By Janet Tappin Coelho
They look like toys but crotched octopuses with woolly spiral tentacles are helping to sooth premature babies in intensive care.
The fluffy sea creatures are being credited with calming agitated newborns in Brazil in a ground-breaking project that is taking the country by storm.
According to medical staff in Curitiba Maternity Hospital, south Brazil, where the initiative has just been launched, the donated toys are working wonders.
“We only just started trialling the idea of placing knitted octopuses into all our incubators with our preterms and we’ve already started to see the difference,” said Ana Bruno Salles, coordinator of the hospital’s neonatal care.
“The babies snuggle up to the octopus as if they are still in the womb and surrounded by water. In the incubator, this sensory mantel is lost.
“The crochet octopus gives them a form of physical contact which brings back comforting memories and distracts them. It makes them feel safe and reminds them of the warm and secure place they’ve just left.”
Maternity staff have also noticed a reduction in the number of times they have to reinsert monitors and intravenous tubes into the tiny veins.
Salles said “Our babies are not pulling out the devices as frequently as before because their small hands are grabbing onto the octopus’s tentacles instead.
“The toy’s legs mimic the umbilical cord and this gives our high risk babies a sense of tranquillity which helps to improve their breathing and regulate their heartbeat.”
The woolly gifts have quickly become a life-line of hope for parents facing a period of uncertainty and anxiety.
All are painfully aware of the risks associated with a child being born earlier than expected and live with the anguish of not knowing whether their baby will be strong enough to go home.
The cuddly toys are not only helping the psychological welfare of the sick infants, they have lightened the mood in the intensive care units where parents are confronted with the distressing array of devices connected to their loved ones.
First time parents Nadine, 34, and Murilo Ochile, 33, whose son Oliver was born at 37 weeks were sceptical when medical staff offered to put the octopus in with Oliver.
Nadine said: “It was very difficult when he first arrived in intensive care because he was agitated and it broke my heart to see him writhing and
crying in the incubator.
“We had our doubts when they suggested using the octopus. But we were grateful for anything that was going to calm him down and bring him home.
“We noticed a difference almost immediately. When he lies close to the octopus and clings to the tentacles he is no longer as agitated as before. And we’re learning how to use it to help sooth him now.”
Each baby receives two octopuses which are sterilised at high temperatures of 110ºC eliminating microorganisms that can harm the newborns. And they take the huggable toys home with them when they are discharged.
Crochet teacher Dani Dalledone, in Curitiba, has been instrumental in mobilising the take up of the octopus project in hospitals in Brazil. The initiative first originated in Denmark.
With a team of up to 50 knitting students she has produced nearly 150 octopuses in a variety of colours and sizes since starting a month ago. Each one takes two hours to make and are donated for free with the help of growing sponsorship.
Dalledone, 31, said: “It’s wonderful to be able to comfort a sick baby and support their parents with something so simple and fun.”