If you’ve ever wanted to cuddle babies in your free time, you may be in luck!

Rapides Women’s and Children’s Hospital is taking applications for “Volunteer Cuddlers” in its newborn intensive care unit. Cuddlers are hospital-trained volunteers who provide therapeutic talk and touch. Cuddlers do not feed babies or change diapers, or walk around with babies. They hold them, rock them, read to them or sing quietly to them.

 “This is something our newborn intensive care unit nurses pushed for,” said Tracy Alletag, RN, NICU manager. “They recognized the need for this in our unit and researched it, reached out to other hospitals and put in the extra time to make it happen.

“We have such great community support for our NICU staff and babies, so we wanted to give them this opportunity to support our babies in a new way.”

Rapides Women’s and Children’s Hospital is home to the largest NICU in Central Louisiana, caring for approximately 350 babies each year. And it’s those newborn intensive care unit babies that benefit the most from human contact.

“Studies have shown that babies who are rocked, held and talked to have measurable brain growth that can impact communication, learning, social skills and bonding years and decades later,” Alletag said.

The Cuddler program at RWCH is completely voluntary. It is open to those 18 and older, but all applicants must agree to a background check – and a few other stipulations.

“Our goal is keep our babies and families safe, while aiding baby’s development,” Alletag said. “So, we do have several layers to the application process and several non-negotiable requirements.”

Not only must Cuddler Volunteers pass a background check, but they must also attend hospital orientation, NICU orientation and a health screening.

Volunteers can sign up for a two-hour time slot any day of the week.

“We give all of our families the option as to whether or not they want their baby to be held by a volunteer,” Alletag said. “At times, the parents or primary caregivers are just not able to be here at the hospital as often as they would like to be. So many of them are happy to know that their baby is getting that additional attention.”

Cuddler volunteers work under the direct supervision of the baby’s nurse and only babies who are medically stable will be held by volunteers.

“Our staff are so excited to be able to offer this option to our families, our babies and our community,” Alletag said.  “We’ve worked for several months to put this together – and we can’t wait to welcome our new volunteers to the RWCH family.”

Cuddler volunteer applications can be downloaded from Rapides Regional. Forms can be printed and mailed back to RRMC Human Resource Office, 211 Fourth St., Alexandria, 71301.