The intensive care unit at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx was Noah Luciano's home for more than three months. He was born three months premature, weighing just over a pound.
His mom has another child at home, so she couldn't be there all the time.
"You miss him when you're gone and you can't wait for the next day to come so you see him again," mom Cristal Luciano said.
But she took comfort knowing medical students stepped in when she wasn't around.
"We call ourselves cuddlers," Jenny Wang laughed.
Jenny Wang and Caitlyn Williams are certified cuddlers. When they're not cramming for exams, they lend their arms to the youngest patients at Montefiore Medical Center.
"Just the feeling of having the baby look up at me and smile was breathtaking," Wang said.
"Part of what makes you feel so good is being able to do what you can to make them feel better," Williams said.
Studies show that touching and cuddling can help babies gain weight, stabilize heart rates and bring up oxygen levels.
"When babies are held, their vital signs improve and they do seem to be more calm and happy," said Dr. Robert Angert of Montefiore Medical Center.
Some babies are too sick to be held in volunteers' arms. Nurses touch the babies while they're inside incubators to make sure they get enough physical contact.
Noah thrived with the care he received in this NICU.
"I thank God for everyone that's here. They-- I'm about to cry, I don't want to cry. But they've been really good here," Cristal Luciano said.
And now, Noah's mom can't wait to cuddle him around the clock at home.
There are many programs like this in many NICU units across the country.
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