SILSBEE, Texas (AP) — A Danish technique for comforting premature babies with plush octopus dolls has hooked several Hardin County crocheters who are eager to help local families.
The Beaumont Enterprise reports Cyndi Fontaine, owner of In The Loop in Silsbee, said that after several babies in her family were born prematurely, she saw the opportunity to use her love of crochet for a meaningful and important cause.
Fontaine is part of the Danish Octo Project.
Originally created at Denmark’s Aarhus University Hospital in February 2013, the project got traction when medical professionals realized cotton or crochet octopuses could soothe irritable babies being cared for in neonatal intensive care units.
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The body of soft octopus mimics a mother’s uterus, and the tentacles mimic the umbilical cord, said Mindy Hammermeister, a NICU charge nurse at Beaumont Baptist Hospital who has been researching the project.
According to the Octo Project’s website, the practice is used now in more than 16 different countries.
“It creates comfort, and that comfort helps with neuro development and the development of vital organs like the heart and lungs,” Hammermeister said.
When a fussy baby is soothed, it can help level heart rates, promote easy breathing and improve oxygen levels, Hammermeister said. The soft yarn doesn’t scratch their thin skin and it keeps their hands occupied.
“They’re a lot less likely to pull out sensors or leads,” Hammermeister said. “Pre-term babies are a little feisty. They have to be because they’re fighting harder than full-term babies. They like to tug.”
Fontaine offers a 25-percent discount on purchases for customers who volunteer to crochet octopuses. She also sells kits that include all the materials and the pattern needed to get started.
She doesn’t put a time limit on finishing the octopuses.
“I just ask them to bring them back, no matter how much time they need,” Fontaine said. “I don’t want to pressure anyone’s hobby.”
A dozen volunteers already have created more than 45 cuddly friends for babies in the NICU units at Beaumont Baptist Hospital and Christus St. Elizabeth Hospital.
Hammermeister said she would like to reach out to more volunteer groups and senior citizens so they can get more octopuses for the NICU unit, which averages around six babies a day.
Jamie Parker started crocheting in the first grade but stopped when her work and her kids took priority over her hobby.
After visiting In The Loop, she fell back in love with the craft. Parker credits the octopuses for her rediscovery.
“It’s such an easy pattern and it makes me feel good to accomplish it,” Parker said. “It’s not like crocheting a huge afghan, where I’ll get discouraged.”
Parker keeps the materials to make an octopus with her at all times. She’s practically memorized the pattern. In the car on road trips, waiting in lines at drive-thrus or even with a grandchild on her lap, she’s ready to crochet. So far, she has made 17 of the donated octopuses.
“She’s hooked. Literally,” Fontaine said.
It takes Parker just a few hours to make the body and tentacles, which are stuffed with a hypo-allergenic fluff and sealed before being sent to one of the Beaumont hospitals.
It’s a fairly easy project that’s ideal for a beginning crocheter who wants some extra practice, Fontaine said. She hosts crochet circles in her sea-themed store. She said participants range in ages from 8 to 82.
But they need more volunteers if they want to create a steady flow for the hospitals, Fontaine said.
“We’re starting locally, but we want to branch out as far as Houston and the Ronald McDonald houses there,” Fontaine said. Helping local babies has “melted our hearts,” she said.
Information from: The Beaumont Enterprise, http://beaumontenterprise.com