BACKGROUND: Neonatal hypothermia is increasingly recognized as a risk factor for newborn survival. The World Health Organization recommends maintaining a warm chain and skin-to-skin care for thermoprotection of newborn children. Since little is known about practices related to newborn hypothermia in rural Africa, this study's goal was to characterize relevant practices, attitudes, and beliefs in rural Zambia.
METHODS AND FINDINGS: We conducted 14 focus group discussions with mothers and grandmothers and 31 in-depth interviews with community leaders and health officers in Lufwanyama District, a rural area in the Copperbelt Province, Zambia, enrolling a total of 171 participants. We analyzed data using domain analysis. In rural Lufwanyama, community members were aware of the danger of neonatal hypothermia. Caregivers' and health workers' knowledge of thermoprotective practices included birthplace warming, drying and wrapping of the newborn, delayed bathing, and immediate and exclusive breastfeeding. However, this warm chain was not consistently maintained in the first hours postpartum, when newborns are at greatest risk. Skin-to-skin care was not practiced in the study area. Having to assume household and agricultural labor responsibilities in the immediate postnatal period was a challenge for mothers to provide continuous thermal care to their newborns.
CONCLUSIONS: Understanding and addressing community-based practices on hypothermia prevention and management might help improve newborn survival in resource-limited settings. Possible interventions include the implementation of skin-to-skin care in rural areas and the use of appropriate, low-cost newborn warmers to prevent hypothermia and support families in their provision of newborn thermal protection. Training family members to support mothers in the provision of thermoprotection for their newborns could facilitate these practices.
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