Knitting for Preemies

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For a lot of people, knitting is a way to relax, or keep their hands busy while focusing on something else, like the television. Rather than knit five hundred scarves that no one will take, though, many knitters turn their talents to knitting garments for premature babies.

A good example is that of Millicent McComb, a 101-year-old woman who has been knitting for 92 years, and only took a break from this hobby when arthritis prevented her from continuing. Over the course of her life, she has made over 400 items for preemies in North Shore Hospital. Because of her dedication, Annette Murphy from the Special Care Baby Unit, honored her with the last beanie she knitted before undergoing treatment for her arthritis, framed with a note written by McComb’s daughter, who passed away in May.

McComb’s dedication to helping preemies is an extraordinary account of what many knitters do every day. Babies born prematurely are often at risk for many health problems, both in the short and long term. Because they were born before the end of the full gestation period, many preemies haven’t finished developing, they can have difficulty breathing and are at higher risk of infection, and preemies are almost always underweight, which can make it difficult to stay warm.

That’s where knitting comes in. Without a sufficient amount of body fat, preemies have a difficult time maintaining a consistent body heat, and are not yet capable of generating enough heat to keep their bodies stable. To help with this, knitters can make scarves and hats that are the perfect size for the little guys, and will help to keep them warm until they’ve finished developing.

In addition, those who are more proficient at crocheting can make tiny octopi for preemies, which doctors in Denmark have found can improve the health of premature babies by mimicking the shape of the umbilical cord. Babies who had the crocheted octopi were calmer, and showed many improvements in their overall health.

With all of these benefits, it’s easy to see why many knitters donate their time and talent into making tiny hats and blankets and octopi, rather than more scarves that no one will take. Actually giving these to hospitals can be a bit more difficult, however. Luckily, there are plenty of organizations that accept donations of knitted goods for babies. These include the Preemie Project, a non-profit based in Iowa that distributes donations to nine hospitals in the area.

Closer to home is Tiny Toppers of Maryland, an organization that donates hats for babies to local hospitals. So far, the chapter has donated over 23,000 hats to area hospitals, and the group also hosts a knitting group every Friday at the Shops at Kenilworth. The group also teaches knitting for beginners during these events.

In addition to places to donate your projects to, there are plenty of free knitting patterns online specifically made for preemies. These patterns range from hats to sleeping bags to sweaters that vary in difficulty. Regardless of what you make, the families that you help will appreciate your handmade goods that help their babies.


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