N.C. Children’s Hospital uses volunteer cuddlers to comfort young patients

Volunteer baby cuddlers soothe patients in the N.C. Children’s Hospital

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Nancy Elkins, a UNC health care volunteer, is one of about 45 trained pediatric cuddlers at UNC hospitals. There are about three cuddlers in the hospital at a time to entertain, sing and comfort the babies when they get upset, in addition to feeding them. Courtesy of UNC Health Care Volunteer Services Department

For two hours every week, Pam Bordsen cuddles.

She is one of about 45 trained pediatric cuddlers that volunteers at N.C. Children’s Hospital. At any time, at least three cuddlers are searching for upset children who need to be held, comforted or entertained.

“I just like holding the babies, cuddling the babies, singing to them, interacting with them, playing with them,” Bordsen said.

Being cuddled and shown affection is an important part of a child’s development, one of the reasons the positions exist, said Linda Bowles, director of the UNC Health Care Volunteer Services Department.

“The patients are being poked and prodded all the time to make them well, and while they probably won’t remember that when they get older, it’s very comforting to have someone hold you close and to hear that heartbeat,” she said.

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.

Contact the City Editor at city@dailytarheel.com.

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