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.
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.
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