Parenting

Why Are Octopus Toys Popping Up In Neonatal Units?

At a growing number of hospitals throughout the world, neonatal units are getting a bunch of colorful new residents: hand-crocheted toy octopuses. The toys aren't just there because they're cute and cuddly, however. They benefit premature babies in important ways.

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Baby Adrian with his crocheted octopus

Tentacles of Tenderness

According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 15 million babies are born premature each year—that's a whopping 1 in 10. And while parents often hear that they shouldn't let their babies sleep with stuffed toys—it increases the risk of SIDS, says the American Academy of Pediatrics—in the case of preemies, these octopuses serve a purpose.

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Like any toy, the octopuses comfort and calm the babies during a stressful time. But the babies also benefit from the tentacles, which staff say remind babies of the umbilical cord and keep wandering fingers away from tubes and monitors. "Babies are active inside their mothers and constantly interacting with the placenta," CNN quoted UCLA's Dr. Valencia Walker as saying. That activity doesn't stop once they emerge into the world, and soft, crocheted tentacles keep their fingers occupied and their bodies safe.

A Growing Trend

The idea broke ground in Denmark, when a father requested a crocheted octopus for his premature baby girl. That was the impetus for Spruttegruppen, or the Danish Octo Project, which has distributed the toys to NICUs throughout Denmark since 2013—and has had many more requests from locations throughout the world.

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The trend spread over the English channel to Poole Hospital in the UK, which put out a request in November 2016 for volunteers to crochet octopuses for their tiny patients. By 2017, they received more than 200 homemade toys. "Parents are telling us their babies seem calmer with an octopi friend to keep them company," Daniel Lockyear, matron of neonatal services, said in a press release, "so we're looking forward to continuing with the project in the future."

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Baby Maya with her octopus

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