Newborn umbilical cord and skin care in Sylhet District, Bangladesh: implications for the promotion of umbilical cord cleansing with topical chlorhexidine

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Newborn cord care practices may directly contribute to infections, which account for a large proportion of the four million annual global neonatal deaths. This formative research study assessed current umbilical and skin care knowledge and practices for neonates in Sylhet District, Bangladesh, in preparation for a cluster-randomized trial of the impact of topical chlorhexidine cord cleansing on neonatal mortality and omphalitis. Unstructured interviews (n=60), structured observations (n=20), rating and ranking exercises (n=40) and household surveys (n=400) were conducted to elicit specific behaviors regarding newborn cord and skin care practices. These included hand-washing, skin and cord care at the time of birth, persons engaged in cord care, cord cutting practices, topical applications to the cord at the time of birth, wrapping/dressing of the cord stump and use of skin-to-skin care. Overall 90% of deliveries occurred at home. The umbilical cord was almost always (98%) cut after delivery of the placenta, and cut by mothers in more than half the cases (57%). Substances were commonly (52%) applied to the stump after cord cutting; turmeric was the most common application (83%). Umbilical stump care revolved around bathing, skin massage with mustard oil and heat massage on the umbilical stump. Overall 40% of newborns were bathed on the day of birth. Mothers were the principal provider for skin and cord care during the neonatal period and 9% of them reported umbilical infections in their infants. Unhygienic cord care practices are prevalent in the study area. Efforts to promote hand-washing, cord cutting with clean instruments and avoiding unclean home applications to the cord may reduce exposure and improve neonatal outcomes. Such efforts should broadly target a range of caregivers, including mothers and other female household members.

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