Operation "Octopi NICUs"

Carrollton Baptist Church has organized a program to provide a special toy octopus for premature and sick babies in the NICUs (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) in the area.  

The original idea seems to have originated in Denmark a few years ago, and has spread to NICUs and special care nurseries across the globe.  Even though it has clearly been determined that skin-to-skin contact with the mother, and other close familiy members, is of immense value in helping the baby to experience fewer and/or less severe complications, there is some evidence that placing this toy next to the baby when he or she is in the isolette also helps the little patient show fewer signs of stress and to be more physically stable.  They also are less likely to pull on lines and tubes attached to their little bodies. The tiny patients will often grab a tentacle of the octopus and hold on to it, sometimes when sleeping.  It is believed that this reminds the babies of the umbilical cord with which they were familiar while in their mother's womb, providing comfort in the new and strange environment. A NICU nurse manager has tried it with a baby born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome.  Babies with NAS are born to mothers who use addictive substances. Once the babies are no longer receiving the drugs via the umbilical cord, they suffer the effects of withdrawal.  Playing with the octopus seemed to help calm the baby.

NOTE:  We are now making a version without the fiber filling.  An octopus is easier to make.  Lack of filling allows easier air flow and decreases any risk of suffocation or mold growth (no reports of either found so far in the original design, though).  NICU nurses can place the flat octopus head under the baby and allow the tentacles in reach of the baby for play.  This version takes up less room in the isolette.  Here are the instructions:

NOTE: This therapeutic toy is intended for use under the watchful eyes of care providers in NICUs. It should not be given to the baby, once home, until the baby is at least a year old, unless the baby is under constant supervision as in parent holding the baby and baby is playing with the toy. Do not put it in the baby's crib, car seat, etc. when baby is not directly and continuously supervised.

How to make an UNSTUFFED octopus toy:

Use a 3/3.5 mm hook.

ch-chain sc - single crochet

2 sc tog - 2 single crochet stitches together

sl st - slip stitch

Note: You will be working in a circle. MARK YOUR ROWS!

R1: chain 2 - 6 sc in 1st chain

R2: 2 sc in all st (12)

R3: *1sc in 1st st then 2 sc in every 2nd st* - repeat *-* (18)

R4: *1 sc in 1st and 2nd st, then 2 sc in every 3rd st* - repeat *-* (24)

R5: *1 sc 1st, 2nd, 3rd st, then 2 sc in every 4th st*-repeat* (30)

R6: *1 sc 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th st then 2 sc in every 5th* -repeat*-* (36)

R7 - 14 *1 sc in all st (36)

If desired, open the octopus head, take a small swatch of muslin to hold the knot (pull knotted thread through the small swatch to anchor knot and keep the thread from pulling through the crochet stitches). Stitch a face on one side with black 100% cotton yarn or embroidery floss. Dark embroidery thread does tend to bleed when washed and dried.

Press the octopus flat, and crochet the front and back together AS YOU FORM THE TENTACLES.

1 sc through from front to back (begins to close the octopus body). Now start the first tentacle: *1 sc, and in the next st chain 40. Turn, and make 3 sc in each ch. The tentacle starts to form a spiral. You can help form by gently twisting into shape from time to time. If your tentacle does not want to twist, try making 4 sc in each ch.

Repeat *-* 7 times so you get 8 tentacles. End with 1 slip stitch, and pull yarn through. Cut. Weave the cut thread along the body to hide.

Continue reading for more information and to locate the patterns for the "original" octopus style.

It is important not to confuse the use of an octupus in a special care nursery with putting a toy into the bed of a baby at home. The octupus is considered a therapeutic intervention and is used with babies whose vital signs are monitored with medical equipment, and who are under the watchful eyes of the babies' nurses and parents  The "Safe Sleep" program advocated by many hospitals encourages parents to have ONLY the baby in its bed at home.  There is no one watching a sleeping baby 24/7 in the home environment, and there is no monitoring equipment, both of which is necessary for safety when an object is in the bed near the baby.  Therefore, nothing, including toys, blankets, pillows, prescribed medical equipment, etc. should be in the bed with the baby at home.

CBC will be hosting octopi-making sessions.  These will be posted under the "Crochet Sessions" tab. The sessions will be open to anyone, newbie or experienced.   There will be at least one experienced crocheter to assist at each session.  Additional volunteer "coaches" will be welcome.

We prefer that crocheters meet for group sessions so we can get to know everyone. Session times are posted on this web site.  However, we understand that there are some experts who, due to age, may not want to drive at night.  For these helpers, we offer a way to keep track of who is making the toys. For safety reasons, you will need to complete the form page for your toys to be used. The form page contains additional instructions for delivery of the toys drop off points.  We plan to give the names of those who participate in this project to the NICUs which want to have them.

As the answer to a common question about how the toys are cleaned for use in the NICU, all toys are cleaned according to directions given by the hospital, then placed in individual plastic bags.  They are washed in a hypoallerginc, scent-free soap, in a sanitized machine, and then dried on high heat for 2 hours, until completely dry.  Once cooled, they are placed in a new plastic bag, which is closed, and taken to the NICU.

There are certain specifications required for the toy to be given to a baby, plus a couple of recommendations as additional precautions.

1.  The crochet yarn MUST be 100%, NON-mercerized, cotton.  Click on "Approved Yarns" for a list of yarns which hold up well and do not bleed colors when washed.

2.  The tentacles must not exceed 22 cms., or about 8 1/2 inches, in length.  We recommended decresing the chain stiches for the tentacles called for in the pattern by about 20% so the tentacles are not too long.

3.   You do not have to put faces on the octopuses.  We deliver many toys without faces.  If you add the face, you will need to follow these instructions:  There can be NO attached buttons. Eyes, mouths, etc. must be embroidered with 100% cotton embroidery thread or approved yarn.   No long stitches should be used.  Instead, when embroidering the eyes or mouths, make the stitches equal to one crochet stitch.  ( - - - - -  for a line instead of _______).   You can be creative with the design.  Just remember the stitches need to be small, flat, and knotted well INSIDE the octopus head/body.  

4.  For stuffed octopuses, the crochet should be tight, with stitches close together to minimize fibers from working through.  If you are going to stuff your octopus with fiber, but without lining the octopus head/body, it use a smaller crochet hook (2.5 to 2.75).   When using larger hooks, in order to further minimize loose fibers, make a little pouch of 100% cotton muslin before stuffing it with the filling material, and then hand sew it closed. This step is NOT in the instructions (see instructions for stuffed octopuses links below) but does help prevent fibers from poking through the stiches than simply making certain the stitches are tight. If stiches are too large in an unlined octopus so that fibers can poke through, it will not be given to the NICU.  Instead, it will be given to an older child unless you tell us you want any NICU unusable octopuses to be returned.

5.  Use only NEW poly-fill for stuffing.  It should be hypo-allergenic.

6.  When making a stuffed octopus, we recommend this order:  crochet the head and tentacles, crochet the bottom piece of the octopus, insert a 100% cotton muslin pouch inside the head, stuff it with new poly-fil (put a LOT of stuffing inside the head to make it VERY firm, not "squishy"), and sew the pouch bottom closed.  Complete the octopus by attaching the bottom according to pattern instructions.  If you want to embroider the face, you can use a long embroidery needle and start from the back of the octopus.  Make a knot at the end of your thread.  Insert the needle BETWEEN stiches, so the knot is beneath the outer layer of the octopus and the muslin lining.  Bring the needle through the octopus head and sew the stitches for the face.  To secure, bring the needle back through the octopus head, and securely tie the knot so that it is beneath the outer layer of the octopus, and outside the muslin lining.  This will help keep the stiches of the face from coming loose.

Please you wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before starting or returning to your project.  

Below is a link for directions on how to make a STUFFED octopus.


Here is a link to a video which might be helpful for beginner crocheters:


A video on making a smaller octopus (for the very, very tiny babies) can be found by clicking on the following link:


If you have any questions, please contact Sandy at 237-7355. 

Thank you for your interest in helping the tiniest citizens in the Hampton Roads.