While on my latest trip, I was asked to help teach 3 young girls how to crochet simple “preemie hats” for a charity project in their area. It was a fairly simple task, however I’d never been asked to make hats for preemies before. Generally when I get involved “crocheted-ly” in a charity project, it’s been for children going through chemo. So I learned a few things regarding the needs for preemies-related handcraft.
Initially, the one basic bit of “requirement” guidance I received (3rd hand), as to what the hospital wanted, was to make a hat for about the size of a doll……
Ah hmmmm…. Well now…
Unless you have a good frame of reference, this guidance alone may seem confusing. As, after all, dolls come in various sizes – so just what does that mean? But the truth is, so do preemies.
Preemies can burn a lot of calories to keep their bodies warm. Something we don’t want, because then those calories are not there to aid them in gaining weight, etc.. So the need to keep little preemie heads covered, and save those calories to help them thrive, is great. NICUs can also go through a lot of hats as, once one has been dropped on the floor or the like, it cannot be put back on the baby. The parents are allowed to keep it, wash it at home or whatever, but it cannot be put back on the baby while still hospitalized. Needs for multiple sized hats are also high because they get outgrown pretty quickly. An 8 to 12″ circumference seems to be a good place to start for most preemie hats. But there are needs for preemie sizes even smaller.
After consulting with some of my crochet peers and researching the subject a little, here are a few more details that stood out as significant, most specifically for charities within the US.
1. Most US hospitals require “no natural fibers.” Preemies are born with their immune systems already fighting, so hospitals want to avoid all possibilities of allergies before they start. Also, fuzzier fibers are not allowed at all where oxygen is present, to avoid all static risks. So acrylic fibers only.
However there are other countries that do prefer wool as that’s something they are more used to than we tend to be in the US anyway. And a few charities up north request soft wool for warmth. There’s also the issue that your donated wool hats may also become history with a toss into the washer or when sterilized. Care tags are not helpful as hospitals will remove all tags before using with the babies. Check with your charity for specifics on their fiber requirements. Otherwise, stick to non-static acrylic yarns.
2. Make sure the fibers are soft. Believe it or not, I actually saw a hat made for a preemie out of old scratchy yarn scraps. And had to say something about it too. Because it’s important that they be soft to the most sensitive skin you have – realizing that a preemie (or any baby) is going to be even more skin sensitive than you. When taking on such a charity project, please consider your fibers and don’t skimp. Many hospitals are reluctant to say too much on some of these details because they are afraid people will stop donating and they don’t want to discourage the well-meaning. So nip it in the bud and consider it now before you get started and your donation doesn’t become one of the ones that simply can’t be used.
3. A lot of hospitals require that the hats *not* be laundered. Though I found some places where people do pre-wash them in Dreft or something else baby appropriate, I also found that many hospitals prefer this not to be the case, due to concerns of allergies and soap exposure, etc.. Preemies have unique medical concerns and needs. Of course, then again, you can make a case for gee, why wouldn’t you launder the hat! Unfortunately, when it comes to preemie hats, you are creating something that has the potential to expose an under-developed baby to foreign things, whether chemical in nature due to soap or environmental in nature because you own a pet or crochet around your kids, etc.. Either case can be a potential issue, so I’m not sure there’s an absolute answer here, except to follow your hospital’s requirements.
4. Consider making hats with a fold down flap or a hole in the top for tubes and scanning equipment, etc.. This makes it much more comfortable for the baby and easier on hospital staff so they don’t have to remove the hats constantly.
5. Avoid pom-poms and yarns that shed. These are typical avoids for any baby hat, but certainly for preemies. Pom-poms are one of the most nightmarish of choking hazards, because as one emergency worker put it to me, the fuzziness makes it near impossible to dislodge from the throat. The fibers just tend to “stick.” Yarns that shed easily can also be breathed or swallowed. Either way, they can get inside a baby, and that’s something no one wants.
6. Donations must be from a smoke free home/environment and made from new fibers. That old stuff you might have pulled out of Grandma’s attic unfortunately won’t do.
7. Consider checking with your hospital/charity of choice as to whether they have greater need for preemie hats or newborn NICU hats. Some hospitals receive a ton of preemie hats but their newborn nurseries run low.
Here are some additional websites that offer very helpful preemie-hat related info:
(Be sure to read!) Some very potent and detailed insight about preemie clothing from a nurse! http://www.bevscountrycottage.com/preemie-clothing-tips.html
A list of suggested yarns here: http://www.thepreemieproject.com/volunteer/yarn_list
Preemie growth charts: http://www.babylinq.com/index.asp?PageAction=Custom&ID=107
Lots of crochet Preemie patterns links listed here: http://home.inreach.com/marthac/preem.html
Patterns for charity here: http://www.p2designs.com/Links-CharityPatterns.htm
These sources and information should give you a good frame of reference to get you started in your own fiber-related preemie charity efforts. However, as we sadly know that many preemies don’t make it, another consideration for fiber related charity work might be via bereavement needs. Charities like Emmazing Grace specialize in serving families who have experienced the loss of an infant. You can find them at: http://www.emmazinggracefoundation.org/index.html
Here you’ll find a list of patterns for bereavement items: http://www.bevscountrycottage.com/bereavement-gowns.html
Here’s a list of hospitals in need: http://www.bevscountrycottage.com/peds.html
Hopefully this information will help you in your quest towards charity projects such as these. If you found this info helpful to you, please let me know!
Copyright © 2008 – 2009 by Julia Meek Chambers, all rights reserved.