Alabama Hospital’s RNICU team makes First Thanksgiving a blessing for premature babies

Every November, the University of Alabama in Birmingham hosts some of the cutest little turkeys around.

Loving the Preemies’ Debbie Morrow (left) delivers turkey and football costumes along with UAB RNICU nurse Sandra Milstead. (Andrea Mabry / UAB)

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

Debbie Morrow, founder of Loving the Preemies, started crocheting the costumes for RNICU babies in 2016 after her nephew and his wife gave birth to preterm quintuplets at UAB Hospital. Unfortunately, only two of the five babies survived. The family was in the UAB hospital for five months before they could go home. During this time, Morrow formed a relationship with nurse Sandra Milstead. They began discussing the need for clothing small enough to fit RNICU babies.

Premature clothing is typically designed for babies who weigh 5 pounds or more, and many babies at 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 make sure the clothes fit, Morrow created patterns to crochet the outfits.

“During the five months that we were here, the RNICU nurses were just so good at taking care of the babies,” Morrow said. “During the holidays, they took photos of the RNICU babies and gave 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 little babies. I love to crochet so I thought this would be a great opportunity to use this skill.”

UAB is a Level IV hospital and provides expert neonatal care. (UAB / Andrea Mabry)

Morrow started crocheting outfits for the babies; but as the need grew she was unable to do everything alone. In 2019 she decided to enlist the help of other crocheters in the area and this is how Loving the Preemies began.

“What I like best about this group is knowing that the families of these preterm babies have an outfit to put their baby in, no matter how small they may be,” Morrow said. “I knew what our family and babies were going through while they were here, and I just hope these outfits are a blessing to each of these moms, so they can have peace of mind knowing they have something that they have.” suits their babies.”

The group creates 100-120 themed outfits for each of the 10 major holidays, including Valentine’s Day, Mother’s and Father’s Day, Halloween and Thanksgiving. Each outfit is for babies who weigh between 1 lb and 8 lbs. 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 shipped approximately 5,000 outfits.

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

Milstead said every parent is grateful when presenting an outfit, with some crying tears of joy.

“When parents see their baby in a holiday outfit, this may be the first time they’ve seen their babies in anything resembling clothes,” Milstead said. “These little hats and diaper covers bring such a sense of normalcy and happiness to parents, even if it’s just for a few moments. It brings me great joy to see a parent’s face when they see their baby in costume.”

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

This story originally appeared on the UAB News website.