How a Crochet Octopus Can Change the Life of a Preemie

Sometimes newborns need a little additional care right from the start. For babies born prematurely, a stay in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) may be necessary to help them grow and thrive.

At Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital, this critical time in the life of a preemie will include support from a specialized team on the medical staff using advanced monitoring and other equipment. But that’s not all. A special sea creature also has been known to surface in the Level III NICU, thanks to registered nurse Kaitlyn Gottlob.

A small octopus Gottlob crocheted for the NICU.

Gottlob does her part to bring comfort and better health to the hospital’s tiny patients by crocheting octopuses for the NICU residents. This unlikely companion is thought to have originated with the Octo Project in Denmark in 2013, when crafters were encouraged to create something that could remind babies of their time in the womb. The arms of the octopus serve to mimic the umbilical cord.

In a CNN report, officials at Poole Hospital in England described the cuddly toy as a form of therapy to help comfort and calm preemie babies. When a crocheted octopus was placed with the preemie, “some babies in the NICU experienced better breathing and more regular heartbeats, leading to higher levels of oxygen in their blood.” The hospital also noticed that preemies who cuddled their octopuses were less bothered by the various monitors and IVs around them.

“I began crocheting for Texas Health Arlington late last year when we had a baby who was always grabbing at his tubes and wires,” Gottlob says. “It was for him that I made the first octopus, with the hope of keeping him from grabbing everything while making him a little more comfortable. A crocheted octopus has the same effect. When one of the sea creatures is placed with the baby, it is done in a way that encourages them to grasp the tentacles instead of their equipment.” 

Since first introduced in the hospital’s NICU, Gottlob has taught one other nurse how to make the yarn creatures and several others have expressed an interest in helping with the initiative.

“I am very particular about the products I use, and the end result—for health reasons. I am very particular about what kind of yarn is used, what they are filled with, and even how long the creature’s arms are. Some of the designs are not necessarily simple to learn, so I rather call this a labor of love. It’s very satisfying to know that something so basic as an octopus or jellyfish can comfort a baby and help them feel better. We know the families appreciate the gesture,” she adds.

To learn more about services for special infants at Texas Health, visit Women and Infant Services.

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