Diapers, blankets, stuffed animals. Parents of newborns almost always leave the hospital with an unbelievable amount of stuff.
Throughout the month of February, 95,000 babies born in 460 hospitals across 37 states also left the hospital with handmade red knit caps. They were made by volunteers in their community and as far away as Australia.
More than 19,000 of those hats were given to babies born in 33 Chicago and suburban hospitals as part of the American Heart Association's Little Hats, Big Hearts campaign.
Association spokeswoman Anne Schullo said the program, now in its third year, has helped draw awareness to the 40,000, or one in 110, babies born each year with congenital heart defects.
"Unfortunately heart disease is still the number one killer, so we're finding that many individuals have been touched by heart disease and are able to give back to the cause and raise awareness this way," Schullo said. "So many knitters are picking up the needles again and helping us spread the awareness. It's really been awesome, especially in the Chicago area, that we had 300 hats to distribute in 2014 and now we have 19,000."
Schullo said each hat is laundered and individually packaged with some information on heart disease. She said that in most participating hospitals, nurses put the hats on the baby after the first bath and before the baby is delivered to the parents.
In Naperville, nurses at Edward Hospital use the hat as an opportunity to talk to parents about the Critical Congenital Heart Disease test their baby is given.
Cathy Smith, a mother/baby nurse in Edward's maternity ward, said the hats have been well-received by the parents of all 205 babies born so far in February. But there's been some confusion.
"Some have thought the hats were for Valentine's Day and others asked if they were left over from Christmas," Smith said. "So we bring out the hats for the baby when we explain the CCHD test to the parents.
Smith said the noninvasive and painless test has the potential to find some of the most critical heart defects in newborns by giving nurses an accurate measurement of oxygen in the blood.
"It's a great way to screen for cardiac defects," Smith said. "We've picked some (defects) up for sure and have been able to save some little ones because of it."
Hats for next year's campaign will be accepted from Aug. 1 through Dec. 31. Hats and yarn donations can be sent directly to Schullo at the American Heart Association, 208 S. LaSalle St., Suite 1500, Chicago IL 60604.