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A Job to Cuddle For (Grade 7)

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A Job to Cuddle For
by Katrina Chiong

Did you know you can volunteer to hold newborn babies in hospitals? These special volunteers are called “cuddlers” and, for a few hours a week, cuddlers sing and talk to newborn babies while holding them in their arms. However, as adorable as this job is, why do hospitals need cuddlers in the first place?

The majority of babies that cuddlers take care of come from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit or the NICU. Babies in the NICU are usually premature or born too early. For all babies, the transition from the womb to the outside world is stressful. After being born, babies must take their first breath of air, their digestive system must begin to process food, and their immune system must start working hard to protect the baby’s body against sickness. For premature babies, this process is especially difficult. Being born too early often prevents the baby’s body from developing properly which can lead to a number of health conditions. For example, retinopathy is a condition that causes vision loss or blindness due to underdeveloped retinas, the part of the eye that sends signals to the brain in order to let you see the world around you.

Even if the baby has no health conditions, most premature babies need to spend weeks, if not months, in the NICU in order to be nursed into a healthy weight and to watch out for any health problems that may arise. However, most mothers can not afford to stay with their baby for that entire time. They may have other family members to take care of or they may need to go to work. Unfortunately, no life circumstances can get in the way of the fact that premature babies just want the warmth and safety of their mother’s touch.

Physical contact is essential to a baby’s development. Ruth Feldman, a professor of psychology and neuroscience, performed an experiment in 1996 studying the developmental differences between babies who were held more and babies who were held less. Looking at the results, Feldman discovered that babies who were held more had a more consistent sleep schedule and better stress management. Why does this happen though?

Think back to a time when you hugged someone you love. What did you notice? Perhaps, you noticed their warmth. Maybe you remember the sound of their heart beating. These are both big contributing factors as to why babies love being held! Being born early, premature babies miss out on months of being safe and warm in their mother’s womb. This is very stressful for premature babies who miss that normalcy they were used to. By holding babies, cuddlers can help mimic the warm environment the baby craves, making them feel safe and less stressed about the world around them. Additionally, babies that are held can listen to the calming sound of a consistent heartbeat and regulate their own in order to relax. These conditions combine to help premature babies have a more restful sleep which allows them to develop properly.

Despite what it may look like, being a cuddler is not just an opportunity to hold cute babies. Cuddlers provide an important service that ensures that premature babies can receive as much of a chance as possible to grow up healthy and strong. Holding babies just turns out to be one of the perks.

What is a cuddler?
  1. a person who likes hugs
  2. a kid with a favorite stuffed animal
  3. an animal that carries its young in its pouch
  4. a person who holds newborn babies in the NICU
Why do hospitals need cuddlers?
  1. There are more babies than people to care for them.
  2. Many parents cannot afford to stay at the hospital full-time.
  3. Premature babies can be born with vision issues such as retinopathy.
  4. Lots of people want to come in and hold cute babies.
What does cuddling and being held help mimic for a baby?
  1. being safe and warm in a mother's womb
  2. rocking softly in a small rocking chair
  3. lying in a sterile crib
  4. sitting in the sunshine
What effect can hearing someone else's heartbeat on a baby? (Choose all that apply)
  1. It can regulate their own heartbeat.
  2. It can cause their brain to develop.
  3. It can soothe gas bubbles in the stomach.
  4. It can help them to relax.
When a baby is born too early, it can be difficult for the baby to
  1. bond with his or her mother.
  2. drink from a bottle.
  3. develop properly.
  4. stay awake.
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