Volunteer 'baby cuddlers' at Seattle hospital: Cradling, cooing all in a day's work

SEATTLE -- Some call it a labor of love. Others might call it the best volunteer job in the world. Spending hours cradling newborn babies.

It sounds simple, but it takes a great deal of compassion to cuddle and comfort. One look inside the NICU at Swedish First Hill Campus and you will see precious moments between perfect strangers.

“It just makes you feel like you’re really doing something worthwhile. You’re helping someone who really can’t help themselves at the time,” says Dorothy Canavan.

Dorothy spends 12 hours a week rocking back and forth, cooing and cradling.

“It’s so great to be able to console an upset baby and the family appreciates it, the nurses appreciate it. And even the doctors! I had a doctor who said thank you for being a member of the team, caring for this baby,” says Dorothy.

She’s a volunteer baby cuddler at Swedish First Hill’s NICU. Many babies here were born prematurely and can often have to stay in the hospital anywhere from 20 days to four months.

“The older that they get, the more they have that need to be held. They don’t want to lay in a bed and sleep all day long,” says NICU manager Laawna Murchison.

Tiny toes and an oh so tedious task, a tender touch is a must.

“Patience, patience and patience. And finding the right position to console that baby,” says Dorothy.

Swedish’s program isn’t new and it’s not the only one. Hospitals around the country have cuddling programs for babies who can’t go home due to a multitude of reasons.

Here at Swedish, becoming a volunteer baby cuddler requires interviews and tests and health checks.

“It’s a big commitment and it’s really a labor of love and it takes a certain person,” says Volunteer Supervisor Cyndi Arthur.

But once the position is planted in your arms, Dorothy says the labor of love is rewarded with just one look.

“Eventually, when the baby finally relaxes in your arms, it’s a wonderful feeling that relaxation,” says Dorothy.

The NICU supervisors say every baby that passes through their nursery benefits, not just from the cuddles, but from the quiet environment and positive energy each baby cuddler creates.

If you are interested in volunteering, Swedish has an online application on its website.