Octopus for a Preemie available at Port Augusta Hospital

OCTO-PAL: Baby Ruby Alana and her crocheted comforter from Octopus for a Preemie SA.
OCTO-PAL: Baby Ruby Alana and her crocheted comforter from Octopus for a Preemie SA.

One of the first things premature baby Ruby's tiny hands were able to hold was a small crocheted octopus.

Because Ruby arrived early she was born without protective fat, making her more susceptible to the cold in normal room temperatures.

Immediately after birth she was placed in an isolette, crowded with medical equipment to help keep her alive.

In a first for Port Augusta Hospital, premature babies like Ruby are being given octopus comforters to prevent them from pulling on their tubes and cords while in care.

Port Augusta Hospital Director of Nursing Alison Hoare said the octopus comforters, known as Octo-pals, are a soothing tool for babies.

"The tightly coiled tentacles feel like the umbilical cord and are comforting for premature babies that need to be in an isolette to support their nervous system and brain development," Ms Hoare said.

"When holding the octopus comforter, babies are less likely to scratch themselves and pull on their IV lines, monitor leads, and nasogastric tubes."

Mum Jessica, dad Terry and baby Ruby.

Mum Jessica, dad Terry and baby Ruby.

Often families of premature babies find it difficult to not have close contact while their new born is in the isolette

"Having the crochet octopus is a great opportunity to provide babies comfort and relief while in hospital," Ms Hoare said.

"We also encourage parents to hold the octopus comforter close to their skin before introducing it to their babies to promote bonding."

The octopus comforters are only given to babies who are nursed in a clear isolette where they can be observed at all times.

Octopus for a Preemie SA coordinator Ma Whiting said the program has been successful at Lyell McEwin Hospital after being introduced in February.

There are currently 25 local contributors crocheting for South Australian babies.

"Each octopus comforter is individually handmade, while volunteers spend a lot of time ensuring they meet strict requirements, and quality checks are undertaken before sealing them in packaging with information and delivering the comforters to the nursery," Ms Whiting said.

"There are many babies needing special care in the state each year that would benefit from having an Octo-pal, so we always welcome volunteers to contribute to this excellent cause.

"As well as being soothing, the comforters also raise awareness about the needs of premature babies and encourage conversation about Safe Sleeping."

Parents are advised the comforter should only be taken home as a keepsake and should not be given to babies outside of hospital.

Anyone interested in making crochet Octo-pals should contact Ma Whiting through the Octopus for a Preemie South Australia Facebook page or email ofapsouthaustralia@gmail.com.