Octopuses are popping up alongside infants in the neonatal intensive care unit at Via Christi Hospital St. Joseph, ready to help premature babies.
Premature babies like to hold the crocheted tentacles, which remind them of an umbilical cord, according to volunteers. The crocheted octopuses also keep babies from tugging at their feeding or oxygen tubes.
“They grab onto the tentacles instead,” said Valerie Megonigle. “It’s a calming thing, but it’s also a helpful thing for helping them not pull their medical tubes out.”
Megonigle has given about 10 crochet octopuses to St. Joseph. She estimates that overall she’s crocheted about 50, each taking her about a day.
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She said she had two premature babies of her own, born in 1985 and 1988. It would have helped if they had an octopus to hold onto, she said.
“Octopus for a Preemie” is a worldwide initiative where volunteers follow strict standards to make their octopuses, then send them to an “ambassador,” like Megonigle, who coordinates with hospitals.
Each octopus must be made with 100 percent cotton yarn and stuffed firmly with hypo-allergenic fiber filler. Every octopus is washed in warm water and checked for holes before being sent to a hospital.
Tentacles must be no shorter than 6.5 inches and no longer than 8.5 inches when fully stretched.
The Facebook group “Octopus for a Preemie – US” gives the pattern and approved materials for the crochet critters.