The neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) experience is intense and stressful, for new parents and their babies. But one hospital in Dorset, England, has found a way to make preemies feel safe and help them thrive: Giving each one a little stuffed crocheted octopus.
It has become ritual to gift every preemie in Poole Hospital’s NICU with an octopus and the staff has found, as have other hospitals with the same program, that these crocheted creatures actually help the babies grow. And it can’t just be any old stuffy, either—it has to be an octopus. Research shows the soft, curled tentacles mimic the umbilical cord and evoke the comfort and safety of the womb.
The idea originated at Aarhaus University Hospital in Denmark, where it was found that octopus power can help improve a preemie’s breathing and regulate his heartbeat and blood oxygen levels. Babies are also less likely to pull out the essential tubes and monitors that keep close tabs on them. (Toys, pillows and excess bedding in cribs are generally not recommended as they increase the risk of SIDS, but these preemies are obviously special cases who are constantly monitored.)
In Denmark, there’s an actual community—known as spruttegruppen—that’s dedicated to crocheting octopuses for hospitals. While Poole Hospital relies on the donations of volunteers, it has seen a huge increase since the story about these stuffed friends broke in the Daily Echo last fall. Poole Hospital told TODAY.com that they’ve received more than 200 octopuses in various sizes and colours and are set for almost a year!
The NICU staff say that without a doubt, these tiny friends have been helping preemies. We can only hope that donations continue to flood in.