Companionship is a two-way street. Everyone wants to feel loved, but being needed is another part of the equation that is often overlooked. Without feeling necessary to others, day to day living can be quite difficult. For seniors, this can be an especially daunting hurdle, as many older people find themselves relying on others more than ever.

This is one reason why volunteering is a great option for seniors, and many hospitals are offering a unique opportunity for older adults to bring more than just their time to the table—baby holding.

While it sounds like an adorable way to spend an afternoon, the benefits of cuddling newborns are vast, both for the babies and the volunteers. Kangaroo care, a more intensive, skin-to-skin therapy program between newborns and their parents, has been proven to enhance the health and well-being of premature or at-risk infants. And for many babies, recovery takes a long time. Hospitals all over the country have NICU infants in need of cathartic cuddling, and volunteers can be a Godsend for both the babies and their families. Parents may not be available around the clock—work, other children, or personal health problems may impede a parent’s ability to spend as much time as possible with their newborn, and baby holders offer tremendous physical and emotional support. Positive interaction can have just as many healing benefits as damage caused by negative experiences in early infancy does.

For seniors, this is can be an ideal opportunity to gain that secret element of companionship—feeling needed. One of the great pitfalls of aging is that it comes with a sense of vulnerability. As we get older we simply rely on others more than we want to, when we may have spent our entire lives with others depending on us. It’s a difficult role-reversal, and one of the benefits of the baby holding program is that it puts seniors in a position to be depended on again.

There are deeper emotional benefits as well. Exposure to babies can be a cathartic experience for grandparents who do not get to see their grandchildren very often, or for those who have not yet been gifted with the title. The role of ‘surrogate grandparent’ even for a few hours, can be a powerful emotional boost.

Becoming a certified cuddler does come with some limitations. Volunteers must undergo training, be properly immunized, and pass a background check prior to holding their first baby. Since you’re dealing with precious cargo, patience is a prerequisite—it may be several weeks before you are cleared to participate, so be sure to allow yourself time to learn what is involved and follow the proper channels. If you are interested in volunteering, hit up the internet to find out if any local hospitals are in need of baby-cuddlers to get the ball rolling! You may find that time spent with a tiny companion may become the most valuable part of your day.