When a baby is born addicted to opioids, like heroin, they're hooked before they even draw their first breath. At birth, at the time of separation from his or her mother, the child goes cold turkey. And then come the symptoms of withdrawal.
Alone for the first time in nine months, these babies cry, shake, vomit, lose weight and seize — all results of a hyperactive central nervous system, put into overdrive by a mother's addiction. While medications and time (depending on which drug they are addicted to, withdrawal symptoms can last four to six months) bring improvement, the most critical thing for a newborn in the throes of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) is touch.
As NAS rates rise throughout the country — according to the CDC, the amount of babies born addicted to opioids has tripled in 15 years — more and more hospitals are searching for volunteers to swaddle and hold babies as their bodies process and move past withdrawal. The St. Mary-Corwin Medical Center in Pueblo, Colorado is one such facility. With up to six babies going through opiate-withdrawal at a time, the hospital has already began screening thousands of volunteers. "It's rare that we do not have at least one baby in our nursery withdrawing from heroin," Paulette Mapes, a registered nurse at St. Mary-Corwin told a local news site. "They have a hard time. They have a hard time even when they're being cuddled and held."
Today, they're still looking for more cuddlers, and, specifically, for volunteers available overnight. "Our hope is to have a 24/7, 365 availability (of on-call volunteers) so if this baby's having a rough time, we can have someone who can love on the baby," said Mapes.
St. Mary-Corwin's Volunteer Services Manager Sherri Lombard has specific criteria for volunteers. To participate, candidates must be 21, pass a background check, receive a flu vaccine, take a tuberculosis test, understand confidentiality laws, attend an orientation and be ready to come in at a moment's notice.
Most importantly, volunteers must be able and willing to return the newborns to their mothers, without judgement. "These mothers are suffering from addiction," Mapes said. "I have yet to meet the Mom who I really felt (was) thinking 'I want to hurt my baby.'"
If you're local and interested, you can the hospital at 719-557-5685 or go to the hospital for an application.
(h/t ABC News)