Newborn Eye Ointment at Birth

What Is the Purpose of Eye Drops Given to Newborns at Birth?

Baby getting eye ointment
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Question: What are the newborn eye drops done for at birth?

Answer: After your baby is born, usually some time in the first hour or two, he or she will be treated with eye medication, usually referred to by parents as eye drops or eye ointment. This is actually an antibiotic ointment to protect your baby from developing an eye infection after birth, usually caused by gonorrhea or chlamydia. Without this treatment, there is the risk of infection and blindness in babies, it is given by state law.

Erythromycin is the typical eye ointment used in newborns. States used to use silver nitrate but have since stopped because it would burn the infant's eyes. You should ask what is used where you intend to give birth. If you are planning a homebirth, your pediatrician may need to write you a prescription to fill before you give birth or the midwife or doctor may bring it with them. Just be sure to ask. It will be available at the hospital or birth center, typically without the need to do anything before hand.

Certainly the medication used in the eye can hinder sight for a short period of time, and this is why many parents list on their birth plans that they wish to delay the treatment for a short period of time while they get to know their baby. Though there aren't too many inherent risks of this procedure since the medications have changed. It is more of an annoyance for the parents.

The timing and administration is usually dictated by state law.

Though some practitioners will simply go by their personal or hospital policies. If you have a question about delaying or skipping eye ointment for your newborn, start with your practitioner. They will be able to help you with the specifics in your state.

Many hospitals that have the Baby Friendly designation will delay this treatment at least for the first hour of baby's life as the baby is skin to skin with the mother and breastfeeding.

This is certainly something that you should ask about when you take a hospital tour before you give birth. That means, practically, that most infants will be given the eye ointment just before mom is transferred from the labor and delivery until to the postpartum unit, unless it is a labor/delivery/recovery/postpartum (LDRP) unit. You don't need to do anything except leave the medication alone. Although it can be tempting to remove the excess ointment, it's best to leave it. Typically it is absorbed within the hour.

See also: 4 Tests Within the First Hours of Life

Source:
CDC. (2010) Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye) in Newborns. Accessed on August 27, 2015 at http://www.cdc.gov/conjunctivitis/newborns.html

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