CHICAGO (AP) -- At the University of Chicago's Comer Children's Hospital and other hospitals around the country, strangers offer a simple yet powerful service for newborns too tiny or sick to go home.
When nurses are swamped with other patients and parents cannot make it to the hospital, grandmas, empty-nesters, college students and other volunteers step in. They hold the babies, swaddle them, sing and coo to them, rock them, and treat them as if they were their own.
Scientific evidence on benefits of cuddling programs is scarce, but the benefits of human touch are well-known. In one study, gentle caressing or placing a hand on preterm infants reduced levels of stress hormones. Other recent studies have suggested touch may benefit preemies' heart rates and sleep and perhaps even shorten their hospital stays.