Victoria hospital launches volunteer program to hug babies

Victoria General Hospital has launched a program where volunteers will hold, rock, hug and sing to babies in the neonatal intensive care unit and the prenatal intensive care unit when their parents can’t be there.

Volunteers will hold, rock, hug and sing to babies in intensive care when parents aren't there

A volunteer holds a baby at Victoria General Hospital as part of a program new to the facility. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

Victoria General Hospital wants to make sure its babies get plenty of hugs.

The hospital has launched a program where volunteers will hold, rock, hug and sing to babies in the neonatal intensive care unit and the prenatal intensive care unit when their parents can't be there.

Sarah Byam is one of the specially trained volunteers in the program.

"Initially, there's a lot going on [in the neonatal intensive care unit]. There's lots of families and lots of beeping and buzzing," she told All Points West host Robyn Burns. "Once you're sitting here, it's calm, it's kinda relaxing.

"They definitely fall asleep and rest. I think it's nice for them."

Another volunteer, Kathy Vandermulen, wanted to be part of the program because she had two premature babies of her own born at Victoria General Hospital.

"I've always known that since I've retired, I want to give back in some way," Vandermulen said.

When her children were born more than 25 years ago, she says she wasn't allowed to touch them. Now medical professionals promote touch more, she said.

She's hopes volunteering to hug the babies will be a "healing" experience.

"It's something I didn't get to do with my two babies."

Island Health said in a release that babies who participate in the program can experience benefits like stabilized heart rates and body temperature, faster weight gain, improved oxygen levels and a higher tolerance to pain.

With files from CBC Radio One's All Points West