Stanford Children’s ‘Baby Whisperer’ Celebrates 24 Years of Comforting and Supporting Infants and Their Parents

Sue Moses is known to many as the ‘baby whisperer’ because of the way she is able to calm babies.

When walking into a hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit, you’ll hear the beeps and whirring of machines. But there’s also a comforting presence found in a rocking chair.

For over 24 years, Sue Moses has been volunteering her free time to rock and cuddle tiny babies and support the care teams at the Stanford Medicine Children’s Health (Level II) Intermediate Special Care Nursery (SCN) Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Dignity Health Sequoia Hospital. The SCN is where you will find preemies who are born at barely 32 weeks and have developmental needs, therefore having to spend several weeks in the NICU. They need special supervision until their neurological gestational maturity develops, or until they are able to go home.     

The 81-year-old former accountant comes to the six-bed SCN unit for a few hours a week holding, talking, swinging, and providing calming techniques to help newborn preemies adjust to their new surroundings. “Parents have jobs and other family members at home to care for, and they can’t always be here, though I am sure they would love to be doing what I’m doing. I’m just trying to keep them relaxed.”

Azin Akbarnejad-Oshagh, MD, neonatal hospitalist, has been working at the SCN birth center for over 20 years and says that Moses is the center’s “baby whisperer” because of the way she is able to calm crying and fussy babies. “We were doing a circumcision procedure on a baby, and Sue was at the baby’s head rubbing his temple and speaking softly to him, helping to reduce his stress level and calming him down. That is how the ‘baby whisperer’ name came about.”

Calming effect

Moses’ method for calming babies may also provide improvement to the infants’ developmental delays in the future. “Some of these special babies need feeling of containment, a warm touch, to help neurons connect neurons,” explains Oshagh. “Studies have shown that human touch plays a major role in the progression of the infant’s neurodevelopmental function, from oxygen saturation, enhancing the immune system, creating a more stable heart rate, and even reducing a baby’s length of stay. It’s a merriment of benefits.”

Throughout the years, parents have expressed how thankful they are that Moses, and other cuddlers, are able to provide extra time and care to their babies. “Parents have told me how grateful they are knowing someone is holding and talking to their baby when they can’t,” said Moses. “What I like most about cuddling is the feeling that I have made a difference in someone’s day, be it a baby, a patient’s family, or a staff member.” 

Added support

Oshagh adds that the volunteers from the Cuddler Program at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health provide comfort and support not only for the babies and families, but for the care teams as well. “Our care team provides a wide range of perinatal care and intensive care services to premature newborns who require specialized care during the first weeks of life, and Sue is able to support and free up the medical staff to care for other critical care babies at the center. She is definitely an integral part of our care team.”

“If we have a baby crying or protesting too much, we know who to call to help calm the baby,” said Aree Daileg, clinical nurse.

“I love being around the babies, watching them thrive and get stronger, especially these little guys that start out so tiny, some weighing as little as six cubes of butter,” said Moses. “The best part is seeing them months or years later at the grad parties and seeing how they have grown, and how well they are doing. You would never have known they were preemies.”

Waiting to Cuddle

Currently there is a one-year waiting list to become a trained volunteer cuddler at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health. The Cuddler Program recruits approximately 30 volunteers, once a year. To be placed on the waiting list, you must first attend an orientation and complete the interview and onboarding process.

According to Maryellen Brady, director of Volunteer Services in the Government and Community Relations Division, the program is currently in the process of taking on a new group of cuddlers. The volunteers must be at least 21 years of age and able to commit to one two- to three-hour shift per week for at least one year. To be considered, the candidates must go through the following:

  • Panel interview with NICU staff and a seasoned-cuddler interview.
  • Orientation(s) that go over the cuddler basics, boundaries, a typical shift, benefits of supporting nurses and families, and reviewing the Cuddler manual.
  • Touring of the nurseries and shadowing with seasoned cuddlers for a certain amount of time.
  • Each new cuddler must have their initial competency checklist signed off by a seasoned volunteer cuddler and a Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford registered nurse.

The Cuddler Program is also looking for more male cuddlers to take on the role. “In the past, staff have given us feedback that our male cuddlers seem to be able to soothe the babies well with their deep baritone voices,” said Brady. “We have had volunteers from all walks of life who come to dedicate their time for many reasons, bringing their life experiences, knowledge, and desire to give back with them every time they come to volunteer. We are lucky to have such a well-loved and supported program!”


2 Responses to “Stanford Children’s ‘Baby Whisperer’ Celebrates 24 Years of Comforting and Supporting Infants and Their Parents”

  1. Leigh Johnson

    My friend Maria Jenson has been a Cuddler for many years. We’ve talked about the program, and I’d like to apply.
    Thank you, Leigh

  2. Jeanine Carter

    Loved hearing about the Cuddler Program and happy to hear that those who volunteer their time are not only being noticed, but being recognized in print….I am an active volunteer at Sequoia Hospital who works as a Greeter who LOVES HER JOB and who also brings Dozer, my BIG yellow lab, once a week to visit both patients AND STAFF….wouldn’t trade this for the world!


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