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How this simple knitted octopus toy can help comfort premature babies.

When you have a premature baby, the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) or SCBU (Special Care Baby Unit) where your baby is being looked after, do their absolute best to make those babies feel loved in the way they would if they were at home with their parents.

I know this because when my son was born at 30.5 weeks, the midwives asked me for small items of my clothing to put on the side of his crib, and even a photo of our faces to stick on the side. I visited him every day for six weeks, all day, for about 12 hours, but I would then go home to recover from my c-section and sleep, so it was comforting to know I was leaving a little piece of me behind with him.

If only there had been an “Octopus” around back then.

The concept of using an octopus-shaped comforting soft toy for newborns originated in Denmark in 2013, and became knowns as The Octo Project, after volunteer crocheters made “Octos” for babies in neonatal wards to help them relax and settle to sleep. Midwives began to notice that newborns had improved breathing, steadier heartbeats and higher levels of oxygens in their blood.

Soon, Octos went global, and are now distributed, in the form of a comfort toy called Octopus, for purchase by parents of all babies in Australia (not just ones who’ve been in hospital) by European toy manufacturer Nattou.

Midwife Cat Law, who is ‘Your Pocket Midwife‘ on Instagram, and who works in a SCN (special care nursery), explained to Mamamia exactly the role octopus toys play for newborns.

“Babies will develop that grasp reflex in the womb from about 11 weeks, and it can last until they’re about six months old. That reflex continues until about six months of age,” Cat explains.

 

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Both immersed in science and adorable…the @nattouaus Octopus that is…not me. Although I do love science. Due to an amazing volunteer organisation called “octopus for premmies”, there has been widespread use of handmade crocheted octopus in hospital settings. They have been used for settling preterm babies while separated from their mothers. That grasp reflex which is developed from around 11 weeks of conception and lasts until about 6 months of age, can play havoc when there is medical equipment around. I’ve seen babies being able to grab onto the crocheted tentacles, instead of monitor leads or tubes, which is beneficial for both babies and nursing staff. To see @nattouaus, creating a toy for settling a newborn baby using the same philosophy is so exciting! The tentacles of this cuddly little critter are said to remind a baby of their mothers’ umbilical cord. They are also perfect for carrying a mother’s scent for those nights she’s not able to be around. She can simply place the toy down her top for a few hours to add an additional settling element. Always remember to observe SIDS safe sleeping guides with the use of this toy.

A post shared by Cat Law | Your Pocket Midwife (@cat.law) on

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Octopus for Preemies is a charity – based on the Octo Project. The program is in many hospitals. Basically, volunteers crochet small octopus toys, whose tentacles would meet the natural grasp reflex of a premmie baby, to help them settle,” she says.

The reason behind the success of Octopus is the design; eight tentacles, intended to meet the natural grasp reflex of a baby so they can be comforted – akin to the response they would have had in utero to grab the umbilical cord.

And of course, the toy offers a much safer option for premmie babies, who are often hooked up to monitors and leads via tubing, and have a natural instinct to pull at those.

Often, mothers place the Octopus down their tops so it can be impregnated with her scent – which provides and additional reassurance for their little ones, so they feel their mums are always near.

“Scent is so important,” Cat says.

“It’s all about creating that mother and baby bond.”

So useful, and so adorable.

Cat adds it’s important for parents to realise the Octopus is used for settling, and is not intended for it to remain with a baby as it sleeps.

The Nattou Octopus is available on online, and retails for just $19.95.

For further information on safe sleeping practices for infants visit Red Nose.

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