YOUR HEALTH: An octopus is helping tiny premature babies

FORT WORTH, Texas – An octopus is proving to be effective in treating premature babies.

No, really.

About four million babies are born in the U.S. every year and one in ten, about 400-thousand American babies, will need neonatal intensive care.

Premature babies often need feeding and breathing tubes, which tend to pull out.

But thanks to an octopus, carefully knitted, it's now easier to deal with.

It has helped tiny infants like Anthony who was born at 25 weeks, a micro-preemie weighing only one pound two ounces.

Now, he's up to two pounds seven ounces, thanks to good care in the NICU, and a special friend.

"Now Anthony has something to grab onto," says his mother Marissa Flores.

"Yeah, he wants to always pull the tubes out. So him being able to grab on the tentacles is just you know comforting to him."

"The natural instinct is for the baby to grasp something, and so when they`re grasping it, it makes them feel like they`re holding onto the umbilical cord," explained Dr. Keri Spillman, clinical supervisor of the neonatal intensive care unit at Ft. Worth's Medical City Alliance.

"Instead of grabbing hold of their breathing tube and pulling, they can grab hold of the tentacle of the octopus and just kind of hold onto that."

"Octopus for a Preemie" started in Denmark and is spreading across the United States.  It has a Facebook page for parents.

Volunteers crochet the developmental tools to exact specifications to prevent choking and strangulation.

A mother sleeps with the Octopus first.

"I love it," said Marissa.  "I held him for the first time after 24 days yesterday and so he was able to you know smell my scent."

Parents should never allow their babies to handle the crocheted octopus without supervision.

"So they can smell their mom, they feel the tentacle, they feel at peace and it helps them calm down," explained Dr. Spillman.

"Because our babies are continuously monitored until the moment they go home, that's why it's okay for us to leave the octopus in the bed with the child, but we do not recommend they're left in the bed once the child goes home."

The Flores' plan to keep it as a reminder and a keepsake for Anthony.

"It's his little friend, you know."

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.