For over fifteen years, Pat Rice and his wife, Claire Fitzgerald have volunteered their time to cuddle babies.
The couple are both volunteer “cuddlers” in the neonatal intensive care unit at the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford. The two hold the babies and speak to them. “Apparently the voice helps make a difference. I don’t know why. But I find that it works pretty well,” said Rice in an interview with ABC News.
According to the nurses and doctors at the hospital, cuddling the infants produces immediate results, such as the baby relaxing and breathing more deeply. As for longer lasting effects, the cuddling produces a more stable body temperature, stronger pain tolerance, and sometimes even stronger vital signs.
Seyi McLelland, the mother of twins born 3 months premature, stated, “You can’t be here 24 hours a day. And it’s very comforting knowing that while you’re not here there’s someone holding your child. And genuinely loving your child.”
In addition to cuddling the babies, the couple also helps comfort the parents of the infants brought into the NICU. Fitzgerald even shares her own experience, having had a sick baby who now has children of his own. “You know these people are scared to death,” Fitzgerald said.
Unfortunately, not all the babies make it. “I’ve done this a long time, but the tears just rolled from my eyes. It’s just hard to see one go,” said Fitzgerald on finding an empty cot at the hospital one day.
However, thanks to the care from the NICU as well the cuddles, most infants go on to thrive.