Application of emollients is a widespread traditional newborn care practice in many low and middle-income countries (LMICs) and may have the potential to decrease infection and consequent mortality in preterm neonates.
We systematically reviewed literature published up to December 2012 to identify studies describing the effectiveness of emollient therapy. We used a standardized abstraction and grading format to estimate the effect of emollient therapy by applying the standard Child Health Epidemiology Reference Group (CHERG) rules.
We included seven studies and one unpublished trial in this review. Topical emollient therapy significantly reduced neonatal mortality by 27% (RR: 0.73, 95% CI: 0.56, 0.94) and hospital acquired infection by 50% (RR: 0.50, 95% CI: 0.36, 0.71). There were significant increases in weight (g) (MD: 98.04, 95% CI: 42.64, 153.45) and weight gain (g/kg/day) (MD: 1.57, 95% CI: 0.79, 2.36), whereas the impacts were non-significant for length and head circumference.
Emollient therapy is associated with improved weight gain, reduced risk of infection and associated newborn mortality in preterm neonates and is a potentially promising intervention for use in low resource settings. Large scale effectiveness trials are required to further assess the impact of this intervention.