Victoria’s most vulnerable people have received life-changing therapy for two years at the Victoria General Hospital (VGH). While the treatment is powerful, the action is very simple – all it takes is a hug.
The No Baby Unhugged Program was launched at VGH in April 2017. In this program, volunteers hug babies in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) if parents can’t be at the newborn’s side.
Volunteers spend hours at a time rocking, hugging and singing to the babies, who in turn experience a series of health benefits.
“Extra cuddle time for a sick newborn really facilitates healing and growth,” said Gillian Kozinka, manager of perinatal and neonatal services at VGH. “The babies settle and vital signs change when they’re being held by another nurturing human being. The growth hormone is released, they sleep better, they grow faster and there’s a multitude of strongly supported evidence to suggest that our sick newborns benefit from being hugged.”
Kozinka said annually the NICU sees over 600 babies, of which about a third go through the hugging program.
Kathy Vandermeulen had been volunteering for the NICU for three years when the hugging program was introduced.
“When the hugging opportunity came up I jumped on board because I’m also a veteran parent,” Vandermeulen said. “I had two little ones come through here about 28 years ago.”
Since she began, Vandermeulen figures she’s cuddled about 100 babies.
“It’s really good for my blood pressure, and I think it’s awesome for them. We didn’t have that when I came through here, and I think it’s a huge help especially for parents who don’t live here,” Vandermeulen said. “The nurses are so busy, and though they’re good at stopping and cuddling sometimes, this just gives them an extra hand. It’s a wonderful experience.
There are between six an eight specialized volunteers who work for the program. While the jobs sounds fun, it takes a special character to suit the job.
“An already existing Victoria hospitals volunteer demonstrates a wish to join the hugging program. Then, I have one of my nurse clinicians who really hand picks those individuals to be best suited to an orientation program,” Kozinka said. “We have folks on our team who are fiercely passionate for the health of newborns.”
Island Health took on the Huggies No Baby Unhugged initiative in partnership with the Canadian Association of Paediatric Health Centres. The program continues to be funded by community supporters including the Victoria Hospitals Foundation and London Drugs.
Anyone interested in volunteering at Greater Victoria Hospitals can visit islandhealth.ca/volunteer-resources/.
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