When Needs are Great, A HUG Can Make All the Difference!

Evette Horton, PhD, LPCS, NCC, ITFS, is the Child and Family Therapist at "UNC Horizons", a yearlong residential treatment program for maternal substance abuse in North Carolina. Evette is a longtime advocate and counselor for children of all ages, and she serves on both state and national boards.

I was excited to learn from a North Carolina colleague about the Hug Your Baby tools. I work with very high-risk mothers who are trying very hard to beat their addictions and create a safe environment for their young families. Though they may have other children, many mothers are exploring parenting in recovery for the first time. Other mothers have moved to the program pregnant--and are then are faced with single-parenting a young infant through their first year, while simultaneously working on their own recovery. I was looking for effective programs for high-risk infants and parents, programs which would support them in that first month of care, and my colleague recommended Hug Your Baby. I am forever thankful for my friend's suggestion because I have used the Hug Your Baby materials every day since my training!

For example, I was recently working with a new mother who had arrived to our program with a 7-week-old infant who had been prenatally exposed to heroin, nicotine, and Prozac. Because the infant tested positive for these substances at birth, Child Protective Services got involved. They sent the infant to stay with a grandmother for 6 weeks until the birth mother could get settled into a substance abuse treatment program. 

When the new mother arrived to our program, she was highly anxious and worried about her ability to effectively mother this baby. I pulled the mother and infant into my office at the end of their first week together. In our discussion, I learned that the mother was worried that her baby wouldn’t know who she was since she had been separated from her for the past six weeks. I used a Hug Your Baby strategy I learned in the video. I held the baby in my lap and talked to it, then asked the mom to call the baby’s name. The baby immediately turned her head toward the mother. (Much faster than I thought a 7-week-old could!!) The mother cried when she realized the baby still remembered her voice even though she had been away from her for six weeks! 

I kept working with the mother and infant for a few more weeks, teaching the mother about her baby’s "zones" and "SOS" cues. I’m happy to report that both mother and baby are doing really well! This mother has reported that, in her family, she’s now perceived as an “expert” on her baby and is helping the grandmother understand these same HUG concepts!

I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn these skills to help needy mothers feel competent taking care of their babies. I believe these skills help support the mother’s attachment to her baby and also help her recovery from her substance abuse by showing her how important an observant and attentive mom is to her baby!