Benefits Of Cuddle Therapy To NICU Babies: Better Mental Health, Healthy Weight Gain & Lower Heart Rate

By Olivia Reese, Parent Herald October 12, 05:36 am
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Young orca stuns onlookers with beautiful belly flops
The wonders of cuddle therapy or human touch.... It lowers newborns' heart rates, boosts their neonatal mental health and helps them achieve a healthy weight gain.
(Photo : Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The benefits of physical touches go a long way, especially when it comes to babies in the NICU or neonatal intensive care unit. Cuddle therapy helps improve infants' quality of life.

Cuddle therapy has been introduced at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, Canada a year ago, OzarksFirst.com reports. The program, which provides NICU babies extra TLC, also benefits parents and allows them to have a short break. Cuddle therapy helps volunteer cuddlers feel pleasant, too.

There are around 20 volunteer cuddlers in St. Michael's Hospital and numerous individuals are on a waiting list. Volunteers cuddle premature babies as well as those with mothers struggling with mental health or addiction problems. Some infants even have alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

Tony Barozzino, a pediatrician, said that human touch lowers newborns' heart rates, boosts their neonatal mental health, and helps them achieve a healthy weight gain. A seven-week-old baby boy named Zayn was one of the NICU babies in St. Michael's Hospital who received cuddle therapy.

Baby Zayn was born prematurely at 31 weeks and has been in the hospital's NICU for approximately two months. Zayn's original discharge date was October 19 but thanks to cuddle therapy, the infant was discharged from the hospital at an earlier date.

Volunteers for cuddle therapy are carefully vetted by the hospital. They underwent extensive medical checkups and police background checks.

Julia Gluck, 66, is one of the hospital's volunteer cuddlers. Gluck described cuddling babies as a heavenly experience, adding that cuddle therapy is "almost the perfect way of giving back."

"It's the most wonderful thing. How to give back I think is a challenge to a lot of people," Gluck shared, as quoted by OzarksFirst.com. "I walk out of here so calm and so refreshed. It's way easier than paying for therapy, I can tell you that."

Cuddling doesn't just benefit babies; it also has positive effects on adults. According to Shape Magazine, cuddling releases the brain's oxytocin or the feel-good hormone.

Cuddling, holding, hugs and intimate gestures generate a sense of well-being and happiness. Cuddling discharges endorphins, a chemical released after a person's pleasant experience such as after a satisfying workout or after they eat chocolates.

Cuddling lowers a person's stress and blood pressure and even helps foster an emotional bond between a mother and her baby. Dr. Fran Walfish, a family psychotherapist also specializing in child and couple, said that oxytocin is "a neuropeptide that is closely linked to childbirth and breastfeeding," Shape Magazine further reports.

Do you believe in the benefits of cuddle therapy? Why or why not? Please share your feedback below.

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