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Alabama hospital’s RNICU team makes preemies’ first Thanksgiving a blessing

Each November, the University of Alabama at Birmingham is home to some of the cutest little turkeys around.

Most of the families in UAB Hospital’s Regional Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (RNICU) will be spending the holidays away from home and other family members. But UAB’s tiniest patients will still be ready to celebrate Thanksgiving in handmade turkey costumes thanks to Loving the Preemies, a group that crochets holiday-themed outfits each year for babies in the RNICU.

Debbie Morrow, founder of Loving the Preemies, started crocheting the costumes for RNICU babies in 2016 after her nephew and his wife had premature quintuplets at UAB Hospital. Sadly, only two of the five babies survived. The family was at UAB Hospital for five months before they were able to go home. During that time, Morrow formed a bond with nurse Sandra Milstead. They began to discuss a need for clothing that is small enough to fit RNICU babies.

Preemie clothes are typically designed for babies who weigh 5 pounds or more, and many babies in UAB’s RNICU are smaller. Morrow saw this as an opportunity to use her skills to give back. Morrow worked closely with Milstead to meet this need. While Milstead measured babies to ensure the clothes would fit, Morrow created patterns to crochet the outfits.

“During the five months we were here, the RNICU nurses were just so good at taking care of the babies,” Morrow said. “Over the holidays, they would take pictures of the RNICU babies and give them to their parents to document their first holidays. One day, Sandra and I were talking about how difficult it was to find outfits that fit the tiny babies. I love to crochet, so I thought this would be a great opportunity to use this skill.”

UAB is a Level IV designated hospital, providing expert neonatal care. (UAB / Andrea Mabry)

Morrow started crocheting outfits for the babies; but as the need grew, she was unable to do it all by herself. In 2019, she decided to enlist the help of other crocheters in the area, and that is how Loving the Preemies began.

“My favorite part about this group is knowing that the families of these preemies will have an outfit to put their baby in, no matter how small they may be,” Morrow said. “I knew what our family and our babies went through when they were here, and I just hope these outfits are a blessing to each of these mothers, so they can be at peace knowing they have something that will fit their babies.”

The group creates 100-120 themed outfits for each of 10 major holidays, including Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, Halloween and Thanksgiving. Each outfit is for babies that are between 1 pound and 8 pounds. Each outfit is adjustable to ensure the best possible fit. Throughout the year, Morrow drives more than 100 miles to deliver the costumes. To date, Morrow has made and delivered approximately 5,000 outfits.

“One of the best things about the crocheted costumes is that they help make a baby’s first holiday a celebration,” Milstead said. “Even in the RNICU, these babies are experiencing their first Thanksgiving, and we want to help our families celebrate that.”

Milstead said each of the parents are thankful when presented an outfit, with some crying tears of joy.

“When parents get to see their baby dressed in a holiday outfit, this may be the first time they have seen their babies in anything that resembles clothing,” Milstead said. “These small hats and diaper covers bring such a sense of normalcy and happiness to parents, even if it is for just a few moments. It gives me great joy getting to see a parent’s face when they see their baby dressed up.”

Each outfit takes about an hour and a half to make, and all of the costs are covered by the group members and donations. To learn more about how to support or get involved with Loving the Preemies, join the group’s Facebook group.

(Courtesy of UAB News)

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