Tender touch, cuddles help babies make it through drug withdrawal

Posted June 23

Volunteers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center are cuddling newborns who have withdrawal symptoms after exposure to certain drugs in the womb to calm the infants down and help them recover.

The babies may receive the special attention and snuggles for as long as eight weeks, Maribeth McLaughlin, chief nursing officer and vice president of Patient Care Services at the hospital, told The Huffington Post's Taylor Pittman. "It’s great for our babies because it provides them with care and comfort, and it‘s an assistance to families who may not be able to be there the whole time,” she said.

The challenge for the babies is "neonatal abstinence syndrome," which Medline Plus explains is a series of problems caused because baby is withdrawing from opiates like heroin or oxycodone to which he or she was exposed in the womb. For some babies, the symptoms are so severe that methadone or morphine are needed, that article says.

But often, a little tender loving care does the trick. Among proven helps are swaddling, rocking and turning down lights and sounds, notes Medline, which is produced by the National Library of Medicine.

Calming a cranky, stressed baby isn't the only reason to cuddle.

In an article in the journal Applied Developmental Science, research led by University of Notre Dame professor of psychology Darcia Narvaez found cuddling, free play and being supported as a child improve the kind of adult one becomes.

A press release from Notre Dame noted that American kids fall behind some of their other-country peers. “We have forgotten that we are social mammals with specific evolved needs from birth,” is how the release quoted Narvaez.

Children's Hospital of Los Angeles notes similar benefits to kids. In a blog post for the hospital, Robert Giesler, a newborn intensive care nurse, outlines some of the benefits of cuddling on the littlest patients. Among other things, it encourages calm and relaxation. Heart, lung and immune functions improve, as do sleep patterns. Stress is reduced, as is discomfort, he writes.

The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) estimates that the number of drug-exposed infants born each year may be as many as 375,000.

Email:, Twitter: Loisco


Please with your account to comment on this story. You also will need a Facebook account to comment.

Oldest First
View all