Lions Get in on Octopi Action to Help Preemies Grow

Armed with crochet hooks and boundless enthusiasm, members of a Lions club in Israel are creating colorful stuffed octopi to help premature babies thrive.

Research shows that nestling the crocheted sea animals in isolettes can provide benefits for preemies, which is why members of Almog KIryat Ono Lions Club started making the eight-legged octopi in October of 2021.

Lions clubs international knits for premiesLion Laura Babai was watching television when she learned about The Octo Project, which was started about nine years ago in Denmark and has expanded into an international effort to make the stuffed animals for premature babies.

With rounded bodies and bulging eyes, octopi may not seem like the perfect companions for small babies, but it turns out they soothe newborns, especially in the innately stressful setting of a neonatal intensive care unit, with its glaring lights, blinking machines, and healthcare providers coming in and out.

The idea to pair preemies and octopi was born at Aarhaus University Hospital in Denmark, which found that the stuffed octopi can help improve a premature baby’s breathing and regulate their heartbeat and blood oxygen levels. They also discovered that the soft, curled tentacles resemble the umbilical cord and, when babies grasp the tentacles, they feel safe and comforted. The babies also were less likely to pull out the tubes and monitors needed to protect their health.

After numerous internet searches, emails, and phone calls, Babai connected with a representative of the octopi project in Israel who referred them to a craft teacher who coordinates similar groups and who passes along the octopi to hospitals.

Almog KIryat Ono Lion Shoshi Ben Dror, who is a skilled crafter, spent a day learning the directions for making the octopi, which have to be made to hospital standards.

“We are providing home-made dolls that go into neo-natal wards for preemies and into their incubators,” says Babai. “The dolls have to be made accordingly. Each donated octopi is carefully checked and machine washed before being handed over.”

The Israeli club has seven members who meet once a week to make the octopi under Dror’s guidance.

“Luckily, she took it upon herself to order the materials and instruct us,” says Babai. “She also helps new members.”

Some members of the group were motivated to take part because they themselves had given birth to pre-mature babies. Others simply wanted to relearn the joys of crafting.

“We found that we all improved over time and with practice,” says Babai.

She estimates it takes about three days to make one octopi, and members often crochet in their spare time at home or while watching television. As of July, they have made about 75 octopi.

The cost of the yarn is covered by the Lions club and each participant brings their own crochet hook. A skein of yarn costs $3 Israeli New Shekels (US$0.86) and it takes one skein to make 1 1/2 to 2 octopi.

For other clubs considering getting in on the octopi action, Babai recommends learning if there are other Octopi Project groups or other groups already doing similar work in their communities and learning from their experiences. Making those connections can help open the door to cooperation with hospitals that will accept the octopi.

Babai says the effort has benefitted the preemies, as well as the Lions who have bonded during their weekly crocheting bees.

“The group is small, and we all have become friends, constantly chatting as we crochet, and receiving help with questions about problems with our crocheting,” Babai says. “Four of the members are new to our Lions club and, thus, we have created a great opportunity to all become friends.”