Newborn care practices in low socioeconomic settlements of Karachi, Pakistan

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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To explore traditional neonatal beliefs and care practices and to assess the predictors for giving prelacteal feeds, a qualitative and quantitative study was conducted in low socioeconomic settlements of Karachi, Pakistan. Five focus group discussions and 15 in-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted in July and August 2000; structured questionnaires were administered to 525 recently delivered women through November. Antenatal care coverage was common; a little over half of the women delivered at home with traditional birth attendants. Among the 387 women who reported at least one antenatal visit, most (78.6%) reported receiving counseling on breastfeeding by their healthcare provider. A significant proportion of women (44.8%) reported giving lacteals; colostrum (41.7%) or animal/formula milk (3.1%), as the first feed. Newborns were bathed immediately (82.1%) after delivery as the vernix was considered 'dirty looking' (78.5%), and it was felt it should be removed. To foster muscle relaxation (80.2%) and strengthen the bones (43.0%), daily massage was universally practiced, mustard oil (75.9%) being the most frequently used lubricant. Risky feeding practices such as giving prelacteals (55.0%) or supplementary feeds (71.3%), or delaying first feed (30.9%) were common. During the neonatal period, breast milk was the preferred feed (98.6%); however, honey (28.7%), ghutti (27.8%) and water (11.8%) were also given in order to 'reduce colic' or 'act as a laxative', which were perceived health benefits mentioned by mothers and traditional birth attendants. Ethnicity and birth attendant at delivery were strong predictors for women who gave prelacteals (after adjusting for education, socioeconomic status and facility delivery). Although administration of colostrum as the first feed was relatively common in this setting, the predominance of other risky traditional newborn care practices stresses the need for promoting health education programs on improving newborn care practices.