Kids love cuddly toys – and Gold Coast Private Hospital is discovering that even premature babies can get health benefits from playing with them.
Surprisingly, it is not teddy bears that comfort the newborns, but crocheted octopuses.
"We've certainly noticed the difference an octopus makes to our premature babies, who become more settled and visibly calmer when the cuddly toy is with them," Gold Coast Private maternity manager Judy Ross said.
Following a global Danish scheme – The Octo Project – a group of Country Women’s Association (CWA) members from Mermaid Beach have turned their knitting hands to producing the cuddly sea critters for the hospital.
The theory is that the toy octopus tentacles mimic the feeling of an umbilical cord, reminding the baby of being inside their mother’s womb. The soothing effect stabilises their heart rate, improving oxygen flow and circulation.
"An incubator can be a lonely place for a newborn, so an octopus gives them a form of physical contact that they find very comforting,” Ms Ross said. "Having tentacles for their little fingers to latch on to means we've seen a reduction in babies' cords and feeding tubes being tugged and pulled at, which is another great benefit.”
CWA Mermaid Beach member Joan Parker said her team had previously knitted hundreds of teddies, drip bags and turbans for Gold Coast Private patients. They were delighted when asked to add octopuses to their repertoire, and hospital staff collected hundreds of balls of wool and cotton to help with the project.
"We did some research into the concept and were amazed when we discovered that an experiment had been conducted many years ago overseas – one twin was given an octopus, and the other wasn't. The twin with the octopus thrived," Ms Parker said.
"We couldn't believe octopuses weren't being given to all premature babies in Australia. It's just such a lovely notion and we're so happy we can help,” she added. "I believe there is something magical about the octopus – they have three hearts, so they have a lot of love to give, and that in itself helps these tiny babies to grow stronger and survive."
The CWA members were honoured by the hospital for their ongoing efforts with a special lunch. They also had the chance to see the positive effects of their donated creations, which are distributed throughout the hospital by volunteers.
“A child’s face will light up when I sit down at eye level and tell them that I have a teddy bear that needs lots of love and cuddles and a good home,” said one of those volunteers, June Habner. “A teddy bear is also a welcome gift for elderly patients, who may be on their own and feel alone in hospital, with family away,” she said.