Bordsen, a new grandmother and a cuddler of five years, said being a volunteer is a way for her to feel close to her grandchild and also offer comfort to the children.
“The babies are wonderful,” she said. “They are really sweet.”
Bordsen said she has had a variety of reactions from the parents of the hospitalized children she tends to.
Sometimes the parents are uncomfortable, she said, but many times they appreciate the chance to slip out to get some dinner without feeling like they are leaving their child alone.
Melanie Edwards, director of Women’s and Children’s Services, said children who are held and given affection fare better in long-term hospitalizations.
“A child that is not held or cuddled is basically just left in a crib until the nursing staff can get around to them,” Edwards said.
Nurses’ medical duties are often too demanding to care for upset children, but if cuddlers are available, the nurse can call them to come in and help soothe a crying child, she said.
Additionally, it can be stressful for babies to eat properly when they feel rushed, Edwards said. But a cuddler has time to hold the bottle and rock the babies while they eat.
Cuddlers go through general orientation training and also receive extra instruction on working with IV poles and holding babies properly, Bowles said.
The main requirement to become a pediatric cuddler is that the volunteer be at least 21 years old, but Bowles said she typically doesn’t offer this position to students because the children and staff need consistency, something student schedules don’t always allow.
Bowles said volunteers usually range from 30 years old to retirement age and tend to apply for the position when their children move out or they have new grandchildren that live far away.
Donna Davis, UNC Health Care adult volunteer coordinator, said keeping the nine daily cuddler spots staffed is not a problem.
“Most of the time the cuddle room is full,” she said.
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