When Crystal Luciano had to leave her premature son Noah in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) because she had to return to work, she felt better knowing that someone would be caring and cuddling her child.
Montefiore Medical Center in Bronx, New York has a program that allows staff and medical students to become certified cuddlers. Their job is to hold premature babies in order to aid with their recovery and development.
"Just the feeling of having the baby look up at me and smile was just breathtaking," Jenny Wang, a medical student, said.
Sicker babies that can't be picked up also get attention from nurses who make sure they get human contact.
Other hospitals around the country have similar programs. UnityPoint Health - St. Luke's Cuddler Program in Sioux City, Iowa trains volunteers to hold premature babies, read books or sing songs to them.
"It's often hard for parents to be here 24-7," Cindy Running, nurse manager of St. Luke's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, told the Sioux City Journal. "This is a program intended to give that patient a little more one on one time as an extension of the nurse and giving them a chance to be cuddled at the bedside by a specially trained volunteer."
A 2008 Canadian study published in BMC Pediatrics showed that cuddling babies born as early as 28 weeks reduced stress levels for them, especially during medical tests, the BBC reported.
An April study in Pediatrics showed that lullabies and "songs of kin," or parents preferred songs, performed by parents and therapists. Playing music through devices called Remo ocean discs (a cylinder with metal beads inside) and gato boxes that mimicked two-tone heartbeat womb sounds and other "whooshes" helped as well.
Medical student Kaitlin Williams said that the infants aren't the only ones that benefit from the cuddling.
"Part of what makes you feel so good is being able to do what you can to make them feel better," Williams said.