Umbilical cord care in Ethiopia and implications for behavioral change: a qualitative study

BMC Int Health Hum Rights. 2014 Apr 18;14:12. doi: 10.1186/1472-698X-14-12.


Background: Infections account for up to a half of neonatal deaths in low income countries. The umbilicus is a common source of infection in such settings. This qualitative study investigates practices and perspectives related to umbilical cord care in Ethiopia.

Methods: In-depth interviews (IDI) were conducted in a district in each of the four most populous regions in the country: Oromia, Amhara, Tigray and Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region (SNNPR). In each district, one community was purposively selected; and in each study community, IDIs were conducted with 6 mothers, 4 grandmothers, 2 Traditional Birth Attendants and 2 Health Extension Workers (HEWs). The two main questions in the interview guide related to cord care were: How was the umbilical cord cut and tied? Was anything applied to the cord stump immediately after cutting/in the first 7 days? Why was it applied/not applied?

Results: The study elucidates local cord care practices and the rational for these practices. Concepts underlying cord tying practices were how to stem blood flow and facilitate delivery of the placenta. Substances were applied on the cord to moisturize it, facilitate its separation and promote healing. Locally recognized cord problems were delayed healing, bleeding or swelling. Few respondents reported familiarity with redness of the cord - a sign of infection. Grandmothers, TBAs and HEWs were influential regarding cord care.

Conclusions: This study highlights local rationale for cord practices, concerns about cord related problems and recognition of signs of infection. Behavioral change messages aimed at improving cord care including cleansing with CHX should address these local perspectives. It is suggested that HEWs and health facility staff target mothers, grandmothers, TBAs and other community women with messages and counseling.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Topical
  • Adult
  • Anti-Infective Agents, Local / administration & dosage
  • Bacterial Infections / prevention & control*
  • Caregivers
  • Chlorhexidine / administration & dosage
  • Ethiopia
  • Female
  • Hand Disinfection
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice / ethnology*
  • Humans
  • Infant Mortality
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Newborn, Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Inflammation / prevention & control*
  • Middle Aged
  • Midwifery / methods
  • Mothers / psychology
  • Qualitative Research
  • Umbilical Cord*
  • Young Adult


  • Anti-Infective Agents, Local
  • Chlorhexidine