BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — After a nearly three-year hiatus, the Neonatal Helping Hands program is back at UAB Hospital and they are looking for volunteers to cuddle and read to babies in the NICU.

The Helping Hands program is back following a hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic and is now expanding. UAB is looking for volunteers to not only cuddle and interact with the babies but also read to them through the NICU bookworms program.

These programs serve babies in the regional NICU and in the Continuing Care Nursery, which serves babies that have progressed from the NICU but are still receiving care at the hospital.

UAB Family Nurse Lesion Sandra Milstead said volunteers go through an application process and training program to learn how to properly care for preterm babies and babies with medical conditions. Milstead said reading and interacting with babies plays a big role in their development.

“A lot of times it’s just really great to have another person that can give some positive interaction. Holding that baby, reading to that baby, talking to that baby, singing to that baby. Just giving them some positive cuddle time and also communication is super important,” Milstead said.

Milstead said they care for about 110 babies on any given day, leaving plenty of room for volunteers. They ask that volunteers commit to three hours one day a week for a six-month period. This allows staff and families to become familiar with the volunteers.

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If you would like to apply to become a volunteer, you can find a link to that application on UAB’s website.