BACKGROUND: Neonatal mortality has remained persistently high worldwide. In Uganda, neonatal deaths account for 50% of all infant deaths. Low birth weight is associated with a higher risk of death during the neonatal period. Failure to recognize low birth weight and inappropriate home care practices increase the risk of morbidity and mortality in this high risk group. This study explored mothers' knowledge, beliefs and practices in recognising and providing home care for low birth weight babies.
METHODS: The study was carried out in Eastern Uganda. In-depth interviews were conducted with sixteen mothers of small babies who delivered in health facilities (10) or at home (6) two months prior to the study. Interviews were conducted in mothers' homes using the local language. Interviewer notes and audio recordings were transcribed and translated to English. Content analysis was done using Atlas-ti software.
RESULTS: Recognition of low birth weight by mothers when a baby is not weighed was difficult. Mothers were aware of the causes of low birth weight though some mothers believed in the influence of supernatural powers. Mothers who delivered in hospital had better knowledge of appropriate home care practices for low birth weight babies compared to mothers who delivered at home or in a lower level health facility. Practices related to cord care and keeping the baby warm were good while poor practices were noted concerning initiation and exclusive breast feeding, and bathing the baby. Low birth weight was not appreciated as a danger sign in newborns and therefore mothers did not seek health care. Some mothers who initiated good care practices for low birth weight newborns in the facilities did not sustain them at home.
CONCLUSIONS: Recognition of low birth weight is still poor. This leads to inappropriate home care practices for these high risk newborns. Mothers' knowledge and care practices can be improved through health education, and this should be extended to the community to reach mothers that deliver at home. Mechanisms to support mothers to sustain good practices should be put in place by taking advantage of existing village health teams and social support.