Eskenazi Health's 'Cuddle Buddies' program expanding thanks to $10,000 grant

Volunteer "Cuddle Buddies" hold, talk and sing to NICU babies at Eskenazi Health. (Photo: Eskenazi Health)

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - Eskenazi Health is looking for volunteers to give newborn babies a gentle touch, a few soft words and a maybe a song, even if it is a little off key.

The hospital is expanding a program that puts the healing power of human contact to work on infants who need it most.

"Some of these babies need a little extra time being held and comforted," Kellie Rumple said. She is a charge nurse at the Eskenazi Health Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. "It is nice they can step in and do that for us."

They are volunteers who love, cuddle and tell stories to newborns they don't even know. The babies in the intensive care unit need the extra attention and care. They get it from "Cuddle Buddies," volunteers who fill in for nurses and parents.

"A lot of times, our parents have other children at home," Rumple explained. "They have a job, maybe they try to get back to work sooner, so when the baby gets home they can be with them."

It turns on that the simple act of holding a baby, talking to them, reading a story or singing to them helps the healing process.

"I'm glad you didn't have me singing," Rumple admitted as she held an 8-year-old boy. She sees the human prescription at work every day.

"His oxygen, his heart rate, is great," she said as she glanced at the medical information displayed on video monitors.

According to Rumple, cuddling improves babies' appetites. They sleep better and gain more weight. When she held the baby boy, his heart rate was about 146. After she laid him down, his heart rate increased to 185.

Eskenazi started the program a little over a year ago. Since then, it's grown to about two dozen volunteers. A $10,000 grant from Huggies Diapers is expected to double the size of the program.

"The day nurses get lucky because we get this extra help and the night nurses are, like, 'Boo! We want to have them all night long'," Rumple said.

It takes about two weeks to complete the necessary background checks and train Cuddle Buddies to help with the not-so-heavy lifting, but very important human prescription.

With the additional funding and volunteers, there will be Cuddle Buddies available to cuddle infants every day and night of the week.

Eskenazi is looking for more volunteers who can make a long-term commitment to the program. They just ask you put in one 3-hour shift a week. Volunteers must be at least 18 years old, non-smokers and complete an onboarding process, which includes a health screening, a flu shot and e-learning modules.

If you'd like to volunteer, contact Scott Lawson, manager of Volunteer Services, at 317-880-3311. Click here for a volunteer application.

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