According to the World Health Organization, about 15 million babies each year are born prematurely, before 37 weeks of pregnancy.  In the United States, about one in 10 babies is born preterm, adding up to more than 500,000 annually.
Many premature infants spend extended periods in the hospital neonatal intensive care unit or NICU. In this environment, parents are not always on hand to hold or stroke their infants, and babies face multiple medical procedures — some painful.

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A gentle touch can make all the difference. Premature babies – who miss out on the sensory experiences of late gestation – show different brain responses to gentle touch from babies that stay inside the uterus until term. This could affect later physical and emotional development, but regular skin-to-skin contact from parents and hospital staff seem to counteract it.

About 15 million babies around the world each year are born prematurely, before 37 weeks of pregnancy, according to the World Health Organization. In the United States, about one in 10 babies is born preterm, adding up to more than 500,000 annually.

Many premature infants spend extended periods in the hospital neonatal intensive care unit or NICU. In this setting, parents can’t always be on hand to hold or stroke their infants, and babies face multiple medical procedures — some painful.

A gentle touch can make all the difference. Premature babies – who miss out on the sensory experiences of late gestation – show different brain responses to gentle touch from babies that stay inside the uterus until term. This could affect later physical and emotional development, but regular skin-to-skin contact from parents and hospital staff seem to counteract it.

David Deutchman has been a volunteer at the NICU and PICU units at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta for twelve years. Though staff and parents say he’s a ‘treasure’ and a support to the nursing staff, David believes that no one gets more out of it than he does.

On Tuesdays, David goes to see the PICU babies. On Thursdays, he makes rounds in the NICU. Many of the babies spend weeks – sometimes months – in hospital. The hospital staff does not always have the time to give them the extra affection they need, and many of the parents have children at home who also need their love and attention, or live a distance away. Hospital staff is full of praise for David, believing the time and care he gives these babies really helps them.

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