The power of touch and hugs for babies
Touch is a natural part of nearly everything that parents, neonatal intensive care nurses and well-baby nurses do for their young patients. We cannot bathe them, change their diapers or take their temperatures when hospitalized without doing so.

But procedural, passing touch with caregiving is not enough. For babies to truly thrive, they need to be held and touched soothingly.

Research has shown intentional touch can deliver neurologic, behavioral and cognitive benefits to a developing infant. These benefits include helping the baby to relax and sleep, regulating the infant hormones that control stress, reducing crying and even inducing healthy weight gain in premature babies, according to the Mayo Clinic and a National Center for Biotechnology Information abstract.

As nurses, we categorize “touch” into three types:
  • Hugging or holding: Cuddling, hugging and rocking newborn babies, most often done by the family, nurse or volunteer hugger.
  • Massaging: Using a gentle touch to slowly stroke (without tickling) and knead each part of the baby’s body, extending and flexing their arms and legs.
  • Skin-to-skin or “kangaroo” care: The mother holds the diaper-clad infant against her skin beneath her clothing. For fathers, partners and other family members, the baby may be held against the skin as well.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Joanne Kuller, MS, RN, is a neonatal nurse specialist at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland (Calif.). She is also a member of Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses Neonatal Skin Care Evidence-based Guideline development team, as well as a member of the National Association of Neonatal Nurses. Joanne is part of the Huggies® Nursing Advisory Council, a multidisciplinary group of experts in neonatal care that work together to identify gaps in understanding and resources about developmental care in the context of diapering, especially for preterm infants.
Learn how confidence and closeness transformed one family's NICU stay
Editor’s note: Content sponsored by Huggies® Brand, Kimberly-Clark Corporation
Grant supports volunteer hugger programs Knowing that touch is so important to an infant’s development, Huggies is proud to support the No Baby Unhugged grant program, which provides hospitals with grants for the initiation of new programs or continued support of existing volunteer hugger programs in the NICU.

To date, 11 hospitals in the United States have taken advantage of this grant program, one of which is the hospital NICU where I work, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital NICU in Oakland, Calif.

This program has proven very successful and many babies and their families have benefited from it. I also have found that volunteer huggers receive a lot of fulfillment from their time spent holding.
When I’m holding the babies, you see them getting more relaxed, and they just kind of melt into you. I am getting just as much out of it as they are. I can feel my heart rate slowing down and my pulse go calm … I think we all need that human touch somehow. I have probably held thousands of babies. The fact that I can give comfort is a real gift for them and for me.
Elaine, a volunteer baby hugger at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital NICU in Oakland, Calif.
How to ensure babies benefit from touch
As nurses, we know the positive benefits of touch in the NICU. Science has shown physical touch, like hugging, has a powerful effect on infants’ mental, emotional and physical development, both in the short and long term.
However, due to workload, we aren’t always able to provide it. Parents aren’t always able to be with their baby as much as they would like to be.

Many NICUs are open 24 hours a day to parents, but it can be extremely difficult for some parents to be in the NICU on a daily basis. Many issues, including transportation, a need to work or care for other children and distance from the hospital can play a part in limiting visitations.

Parents are the ideal providers of positive touch to their infant, but fortunately, there is an option beyond families and NICU nurses for providing babies the touch they need.

Of the three types of touch, hugging/holding is the simplest technique to teach volunteers. Hospitals have seen this as an opportunity to implement volunteer hugging programs to help more infants get the hugs they need to thrive while hospitalized in the NICU.

A preterm baby often will have a variety of medical issues. Advances in neonatal care has enabled babies to survive at lower gestational ages. The mortality and morbidity of NICU patients has decreased over the last few decades, as well.

In the past, it was a victory to be able to send an extremely low birth weight preterm baby home with their parents.

Now it’s time to raise the bar! We want these young patients to not only go home healthy, but also thrive and have the best neurodevelopmental outcome possible. Visit HuggiesHealthcare.com to learn more about the Power of Human Touch for Babies and how No Baby Unhugged grants can support establishing or strengthening Hugger programs.

If interested in a grant, complete your application today. Grants are awarded quarterly.
Research reveals infants need soothing human contact to thrive
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© 2018 OnCourse Learning Corp. All rights reserved
20225 Water Tower Blvd. Brookfield, WI 53045
By Joanne Kuller
MS, RN Neonatal clinical nurse specialist
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