by Alex Stirpe
Alder Hey’s baby cuddling volunteers: The importance of nurture in early development
A recent journalistic report into Alder Hey children’s hospital in Liverpool has documented an interesting and exciting method of care that promises to be of great benefit to post-natal support for babies and their parents who are required to stay for prolonged periods at the site’s maternity ward.
The report in question was broadcast on BBC North West’s regional segment of the ten o’clock news last night, and explores how Alder Hey’s management team are currently recruiting volunteers to spend time looking after babies who are in long-term stay. This helps parents of the babies by giving them the opportunity to take essential breaks from providing care themselves, ensuring that they aren’t placed in the uncomfortable and guilt-inducing position of having to leave their babies unattended for too long.
What is particularly noteworthy about this programme, is that the volunteers are being asked specifically to make sure that they cuddle the babies to soothe them. This is important due to the impact that soothing and cuddles can have in the recovery of sick babies. Staff on the ward have reported quantitative evidence to indicate that the babies who receive consistent physical nurture and affection at the hospital do in fact recover faster from the early illnesses for which they remain under observation.
Though we at JSA Psychotherapy primarily work with adults, adolescents and children above the age of 3, we maintain the provision to conduct filial therapy as well, with parents of very young infants and babies. It’s because of this that we are so keenly interested in the importance of attachment and nurture at this stage of life. This sentiment is also a key component of the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics that we utilise in our assessments, as well as to underpin and inform the clinical practice of all our therapeutic models.
As research from Dr Bruce Perry, founder of the ChildTrauma Academy who developed the NMT demonstrates, the rhythmic cuddling and shushing sounds that we instinctively make to soothe babies work because they mimic the sensation of hearing their mother’s heartbeat in utero. As such, this technique provides the baby with a familiar state of comfort and security. Prosaic as it may seem, the value of the care that these volunteers provide to the babies of Alder Hey should not be dismissed or overlooked.