Volunteer cuddling at hospital shows power of human touch

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MADISON, Wis. — (WMTV) Carolyn Carlson slowly cradles Lucy in the Neonatal Intensive Care room the baby shares with her twin sister, Eily at Madison, Wisconsin's Meriter Hospital.

Carlson is a cuddler at Meriter Hospital NICU, part of a program that brings in volunteers to hold, rock, and cuddle the infants, making sure they're getting enough interaction.

"Some of them have other family at home so they can't be here all the time so we're sort of standing in when parents or grandparents can't be here," Carlson said.

Lending a helping hand, when mom or dad can't be there, and also providing a way for baby to get home sooner.

"They play a very important role in helping baby develop, calming babies, helping their brain mature and frankly get home faster, " NICU Director Dr. Michael Porte said.

Human touch has been shown to be critical to babies' development psychologically and physically.

According to one popular study, premature babies who received a 15 minute massage three times a day gained that critical baby weight 47 percent quicker than those who remained in their incubators without touch. They were also more responsive to stimuli.

Parents at the hospital may appreciate the cuddling for simpler reasons, however.

"My 2-and-a-half-year-old had eye surgery and so we had to try to split up our time. It was great to know that no matter what time we had to be with him, that we would have somebody here to hold him," mother Lisa Wolf said.

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Jaleesa Irizarry, NBC News


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