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Loren Schweiger: Showing Compassion Through Cuddles

June 29, 2018

Loren rocks a baby with NAS to sleep.The two-week-old infant screamed in discomfort. Loren Schweiger tightened her embrace and the baby slowly relaxed in her arms. “There, there,” said Loren. “All better.”

Loren Schweiger is a “cuddler”. The Saint Francis University senior Healthcare Studies major donates a few hours each week helping console the most hapless victims of the opioid epidemic, newborn babies addicted to drugs, often heroin.

“I learned in my Public Health class about the increase in babies born addicted to the drugs that their mothers took. I became emotional and I began to do some research. I found that UPMC in Altoona was looking for “cuddlers,” and after a brief training class, I met the qualifications and began volunteering.”

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) happens when a baby is exposed to drugs in the womb. The mothers are often discharged before their babies, and in many cases are starting their own addiction treatment. Babies born with NAS have longer hospital stays than other newborns. Healthy babies only stay for 3 days. NAS babies stay on average 17 days in the Special Care Nursery.

After birth, the NAS babies can go through a variety of withdrawal symptoms. They commonly cry non-stop, clench their bodies to the point they are hard to touch, and even claw at their faces. It can make it hard for them to breath and incapable of feeding. These symptoms leave newborns nearly inconsolable. That’s where the “cuddlers” come in.

Every Saturday morning, Loren calls the hospital and asks if there are any babies that need cuddled. “My role is to provide help to the nurses with the NAS newborns. I change diapers, feed them, and of course, cuddle.”

Babies going through withdrawal need help for extended periods. They need human touch. They need soothing.

“I sit in a rocking chair, and just hold them. I tell them how special they are and how much they matter. Sometimes I sing to them. I sing You Are My Sunshine,” smiled Loren. “That usually puts them to sleep.”


Loren soothes a baby with NAS.Loren has over 100 hours of cuddling under her belt. She estimates she cuddled over 40 babies since she started in January 2017. “It just seemed like the right thing to do,” she recalled. “If you have the time to help somebody, why wouldn’t you?”

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, 2000 babies were born last year with NAS. An increase of more than 1,000 percent in less than 20 years.

Loren’s faith played a role in her decision to enroll at Saint Francis and to volunteer.

“When it comes to NAS babies, it’s not my job to judge. It’s to help. Putting labels on others and treating people as if they are less will not change the circumstances, but showing compassion will. I want to graduate college knowing, in return for receiving my education, I gave my service. It’s the least I can do.”

Loren, also minoring in Biology and Public Health, hopes to one-day work in pediatrics or a maternity ward. “I just love children. Any place where I can help sick children feel better would be a dream job.”

Being around sick babies can be emotional. However, Loren has a unique perspective.

“I don’t get sad when I come in and I find a baby I used to cuddle is no longer here. That means that they got better, and were able to leave the hospital. I just say a little prayer, hope that life treats them kind, and move on to the next baby that needs cuddled.”

If you or someone you know would make a good “cuddler,” contact your local hospital and learn how you can help make a difference in a newborn’s life.

School of Health Sciences