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Your Healthy Family: NCH 'snugglers' comfort NICU babies born addicted to drugs

Posted at 7:48 AM, Jan 13, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-13 07:48:24-05

NAPLES, Fla — There are a lot of reasons a newborn may have to spend some time in the NICU: premature birth, trouble breathing, or health complications. A Volunteer Snuggler in the NICU at NCH North Naples Hospital said some babies are dealing with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome; they were born addicted to drugs.

"You can hear it in their voices," Kassandra Strasmore, a Volunteer Snuggler, said. "There's a sound that they make. They're emotional. They're upset."

"They have a very high-pitched cry," Marybeth Clary, the Snuggler Preceptor, said. "Their mothers are addicted to drugs. So when they're born, their drug supply is cut off immediately."

Clary is in charge of training snuggler volunteers so they can comfort all babies, including babies born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, or NAS.

"Those babies need the snugglers more than anybody because they can be inconsolable," she said.

The babies shown in the video above are not NAS babies. Fox 4 visited the NICU at NCH on a rare day that they weren't caring for any babies with NAS.

"There's typically a NAS baby in the NICU almost at all times," Clary said.

She said NAS babies are typically born full term.

"And within a day or so, they will typically start showing signs of withdrawal," she said.

Symptoms include:

  • Trembling
  • Seizures
  • Fever
  • High-pitched crying
  • Trouble sleeping

"What we are trying to do is to get them to sleep. Getting them to sleep is the most important because that's when they can start healing themselves," Clary said.
She said their snuggler volunteers go through training to learn the right comforting techniques.

"We swaddle them very tightly to mimic what what it felt like in the womb, because that was their happy place. Rock them. We will allow them to suck a pacifier because sucking is very soothing to babies," she said. "For a NAS baby, shushing mimics the sound that they hear when they're in the womb, of the blood going in and out of their mother's heart. And then we try to hold them so that their heads are close to where our heart is, so they can hear our heartbeat."

She said that will calm the babies down enough so they can sleep. Despite the challenges these babies face in their first few weeks of life, Clary said they all have bright futures.

"It's the best job in the world," she said.

Every volunteer at NCH has to go through an orientation with the healthcare system. NAS snugglers watch a video, and spend four hours doing classroom work. Clary also said she goes on each snuggler's first shift to make sure they're comfortable. For more information, click here.