In the United States, nearly 400,000 babies (about one in 10) are born premature or before completing the normal 37 to 40 weeks of pregnancy. November is National Prematurity Awareness Month allowing educators and medical personnel the opportunity to continue to raise awareness to the globally leading cause of death in children under the age of five.
At Holtz Children’s Hospital at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center, these delicate babies often remain for weeks, sometimes even months at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), which operates and is staffed 24-hours a day.
Although the 126-bed unit offers premature and critically ill babies world-class medical care, these babies require other needs as well, the warmth and contact of skin-to-skin and that is when the homegrown Baby Huggers Volunteer Program arose.
One of its first volunteers is Inslee Copeland, who has been giving comfort to babies for two years now as a stand-in for parents.
“It’s a really tough job,” laughs Copeland. “I go around and find the little guys that have been having a bad day or are feeling uncomfortable to hold them.”
Since 2016, the program has been in place as a way to help parents who are not always physically present at bedside.
“A lot of times this takes people by surprise; they expect to have a full-term baby and be on their way home and they plan for that,” said Copeland. “So when you have a preemie, that’s a completely unexpected occurrence in your life and a lot of parents have to go back to work.”
Often times, the medical team are there to make sure the babies are getting stronger and healthier but the baby huggers are there to assist with the recovery and healing process of these young patients as they go through medical procedures and daily struggles.
At most, Copeland has held 20 babies a day and the tiniest baby was the size of the palm of her hand.
“I love to do this – I feel honored and privileged to do this,” said Copeland.