6.4.5 How can you prevent infection in newborns?
The best way of preventing infection is to deliver a baby at the health facility using clean and sterile instruments by skilled personnel. But this is often impossible in rural Ethiopia, where most births take place at home; so your role in reducing neonatal infection is absolutely vital. There are many simple ways in which infections can be prevented in newborns, and you should know a lot about them from the earlier study sessions in this Module:
- Avoid overcrowding at home and keep normal newborns with their mothers whenever possible. Do not separate mothers and their newborns unless absolutely necessary.
- Encourage breastfeeding. Breast milk contains antibodies, which help to protect the newborn from infections.
- Try to persuade the mother not to wash the baby for the first 24 hours after birth. Vernix (the curd or cheese-like secretion covering the newborn’s skin) has antibacterial properties and should be left to be absorbed by the baby’s skin.
- Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap before handling newborns. Hand washing is probably the most important method of preventing the spread of infection.
- Help the mother with her personal hygiene and cleanliness and try and ensure that the room where mother and baby live is clean.
- Always use sterile and clean instruments to cut the umbilical cord, and keep the stump clean and dry. Clean all instruments used for maternal and newborn care with alcohol before every examination.
- Remember that routine prophylactic eye care immediately after delivery with antibiotic ointment (tetracycline) prevents eye infection, but you should use it only once.
- Don't forget immunization: all pregnant women should be vaccinated with at least two doses (and preferably up to five doses) of tetanus toxoid to prevent neonatal tetanus.