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Comfort for premature babies

What’s got eight legs and helps premature babies to feel safe?
A little octopus!

16 Apr 2019

Mothers’ Union members in the diocese of Southwark have recently started crocheting and knitting these cute little comforters, following a request from the staff at the Evelina London Children’s Hospital, located next to St Thomas’s in the heart of Westminster. Members in the diocese had been knitting baby blankets and tiny baby clothes for the neonatal unit, and then the hospital staff approached Mothers’ Union and asked if it would be possible for their skilled crafters to branch out into octopuses.

Why octopuses? 

Research from Denmark has found that by holding on to the tentacles of the octopus, tiny premature babies are reminded of the umbilical cord, and this provides comfort and makes them feel safe (which has a positive effect on their wellbeing). 

The request to make octopuses was unexpected, but when the staff in the neonatal unit explained what was needed and why a simple soft toy helped babies through a difficult time, the Mothers’ Union members were happy to use their handicraft skills in this way. If a cuddly octopus was what the hospital staff wanted to contribute towards the care of these little ones, to help them make good progress and be healthy enough to go home with their parents, then that was what they would do. 

Norma McKnight, Mothers’ Union Vice President for the Croydon area in Southwark, came to Mary Sumner House to have the octopuses tested to ensure that these little creatures meet the legal safety standards for toys. And it was amazing how robust and resilient they are! The octopuses are made using cotton yarn, and are capable of withstanding all the tests.

Giving something back

It’s not just the babies and their parents who gain from this project. Norma has been encouraging knitting and crocheting in the Croydon area for over ten years. She explains, ‘I started after recovering from cancer and deciding that I wanted to give something back.’ She not only makes things herself, but has used her skills in this area to teach others to knit and crochet. In addition to the items they make for the Evelina Hospital, members in Southwark also make throws and twiddlies (also known as twiddle sleeves) for a local centre, which provides resources for people who are experiencing dementia. A group of about eight knitters and crocheters meet on Monday evenings at Norma’s home where, as well as keeping their hands busy, they enjoy fellowship – and tea and cakes – and finish each session with a time of prayer. 

Make your own

The instructions for making a crocheted octopus or a knitted octopus to meet all the safety standards are in the Craft section of the Mothers’ Union website []. You may want to make one of these adorable creatures for your own family or friends – it’s not just premature babies who can appreciate them! 

If you are interested in making octopuses for a hospital, start by approaching your diocese who can make sure the staff at your local maternity unit want octopuses for their neonatal wards and that the required testing procedures can be put into place.

And before you ask….
the Oxford University Press gives octopuses as the plural of octopus as the word comes from Greek. The plural form octopi, formed according to rules for Latin plurals, is incorrect!


This article was first published in Mothers' Union's Families First magazine Spring Edition 2019 (p 22-23)