WEST ISLIP, N.Y. (FOX 5 NY) - Good Samaritan Hospital in West Islip, Long Island, has more than two dozen volunteers whose job is to hold and soothe babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
One of them is Linda DiGilio. She cuddled an 11-day-old boy named Nicholas just minutes after meeting him.
"Well, I have three children and five grandchildren but they don't want to cuddle anymore," she said. "When they said they were going to start the cuddling program I ran in and put my name on the list."
Each volunteer works a two- to three-hour shift once a week with the babies in the NICU.
Doctors say human touch is extremely healing to newborns whose parents benefit just as much. In many cases when a baby is born early, mom goes home after a few days but the baby can stay for a few months. Visits are limited because in most cases, parents have to work and take care of other kids at home.
"It's like hard not being able to hold your child so knowing she's in good hands when I'm not there makes me happy," said Carla Davis, who just had a baby girl.
Many of the volunteer cuddlers are retired community members and some even still work but find time to make time to cuddle these beautiful bundles of joy.
"We teach them about infection strategies, hand washing, what their average cuddling period would be and safety measures as well," said Leah Spare-Kraus, the NICU's clinical nurse specialist.
The concept is expanding on Long Island. NYU Winthrop and Stony Brook University each plan to bring on 10 to 15 cuddlers this year.