Melania Trump visited a baby-cuddling program in Boston. Protesters gathered outside the hospital.

"I hope today's visit helps shine a light on programs like yours."

BOSTON (AP) — First lady Melania Trump visited a Boston hospital Wednesday that uses cuddling to help infants born dependent on drugs or alcohol.

The first lady met with caregivers and administrators at Boston Medical Center and told them she’s “very focused” on their pioneering work with babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome.

“I hope today’s visit helps shine a light on programs like yours,” she said.

The hospital developed the cuddling program to nurture babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome. The hospital also works with expectant mothers who misuse drugs or alcohol.

Proponents say cuddling helps lower stress in infants born to addicted women. It includes parental presence at the infant’s bedside, skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding.

First lady Melania Trump, left, walks with pediatrician Eileen Costello, front right, and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, behind center left, during the visit to Boston Medical Center. —Steven Senne / AP, Pool
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Mrs. Trump, visiting as part of her “Be Best” initiative, said she hopes the focus on such programs will help encourage people struggling with addiction that there is a path forward.

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar also attended the event. Azar said the Trump administration has put a special focus on the problem, including advancing clinical trials on neonatal opioid withdrawal.

“Neonatal abstinence syndrome is one of the most heartbreaking parts of the opioid crisis,” Azar said.

After listening to the doctors and administrators, Mrs. Trump then spoke with doctors in front of the hospital’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. The White House said she planned to tour the unit and meet with patients and their families.

Craig F. Walker / The Boston Globe

Outside, as many as 200 workers at the hospital and others gathered to protest the visit, condemning the tough immigration policies of President Donald Trump’s administration that they say discourage immigrants from getting health care.

Cecilia Girard, a 26-year employee who works as a nurse midwife, said the first lady represented the same administration that has taken a harsh approach to immigration, including caging some immigrants who have tried to cross into the U.S. via the southern border.

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“This is not a person that we want to come to our home, our hospital,” Girard said.

Other workers who joined the protest carried signs that read, “BMC cares for all patients” and “We believe that healthy women = healthy families = healthy society.”

Some wore white lab coats with the words, “We really do care, do you?” — a reference to a jacket Mrs. Trump once wore that read, “I really don’t care, do you?”

“I’m protesting because our babies, our vulnerable babies, shouldn’t be used as political props,” said Monica Joyce, who has worked as a nurse midwife at the hospital for five years.

Dianna Ploss, the founder of MA 4 Trump, brought a cutout of President Donald Trump to the protest. —Craig F. Walker / The Boston Globe
John Tlumacki / The Boston Globe
Joseph Prezioso / AFP via Getty Images
Craig F. Walker / The Boston Globe
Joseph Prezioso / AFP via Getty Images

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Associated Press writer William J. Kole in Boston contributed to this report.

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