Sleeping inside an incubator might seem like a lonely way to start life, but now premature babies can enjoy some much-needed cuddly companionship from an early age.
Volunteers have begun crocheting soft octopuses for premature babies over the past few years, with research suggesting it can soothe their early life anxiety.
With more than 60,000 premature births in the UK each year, the project offers hope to parents while they are separated from their baby.
Cuddly octopuses – and more recently, jellyfish – emulate the shape of the umbilical cord and thereby evoke feelings of warmth and safety in premature babies.
What are the benefits?
Research in Denmark has found that squeezing these cotton tentacles has helped tiny patients to develop better breathing, more regular heartbeats, and even higher levels of oxygen in their blood.
Doctors report that babies are also less likely to pull on their monitors and tubes, which ensures they can receive all the medical attention they need.
How can I make a crocheted octopus?
Crocheting guides for making your own octopus or jellyfish are freely available online.
However, it is important to note that safety precautions must be taken. The stitching pattern must be tiny to prevent stuffing from escaping and the tentacles must be just the right size – around 22cm long.
Only 100% cotton can be used, and toys must be washed regularly at a temperature above 60°C to ensure they are sterile.
How can I donate a crocheted octopus?
Several voluntary groups are active around the world, particularly in the UK, USA, Denmark, Poland and Austria.
In the UK, Octopus for Preemies has more than 23,000 volunteers. The organisation provides toys to maternity wards across the country, and has found that both parents and babies benefit from the project.
Why is the umbilical cord so special?
The positive effect of these crocheted keepsakes reaffirms the importance of the umbilical cord, which links a baby with the placenta in the womb and pumps life-giving substances from mother to child.
Find out about the power of banking your baby’s umbilical cord blood and tissue.
Since leaving hospital, premature twins, Eleanor & Isabelle continue to have a close bond with their crocheted octopuses.