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Newborn Procedures

Newborn Baby Eye Drops Explained

newborn baby eye dropsAuthor: Tom Sample

Shortly after your baby is born, the nurse will probably take your baby to a warming table where they clean up your baby a little bit, weigh and measure him, and bring him back to you. When he comes back though you will probably notice that his eyes look wet or greasy. This is the result of him being given newborn baby eye drops. Sometimes it’s more like a cream that the nurse rubs on the eye. This is rarely talked about, and most people don’t even know why their child is given eye drops at birth.

Eye drops at birth are given for the main purpose of helping to prevent any possible infection in your baby’s eyes from their trip down the birth canal during labor. Eye infections used to be a major cause of blindness in children, and were often due to the same bacteria that cause gonorrhea or chlamydia in women. When a woman is infected with these bacteria (about 20 percent of women with gonorrhea and 70 percent of women with chlamydia don’t have identifiable symptoms), they’re present in her vagina. As a baby travels through the birth canal, s/he can pick up bacteria present in the mother’s vaginal secretions or fluids.

The eye drops are just a precaution. It is a practice that is accepted and done in much of the world, and is even a law in many states. The most common antibiotic given today is erythromycin, however some places still administer silver nitrate which is the first antibiotic that was given starting back in the late 1800’s. Silver Nitrate, however, has been found to irritate the baby’s eyes, and cause much discomfort. You might want to talk to your doctor about which drug they administer. The hospital should have both on hand. Just state your preferences.

Some women will question why their baby was given eye drops after a c-section delivery. Because the possible infection only occurs during the trip down the birth canal, it would seem that it is unnecessary in a c-section. The opinions on this vary. Some people believe that if a woman’s water was broken before delivery either naturally or by the doctor, that there is a chance that the baby could still have made contact with any infection that might be present. Also, when given vaginal exams, had internal monitors, etc that infection might have reached the baby. If your doctor or nurse believes this is possible, they might give your baby eye drops after your cesarean delivery. Other times it is routinely done by the hospital as part of the newborn care, whether you have a c-section or vaginal delivery, much like the Hepatitis B shot and hearing tests are routinely done in most hospitals today.

If you have any concerns over your baby receiving eye drops, or any other of the routine baby care methods, you should be sure to talk to your doctor or midwife prior to your delivery, as well as put your instructions and concerns in your birth plan so that everyone is aware of your wishes on the day of delivery. Some states have laws stating that the eye drops are mandatory.

The drawback of the eye drops is that it makes the baby’s vision blurry for a little while. If the baby is given the drops right after birth, it can impede on the bonding process with the mother and father. This is something that you may wish to be delayed until after that first hour of life. Most states have laws that say it is up to the practitioner to provide the eye drops, with no specific time indicated. Oftentimes it is not medically necessary to apply the eye drops within the first hour after birth.

Sheryl’s comment:

This is just one more example of why women are choosing unassisted childbirth and homebirth. If you are 100% certain that you do not have gonorrhea or chlamydia, then there is no reason the world that your newborn should receive painful/irritating eye drops as a “welcome to earth”. It is part of the overall “psychology of birth” in which the mother is considered “dirty” and the product (baby) of that “unclean mother” must be removed and sterilized immediately or it is in grave danger of catching her dirty ways.

I have heard stories of women arguing with their doctors about their sexual habits to try to protect their newborn. “Wow doctor! Thank you very much for implying that I am cheating on my husband – or that he is cheating on me”.  The reality is that people do cheat and the laws are in place to protect those newborns from a mother who is in fact infected whether or not she knows or admits it. Nobody wants a blind baby.

You can get tested for gonorrhea or chlamydia while pregnant and then have a peaceful homebirth free of eye drops. Know your rights and refuse the drops if you know you do not have an STD and are birthing in a hospital or birthing center.
Image Source: http://flickr.com/photos/64939463@N00/377834503/

About the author

Natural Childbirth – who has written posts on A Much Better Way.


Discussion

42 Responses to “Newborn Baby Eye Drops Explained”

  1. I found this woman’s approach to birthing provocative, to say the least:

    Laura Shanley, author of Unassisted Birth, says the only reason most childbirths are painful is because most women have been taught to fear the birth process. Here, she tells us how she overcame her own fear of childbirth, unassisted.

    Unassisted Childbirth: Beyond The Fear

    July 6, 2007 11:14 AM

    Posted by Anonymous | December 18, 2007, 2:22 am
  2. Again, because these two infections(gonorrhea and chlamydia) can be transmitted with little or no symptoms, and can not only cause damage to the eyes, but the lungs, heart and other organs in newborns, and adults ,just because someone thinks they are in a monogomous relationship, is not a 100% guarantee, as many people are decieved in this manner every day. Why should an innocent baby suffer blindness and other development difficulties, when it is simply and relatively a safe alternative to permanent blindness. I think it is well worth the risks involved, if there are any real risks. However, I still think that parents should be informed about the drops, ointment used. and these are only some of the bacteria that can be introduced to the newborns eyes so why take any risks of infection?

    Posted by jewel | September 24, 2008, 9:10 pm
  3. @jewel:

    I agree that many people THINK they are in a monogomous relationship when in fact they are not. Why cant women simply be tested in their third trimester. I do not agree with a one size fits all preventative approach to newborn procedures.

    Posted by Natural Childbirth | October 13, 2008, 9:23 am
  4. well, i certainly would, given the consequences either way. Blurry vision for a newborn whos eyesight is at best blurry anyhow, or permanent blindness, brain damage or death. not hard to see what i would choose. What about Strep B in the womb? and if women can be tested in the 3rd trimester, then why arent doctors/caregivers doing it? Because, at anytime right up until the birth, the unborn could potentially be exposed, and testing takes hours/days to determine results. Therefore, noone could definately guarantee 100% non exposure, unless the mother was locked up under constant supervision ie: no sexual contact of any kind. My kids both had the eyedrops, and they live to have healthy eyes, healthy brains, and do not tell horror stories of blurry vision as a newborn…

    Posted by jewel | October 13, 2008, 7:45 pm
  5. This is an important issue that parents should be informed about, thanks alot for sharing it

    Posted by Mezo | May 23, 2009, 4:48 pm
  6. I am a Dr at a hospital where ALL pregnant women are tested THREE TIMES during pregnancy (third time during labour) for STDs (now called STIs) and even if the results are all negative, the babies are given erythromicin eye ointment. Even if the woman has a booked cesarean and has never ruptured her membranes, the baby gets the ointment. We are breeding a new generation of antibiotic-resistant people, who will suffer from common ailments unnecessarily due to being unable to be treated by simple stuff like erythtomicin, because they will all be resistant to it. It is crazy and I hate the health care system for it. Additionally, in reply to someone who posted that ‘most of the world’ practice this ridiculous treatment, they do not. Only North America infact – Canada and USA. Two of the worst health care systems in the entire world, including the third world. Scary stuff. Research as much as you can, expectant parents – just because it is the ‘done thing’, does not mean it is the ‘right thing’.

    Posted by susan | June 10, 2009, 1:57 pm
  7. @susan:

    Thank you so much for writing from an insider’s point of view. So much of obstetrics and newborn care is based on habit, profit, convenience or for litigious reasons. A blanket approach to care simply does not stand up to reason especially when it causes harm and does no good.

    That is why I had a peaceful, loving unassisted homebirth. I did not have to fight anyone to avoid unnecessary treatment.

    Posted by Natural Childbirth | June 10, 2009, 2:05 pm
  8. “noboody wants a blind baby” offends me, as it is a realistic possibility that my close friend could birth a blind baby- she and her husband are blind. Please reconsider your words, as it can make the already low self-esteem of a blind person lower… maybe I’m being difficult, but my pregnant friend is both blind and adopted. Perhaps adopted (or in her heart, abandoned by her birth parents) because she is blind. I’m sure you understand.

    Posted by rachel | June 18, 2009, 11:30 pm
  9. Great article and thought provoking sentiments. My daughter had some eye trouble when she was born. Thankfully it cleared up after a couple of weeks and she’s fine now.

    Posted by Russ Marsh | August 3, 2009, 2:54 pm
  10. To Jewel:
    With my last two years ago they started sending women to get the STD testing again in their third trimester. My Dr. let me waive the blood tests then, but with this pregnancy said the health care system could deny a claim if I don’t get it done.

    I guess what I want to know is, if it isn’t going to change any of the common practices such as the eye drops, then what is the point of the extra blood tests.

    The great thing about having rights at a time like this is that you and I can do the exact same research and both come out with totally different points of view. The POINT is, we both care enough to look into these things for our childrens’ sake.

    Posted by Roberta | October 5, 2009, 8:55 pm
  11. This is quite informative.Not many people know that a new born baby can have eye-infection at birth and that it can lead to blindness.
    However, I think the mother of the baby has the right to know whatever kind of mecication they are administering on their babies. Mothers should be informed even before birth…

    Posted by Stan | December 19, 2009, 10:01 am
  12. Wow, that is some really great information. I had no idea that is why they gave baby eye drops after pregnancy. I think that I would want my baby given the eye drops no matter if I had a natural birth or a c-section, just to be safe. I don’t want my baby going blind just because I thought the eye drops were questionable. Thanks for the great info. You learn something new everyday :)

    Posted by Katy | January 20, 2010, 11:55 am
  13. Ok, but here’s the thing. How many of you would risk your child’s health and future eyesight because you don’t want to be caught cheating? This isn’t Springer folks, and I might be naive but I would hazard a guess that those of you either cheating or who have partners who cheat would be pretty emphatic about needing the drops. Don’t you think a frank discussion with your partner about the risks to the baby if there has been even one instance of infidelity since you had your STI screen in early pregnancy would make your partner suggest that “well, umm, gesh I don’t know how to tell you this but we really should get the drops.” And if he/she doesn’t than let me tell you a blind baby is going to be the least of your troubles when you realize that you have a morally bankrupt partner who will have all sorts of questionable values and actions that will be pretty damaging to you and your baby very long term.

    Posted by mary | March 2, 2010, 11:00 pm
  14. Thank you for sharing such important and useful information. All parents need to have this info.

    Posted by Emma | March 11, 2010, 1:31 am
  15. guys, come on. this is the most retarded argument ever. theyre freakin eyedrops, they last maybe a day. chillax. whoever gets “offended” by the doctor telling them they need eye drops for the baby: just WOW is all i have to say. get over yourself.

    Posted by Han | May 24, 2010, 10:32 am
  16. This routine procedure needs to be stopped. This article is misinformed in a number of ways. In 2006 Dr. Ronald Standler (a doctor of laws) did extensive legal research on the issue and wants it stopped.
    I wonder how long it takes to seriously screw up an hours-old infant’s visual orientation to the world, and how difficult it must be to bring it back, especially if either or both parents don’t have excellent vision? Hours may be an awfully long time to a fast-developing infant. Think about other animals which imprint on their mothers/parents.
    1. As of 2006 neonatal eye antibiotics are still mandatory ONLY in the USA, and in the vast majority of cases completely unnecessary: http://www.rbs2.com/SilvNitr.pdf

    They render the infant’s vision a complete blur, and the 2nd eye is harder to get the treatment into, resulting in an unequal effect. Ever wonder why most Americans have one eye with worse vision than the other?

    2. Normal newborns have normal vision: http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=1420

    There is probably a latency effect which forces the educationally-inclined child into nearsightedness. Or pulls the child into non-educational directions in order to preserve their vision.

    Posted by John Cook | May 25, 2010, 2:20 pm
  17. Very interesting post. I agree that we should be really careful with our newborns. we should avoid getting our child any kind of diseases. I’m definitely going to bookmark your post! Thanks for this!

    Posted by matt | June 25, 2010, 11:35 am
  18. Great post
    Did you have successful natural childbirth following an emergency cesarean with the first?

    Posted by James | July 22, 2010, 2:09 pm
  19. hi
    Did you have successful natural childbirth following an emergency cesarean with the first?
    Frank

    Posted by Frank | July 27, 2010, 4:47 pm
  20. I just bookmarked this page. Simply awesome information here. It becomes every parent’s duty to protect their child or children from all the prevailing infections. To do that we have to do as our doctor prescribes. Go for all the vaccines, drops for ears/eyes,etc. there exists no harm in it. Parents can get over it easily.

    Posted by Hilda | August 7, 2010, 5:28 am
  21. after giving birth and still in the hospital i was asked if we wanted new born pictures taken of our baby. of course I said yes. the candy stripper warned me that this could cause the baby to be blind and asked me to sign a waiver which i did (thinking that she was misinformed about the blindness). when my son was around ten years old, someone called our home saying they were from the hospital and were just checking up on my son; to see if he was healthy, normal, etc. that seemed REALLY odd to me, but i didn’t put 2 and 2 together then. my son was healthy in every respect, except that his vision is severly impaired. the specialists tell me that it is palaplasia of the optic nerve; that he was probably born with it, and there is no cure. my son is now grown and his vision has not improved. the question of what may have happened haunts me. what could it have been that caused this? could it have been a delay in using the eye drops? could his eyes have been so wide open that the camera flash damaged his vision? is there anyway to undo the damage? how could i have been so stupid. if a true danger was there, why was i given the option to take the chance on his vision. why, why, why?

    Posted by Sharon | August 8, 2010, 9:18 pm
  22. Well ladies, i have had a child both in the US who received the eye drops and one in Germany who did not receive the eye drops. My child born in Germany has advanced her hand eye coordination much quicker than her brother and at 4 weeks old focuses on her mobile and can follow an object with her eyes. My son couldn’t do that until he was about 6 weeks old. This does not seem like a coincidence to me. Not to mention, when my son had to take erythtomicin for an eye infection when he was 2 it caused horrible nightmares and trouble with his eyesight.

    Posted by Ruby | August 25, 2010, 3:50 pm
  23. I have 3 kids all born in the USA. They all had the eye drops in their eyes. They all hit their milestones at different times. All children are unique so they will grow and develop at different rates. You can’t blame a small amount of antibiotics for birth defects or poor motor development. Millions of people are prescribed the liquid or pill form of this drug everyday. Yes, excessive use of antibiotics can lead to an immunity to them but that just means that parents should only give their children antibiotics when they truely need them. All infants have blurred vision when they are born. Why would you risk your childs vision by withholding eye drops that could truely benefit them.

    Posted by Michelle | September 10, 2010, 1:36 pm
  24. People talk about this like if their baby doesn’t get the drops they will immediately go blind. That’s not true at all. There are very obvious signs that the baby eyes are infected. You’ll notice puffy pink eyes, discharge etc. It is only in the very advanced stages of infection that blindness will occur. So even if you don’t get the eye drops and you do pass on Chlamydia or Gonorrhea to your baby you can safely give them the antibiotics AFTER they show symptoms of actually being infected.

    I’m sorry but I just don’t see the point in giving a newborn baby unnecessary medication. And for that matter it’s not my doctors concern to wonder if my relationship is monogamous or not. How does the doctor even know that the Mom is sexually active after their last STD test?

    Posted by Megan | October 18, 2010, 1:33 pm
  25. Hi Anonymous, I’m interested in this also. (Please take a look at my most recent article.) This post makes for really thought-provoking reading; you have certainly given me lots of food for thought! – lockforce79

    Posted by Harry | November 3, 2010, 5:43 pm
  26. Interesting. I did not even know that there was a potential issue here , let alone, that eye drops are given.

    Posted by Helen | November 5, 2010, 5:51 am
  27. Susan, the supposed doctor, has absolutely no clue what she is talking about and should probably have her medical license revoked for such suggestions if she even has one to begin with. First and foremost, the use of macrolide antibiotics such as erythromycin for the prophylaxis of chlamydial or gonnococcal infection in no way contributes to the development of antibiotic resistance. There is absolutely no evidence in the literature of this phenomenon in newborn infants nor is it even feasible. See (http://www.cdc.gov/eid/content/15/7/pdfs/08-1563.pdf) which investigated the use of macrolides in a highly endemic area. The use of erythromycin in newborn infants has dramatically cut the rate of trachoma conjunctivitis (http://www.plosntds.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pntd.0000895). So please Susan, learn a little about what you’re spouting off about before discouraging the use of antibiotics in a highly susceptible population. Its this sort of pseudoscientific pontificating which has discouraged the vaccination of newborns and could lead to the reemergence of such diseases as whooping cough and measles. Do a google search for images of newborn trachoma and then think of the trade off between preventing the “supposed” trama of erythromycin vs. the effects of trachoma(heck, she was in the embryonic fluid for 9 months anyway with fluid blurring her vision.

    Posted by Aaron | December 18, 2010, 7:11 am
  28. When normal babies are born, they have normal eyes with normal eyesight, equal in both eyes. If born in a hospital, here is the probable sequence of events that may lead to nearsightedness:
    1. At some time within the first 60 minutes after birth, the infant is taken away from its mother by medical people.
    2. In accordance with a vaguely defined procedure, one or more of those medical people then squeeze a drop or two of an antibiotic ointment into either the right or left eye and then manipulate the eyelids so the ointment covers the cornea.
    3. The antibiotic is completely unnecessary unless the mother has syphilis or gonnorrhea.
    4. The ointment is painless, and does not temporarily blind – but it does temporarily completely blur the eyesight.
    5. Some seconds later the same procedure is done on the other eye. That eye probably has to be forcibly pried open to get the ointment in because the infant probably squeezes both eyes shut in response to the first eye’s maltreatment.
    6. A minutes-old infant has no idea how long the blur will last.
    7. A minutes-old infant is highly attuned to its mother’s voice- and emotional-vibrations, having learned them while in the womb.
    8. Also while in the womb, the normal eyes were created over the 9 month gestation period, such that the optic nerves enter and leave at the midpoint, creating a ‘blindspot’ in the center of each eye.
    9. During gestation the macula and fovea were also created, located slightly above and to the outside of each blindspot.
    10. The blindspots and macula/foveas are symmetrically located on the retina in each eye.
    11. Also during normal gestation, the optic nerves connect directly behind the eyeballs, forming a kind of cross called the optic chiasm (chi = Greek for ‘X’). All humans (and many other mammals) must carry that cross for all of our life, but it is light, and easy to bear.
    12. At the optic chiasm, the nasal side retinal nerve fibers physically cross over and join the opposite optic nerves, which then continue on to the same-side occipital lobes. This hard-wired crossing over is probably necessary for smooth and clear visual transitioning when looking from one distance to another, or rotating the vision from one area to another.
    13. At birth then, the physical parts of normal human visual systems are symmetrical, synchronized, equal, aligned, and ready to receive and transmit visual information clearly to the brain, so that everything, including the mind, can develop normally.
    14. Eye antibiotics and their instillation and follow-up procedures (they need to be flushed out at some point) probably disturb the initial unity of the visual system.
    15. After instillation the child is returned to the mother, who probably verbally and physically soothes her infant, but is unmindful of the procedure and its effects.
    16. Hypnosis is a psychological technique of putting a fully awake human being into a transfixed state of deep inward concentration, and thus susceptible to suggestions.
    17. One method of achieving hypnotic susceptibility is to blur the person’s vision while lulling them into deep relaxation with soothing sounds and directive talking. Self-hypnosis is an acknowledged method of biofeedback training to change one’s behavior and beliefs.
    18. I suggest that some if not many infants are accidentally hypnotized at birth into believing that blurry eyesight is acceptable, good, and normal, or some other incorrect beliefs. These unconscious, imprinted, incorrect beliefs prevent them from developing normal visual habits. The Bates Methods can be used to retrain a person’s visual habits, but are incapable of changing anyone’s incorrect beliefs.

    Posted by John Cook | March 14, 2011, 12:07 pm
  29. I am will not let the midwife use these drops.. I have No STDS at all

    also my father told me at birth i looked at him then they took me from him and put the drops in my eyes for 2 weeks after i didnt really look at anything and my eyes where glazed.

    also ive been reading books about birth and the medications they give americans and the shots they give babies and kids.

    these drops can be harmful and might very well be the reason i have such poor vision today. (or maybe not who knows) but some research shows that the drops can cause eye problems in infants that may effect them as adults

    so Why use something you don’t need? even if all that other stuff isnt true.. It just doesnt seem useful to put the drops in babies eyes if the mother isnt infected.

    Posted by Alex | April 3, 2011, 3:39 pm
  30. Good to see this. Thanks for sharing. I love this.

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    Greenville,

    SC 29607-5939 (864) 458-8633

    Posted by Bailey | May 18, 2011, 12:28 pm
  31. the tears are blowing from the left eye of my baby which medicine should i use

    Posted by manoj | June 16, 2011, 1:58 am
  32. Being a pregnant women you are given an std test with the first pap in the beginning of your pregnancy. If the results are negative, then why is even give the eye ointment??

    Posted by Samantha | June 30, 2011, 4:42 pm
  33. What a fantastic blog! I am constantly looking for new tips on my newborn child!

    Posted by Nathan Hays | July 16, 2011, 9:40 pm
  34. I am the third child of five. All my siblings had received the eye ointment except the youngest. My mom did know the facts and dangers of it until then. They had used the Silver Nitrate ointment on us. This youngest sibling is the only one of us that has not needed glasses. The rest of us do, and one eye always being worse then the other. I had not figured anything out until my first daughter was born via C-section (breech), and had finally come to me with goop on her eyes, and I asked my mom about it. She is four now, and has had her first eye exam. One eye is worse then the other…..

    Posted by jen | July 28, 2011, 8:19 pm
  35. Is it eyedrop? the one I saw look like cream, and nurse doesn’t use it like eyedrop for adults, and they just lay a clear layer on to baby’s eyes. I heard every baby is given this treatment.

    Posted by M.L | August 20, 2011, 8:49 pm
  36. Don’t they test you for STDs before you have your baby? I believe they used to?

    Posted by Dennis | September 15, 2011, 2:22 pm

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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