Local understandings of care during delivery and postnatal period to inform home based package of newborn care interventions in rural Ethiopia: a qualitative study

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Background: Despite a substantial decrease in child mortality in Ethiopia over the past decade, neonatal mortality remains unchanged (37/1000 live-births). This paper describes a qualitative study on beliefs and practices on immediate newborn and postnatal care in four rural communities of Ethiopia conducted to inform development of a package of community-based interventions targeting newborns.

Methods: The study team conducted eight key informant interviews (KII) with grandmothers, 27 in-depth interviews (IDI) with mothers; seven IDI with traditional birth attendants (TBA) and 15IDI with fathers, from four purposively selected communities located in Sidama Zone of Southern Nationalities, Nations, and Peoples (SNNP) Region and in East Shewa and West Arsi Zones of Oromia Region.

Results: In the study communities vast majority of delivers occurred at home. After cutting the umbilical cord, the baby is put to the side of the mother, not uncommonly with no cloth covering. This is largely due to attendants focusing on delivery of the placenta which is reinforced by the belief that the placenta is the ‘house’ or ‘blanket’ of the baby and that any "harm" caused to the placenta will transfer to the newborn. Applying butter or ointment to the cord "to speed drying" is common practice. Initiation of breastfeeding is often delayed and women commonly report discarding colostrum before initiating breastfeeding. Sub-optimal breastfeeding practices continue, due to perceived inadequate maternal nutrition and breast milk often leading to the provision of herbal drinks. Poor thermal care is also demonstrated through lack of continued skin-to-skin contact, exposure of newborns to smoke, frequent bathing–often with cold water baths for low-birth weight or small babies; and, poor hygienic practices are reported, particularly hand washing prior to contact with the newborn.

Conclusion: Cultural beliefs and newborn care practices do not conform to recommended standards. Local perspectives related to newborn care practices should inform behaviour change messages. Such messages should target mothers, grandmothers, TBAs, other female family members and fathers.

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