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Extra Hand Hugs for the NICU on Valentine’s Day

*This article was written in collaboration with LaToshia Rouse with contributions from Jim Helm.

The WakeMed NICU Advisory & Parent Support group (NAPS) has joined forces with the Development Team (Jim Helm, Laurie Slaughter, and Jennifer Powell) in the WakeMed NICU for “Extra Hand Hugs Week”.

About Extra Hand Hugs

“Hand Hugging” or “hand hugs” are where you gently place your hands over or around your baby, cupping their head and feet or lightly over his or her trunk. If you are unsure how to do it, you can ask your nurse to show you how. Hand hugs are a great option for skin-to-skin contact with your preemie when Kangaroo care is not an option.



Commemorating Valentine’s Day with Crocheted Hats

WakeMed parent volunteers recently made red crocheted hats for each baby in the WakeMed NICU to help present the idea of extra hand hugs. The crocheted hats are a sweet way to commemorate the 1st Valentine’s Day for the precious babies in our NICU unit.

The parent group started working on the hats just after New Year’s Day. Each of these hats was lovingly made by a parent who has had a baby in the NICU unit within the last few years.

We are grateful to these parents for devoting their time to make this 1st Valentine’s Day special for our NICU families, and hearing about Extra Hand Hugs week sounded like a match made in heaven.


Every Touch is an Opportunity to Nurture

We all know that touch is important.  We encourage kangaroo care, breast feeding, and 4-handed care.  We also know that this can happen more.

We try to practice with the mantra that “Every Touch is an Opportunity to Nurture”.  Every time an infant needs to be touched, one can nurture – no matter what the need is.

To emphasize this we’re taking advantage of the love that surrounds Valentine’s Day.  For the second year we’re offering Extra Hugs for Valentine’s Day Week. We offer this as a way to encourage even more hand hugs and 4-handed care.


What is 4- Handed Care?

4-Handed Care occurs when one person comforts the baby while the other does medical or caregiving tasks.

Our Developmental Team members will provide an extra long hand hug to every infant in our NICU during Valentine’s week along with a Valentine’s Day card at the bedside.

Other doctors and staff members – neonatologists, nurse practitioners, volunteers, nurses, nurse techs – will also be joining us to provide extra time, above and beyond our usual 4-handed care practices. We’ll leave a small Valentine’s Day card (ex: “For Valentine’s Day, you received an extra hand hug from ___”).



Preemies Benefit from Loving Touch

The literature on the benefits of loving touch for premature infants grows all the time. Kangaroo holding or skin-to-skin holding is a well-known way to help fragile infants stabilize and their mothers recover from child birth. It also helps strengthen the relationships between babies and the person holding them, whether it be the baby’s mother or father.

In a 2014 study published by Feldman et al., it was reported that children who were held in kangaroo care for 1 hour each day for 14 days showed benefits 10 years later over those children who were not in the program.

Another study, published in 2017 by Moore et al., suggests that the amount of physical contact at an early age actually affects the molecular structure of DNA seen at 4½ years of age with epigenetic differences that help determine how genes are expressed.

Clinically, we know that when care is provided with 4-hands, fragile premature infants manage the activity with more control.


Donate to the WakeMed NICU

*Interested in supporting the WakeMed NICU?

Make a donation to the WakeMed Foundation, select “Other” from the drop down menu, and type in “Neonatal/Intensive Care Nursery” in the blank space.

Learn more about the neonatal intensive care offered at WakeMed. We also encourage you to learn more about the NICU Advisory & Parent Support (NAPS). For those interested in learning more about our NICU or the Extra Hand Hug project, additional contact information is below. Interested in sharing your NICU story? Email us at:

LaToshia Rouse
Parent Partner/Co-chair NAPS of WakeMed

Jim Helm, PhD
Infant Family Specialist

About Jim Helm, PhD

Jim Helm, Infant Family Specialist, is Director of the Carolina NIDCAP Training Center at WakeMed. He is also the Vice President of the NIDCAP Federation International’s Board of Directors. Having first arrived at WakeMed as a consultant in 1984, Jim was hired full time in Neonatology in 1988. He spends most of his time in the NICU and the Special Infant Care Clinic.

Jim’s current clinical and research interests include: infant-family development, infant behavior and communication, and ways to best provide individualized, developmentally supportive, family-centered care in NICUs.

About LaToshia Rouse

LaToshia “Toshia” is a patient and family advisor at WakeMed. Her journey as an advisor began after delivering triplets at 26 weeks gestation.

Toshia’s work is largely focused on bringing the parent perspective to the NICU and antepartum improvement committees at WakeMed. Toshia also serves as a member of the Vermont Oxford Network (VON) NICU team.

In addition to being a patient and family advisor at WakeMed, LaToshia has served as a subject matter expert and expert team member for the Perinatal Quality Collaborative of North Carolina (PQCNC), American Board of Pediatrics (ABP), American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and several other organizations; and in 2016, she earned a Certificate in Patient and Family Leadership from PQCNC.

In reflecting on the work she’s engaged in over the last number of years, Toshia credits her children’s NICU team at WakeMed for helping her understand what a true partnership between families and hospital staff should look like.