Octopus for a Preemie Pilot Program

Crochet octopus comforters will be given to premature babies to promote bonding and help prevent them pulling on tubes and cords, as part of a South Australian first pilot in the Lyell McEwin Hospital’s Special Care Nursery.

Midwifery Unit Manager of the Special Care Nursery, Monica Ryan, said overseas and interstate experiences had shown a number of benefits from the Octopus comforters.

“For premature babies that need to be in an isolette to support their nervous system and brain development, the tightly coiled tentacles are comforting because they feel like the familiar umbilical cord,” Ms Ryan said.

“The octopus comforters also help to deter babies from pulling on their IV lines, nasogastric tubes or monitor leads, and a baby is also less likely to scratch themselves while they are holding the comforter.

“It can be difficult for families not being able to have close contact while their babies are in isolettes, so to promote bonding we encourage parents to hold the octopus close to their skin before introducing it.”

The Octo Project started in Denmark and has now spread to 17 countries.

At the Lyell McEwin Hospital, the crochet octopus will be given to babies admitted to the Special Care Nursery who need to be in a clear isolette, along with information on Safe Sleeping.

“As well as being cute and comforting, we also aim to use the octopus comforters to encourage conversation about Safe Sleeping and raise awareness about neurological development and the needs of premature babies,” Ms Ryan said.

“Only babies being nursed in a clear isolette that can be clearly observed at all time will be able to use the octopus. They should not be used in a home setting, but instead families can hold on to them as a keepsake.

Volunteer Manager Manju Shelke said the Lyell McEwin Hospital Volunteer Association is coordinating the collection and approval of crochet octopi, which are being made by Octopus for a Preemie SA volunteers.

“As the octopus comforters are going to some of our most vulnerable patients, we ensure they are made to strict guidelines and ensure they are checked for quality and appropriately cleaned before being delivered to the Special Care Nursery,” Ms Shelke said.

“One of our volunteers first made us aware of the program which was already operating interstate, and we have been able to liaise with the Octopus for a Preemie organisation and our wonderful hospital staff to be able to make this pilot happen.”

Octopus for a Preemie SA coordinator Ma Whiting said she had been making the creatures for interstate groups, and is thrilled to now have a group of 20 local contributors crocheting for South Australian babies.

“As a group, we put a lot of love into making the octopus comforters, which are all individually handmade and can take many hours to complete,” Ms Whiting said.

“We use specific patterns, yarn and measurements, and make them to strict quality requirements, and we discourage the purchase of similar products that haven’t gone through these quality checks.

“Volunteers are always welcome to join and add to the hundreds already donated, as there are many babies born pre-term or needing special care in SA each year that would benefit from having an ‘Octo-pal’.”

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