cuddler comes over and the baby stops crying.”
Nancy Salcido has been a cuddler at Torrance for a year. Her two daughters are grown, and she considers her three-hour cuddling shifts good practice for any potential grandchildren.
“I just kind of hold them close to me ... and talk to them, sharing my day, or give them little pep talks,” Salcido said. “One of the nurses has nicknamed me the baby whisperer.”
Parents typically must consent for their babies to be part of cuddling programs, and cuddlers must undergo background checks and training before starting the job. At Chicago’s Comer hospital, that includes lessons in how to swaddle babies tight to make them feel safe and how to maneuver around intravenous lines, as well as instruction in hygiene including frequent hand-washing.
At the Golisano Children’s Hospital in Rochester, N.Y., one cuddler is a young man born there prematurely long ago. He “just wants to come and give back,” said Chris Tryon, a child life specialist at the hospital, part of the University of Rochester Medical Center.
Comer’s cuddlers include 74-year-old Frank Dertz, a retired carpenter who heard about the program from his daughter, a Comer nurse.
“It’s quite a blessing for me. I get more out of it than the babies, I think,” Dertz said.
Kathleen Jones says the same thing. A mother of three grown daughters and grandmother of two little girls, she joined Comer’s program in 2012, working a couple afternoons a week or sometimes at night.
“They say that I look so in love with them when I’m there, but I cannot not crack an ear-to-ear smile whenever I pick that little guy or girl up.”