Volunteer crochets comfort for premature babies

Zaahira Omar with the octopus she made for the premature babies at Tygerberg Hospital. Picture: Yazeed Kamaldien

Premature babies at Tygerberg Hospital have a cuddly, tentacled friend to welcome them into the world, thanks to a Goodwood woman.

But the octopuses Zaahira Omar crochets aren’t just toys. It’s believed their tentacles help to soothe the prem by simulating the feel of an umbilical cord.

Ms Omar is one of many volunteers around the world who crochet octopuses for premature babies.

“The idea originated in Denmark, and since then it has spread to countries all over the world,” said Ms Omar.

“The is aim is to create handmade crocheted so-called octopals that essentially act as a pacifier for premature babies within the neonatal incubators. The tentacles of the octopals remind them of their mother’s umbilical cord to which they then cling to, which prevents them from pulling on the drips and tubes.”

Ms Omar heard about the project on Facebook.

“I instantly loved and got excited about the idea because it was a way that I felt I can make a difference. It’s something really small and relatively simple that could have a positive impact on a life. Especially if you consider the struggle that premature babies have to endure to survive the first few months of their lives outside of their mother’s womb. If we can do something to ease this, we should,” she said.

Ms Omar handed over 20 octopuses to Tygerberg Hospital on New Year’s Day. And since then, she has crocheted another five. She said she wanted to help mothers who could not afford to buy handmade toys.

“On any given day, Tygerberg Hospital houses over 114 premature babies, so their need is tremendous,” she said.

Department of Home Affairs officials have gotten wind of her project and want to support it.

Mansur Jaffer, spokesman for Deputy Home Affairs Minister Fatima Chohan, said the department had a presence at about 400 health facilities countrywide so was well placed to help and could encourage staff and community groups to crochet and distribute the octopuses.

To get involved, email halacrochetitems@gmail.com