Recently I found out that crocheted octopuses bring comfort to premature babies, and I want to explain why it’s so effective.
Premature babies hold onto the tentacles of the crocheted octopus because it reminds them of holding onto the umbilical cord in the womb. The soft tentacles are familiar and soothing, which keeps the babies from pulling out their feeding or oxygen tubes.
Doctors reported that some preemies with octopuses showed overall better health. These babies were found to have more regular heartbeats, better breathing, and stronger blood oxygen levels.
Since premature babies are fully formed yet before they’re born, they are placed in incubators at the hospital. This protects them from germs, light, noise, and allergens. The womb is usually a dark, quiet, warm, and soft place. Hospitals have been trying to emulate this environment as best they can. Babies not yet born often play with their umbilical cord, or interact with their environment by pushing on the walls of the womb. These crocheted octopuses provide these babies with something they can play and interact with, which keeps them calm.
But these octopuses may be dangerous. Hospitals are careful to warn parents that these should not be considered toys. The plushies should only be used in the NICU while the baby is under 24 hour supervision. When the babies are ready to leave the hospital, the parents are told to remove the octopus and store it as a keepsake. Babies should not be allowed to sleep with any stuffed animals at home.
Parents of preemies around the world have raved about these crocheted octopuses. One mother commented on Facebook that when the octopus was removed from her son for his medical checks and wash, the baby would go “straight for the wires.” Another mother of premature twins reported that one of the babies held the tentacles tightly in her sleep.
How You Can Help as a Crocheter
Check with your local hospital – depending on where you live, you can crochet an octopus and donate it!
Charities that collect octopuses have existed in Europe for some years, such as Octopus For A Preemie, which is run by volunteers in the UK.
Such charities have recently started becoming more popular in the US, where approximately 1 out of 10 babies are born early. The Octopus for a Preemie Facebook Group was set up to connect crocheters and parents in the US. There, you can find where you can donate octopuses to.
Parents have generously praised the volunteers of some of these organizations who made this possible, calling them “truly the most unselfish, amazing people you could ask for.”
Making the Octopus Safe for Premature Babies
Each charity will have its own requirements or guidelines for the octopuses. Often, they’ll want the octopus should be made in 100% cotton yarn, and the stuffing to be hypo-allergenic fiber fill.
Some charities require that the tentacles be between 6.5 inches and 8.5 inches long when fully stretched. To reduce the risk of infection, octopuses may be washed in hot water. This water can be as hot as 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius) to kill germs. Make sure there are no holes in the octopus where stuffing can fall out.
Despite their name, safety eyes are not recommended for use in stuffed toys given to children younger than 3 years old. Even though they seem very secure when snapped on, there’s a small risk the entire eye (including the backing) might come loose from the plushie. This can pose a choking hazard. Instead of using these eyes, you can securely embroider eyes on. Or, you can leave the eyes out entirely.
Patterns for Octopuses for Preemies
Here are several free patterns you can use. The first 4 are written in US terms, but if you prefer otherwise, the 5th pattern is written in UK terms.