By Kym Gable

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — If you peeked into the NICU at Magee-Womens Hospital of UMPC, you might assume the woman in the rocking chair was a grandmother or aunt cradling a newborn child.

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But Christina Probo just met the baby she’s holding.

But their relationship will play a unique and vital role. That’s because Christina is learning the skills of a “volunteer cuddler.”

Research shows a gentle, soothing touch helps babies who are born to moms dealing with addiction.

“Just a couple of hours you spend with that person and their family, maybe you might make it a little better,” Christina told KDKA’s Kym Gable. “You might bring a little hope back, a little joy back, so they know they’re not alone and that somebody cares.”

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This was the clinical phase of training for Christina, under the guidance of her very own daughter, a NICU nurse.

“There’s a million circumstances that would mean a mom can’t stay at the bedside,” explained Amanda Shelapinsky. “It’s not because they’re bad parents. It’s because life happens, and having these cuddlers sometimes can make discharge come faster because they’re getting better care because someone’s holding them.”

Magee has about 10,000 births a year. Five to seven percent of those babies experience opioid withdrawal.

The volunteer cuddler program is full, but donations to Magee-Womens Research Institute and Foundation are welcome.

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The public can designate those funds to the volunteer program. Visit here if you’d like to give: