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BackgroundThe skin is a major route of infection in the neonatal period, especially in low birthweight (LBW) infants. Appropriate and safe neonatal skin care practices are required to reduce this risk. The perceptions and beliefs of mothers and other caregivers towards various neonatal skin care practices in our setting have been documented. Data from Asia suggests that the application of emollient to the skin of LBW infants can promote growth, reduce serious neonatal infections, and potentially reduce mortality. This is the first study to explore the acceptability of emollients and massage as part of neonatal skin care in a low-resource setting in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) that is representative of the majority of government health facilities in Uganda and many in SSA.ObjectiveTo explore perceptions, beliefs, and current practices regarding neonatal skin care and emollient use in eastern Uganda.MethodsWe conducted a qualitative study consisting of three focus group discussions (30 participants), eight in-depth interviews with mothers/caregivers of preterm and term neonates and 12 key informant interviews with midwives, doctors and community health workers involved in neonatal care, to explore the perceptions and practices surrounding neonatal skin care and emollient use. Data collected were transcribed and analyzed using thematic content analysis.ResultsMothers perceived that skin care began in utero. Skincare practices depended on the place of delivery; for deliveries in a health facility the skincare practices were mainly based on the health worker's advice. Vernix caseosa was often washed off due to its perceived undesirability and was attributed to sexual intercourse in the last trimester. Despite their deleterious attributes found in previous studies, petrolatum-based oils, petrolatum-based jellies and talcum baby powders were the most commonly reported items used in neonatal skin care. In our population, there was high acceptability of emollient therapy use; however, neonatal massage was treated with scepticism as mothers feared damaging the vulnerable neonate. Mothers suggested massage and emollient application be undertaken by health workers, if it becomes an intervention.ConclusionsIn eastern Uganda, the perceptions and beliefs of mothers/caregivers toward neonatal skincare influenced their practices of which some could potentially be beneficial, and others harmful. Emollient use would be easily accepted if adequate sensitisation is conducted and using the gatekeepers such as health workers.

Original publication





BMC pediatrics

Publication Date





Department of Community and Public Health, Busitema University, Mbale, Uganda.


Skin, Humans, Petrolatum, Emollients, Skin Care, Qualitative Research, Infant, Infant, Newborn, Uganda, Female