What's With the Eye Ointment Put In Newborn's Eyes?

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As soon as your baby is born, you go from making decisions about your own body to making them for a tiny person who relies on you to help make the bests choices for them until they're old enough to do it themselves. Pressure! And then there are the things that hospitals do to babies in the first few minutes of their life.

One of the things I dislike is the newborn's eye ointment -- that greasy stuff they put on a eyes. It's mandatory in most hospitals, but in some places you sign a waiver to opt out. Before you can decide if you want to do that, you'd have to know what the ointment is for, and your options.

It's usually an antibiotic (tetracycline or erythromycin) but some places still use silver nitrate. Tetracycline is thought to be the least irritating to a sensitive newborn's eyes. It's intended to protect the baby's eyes from being infected by syphilis, gonorrhea, or chlamydia -- all things you should have been tested for during pregnancy. When this infects a baby's eye during delivery, it can cause pink eye/conjunctivitis making a baby's little peepers very sore and painful. It can even cause blindness. Eek.  

Even if you have a c-section, the bacteria can end up in the baby's eyes by hands of hospital staff and caregivers. There's some debate about whether this is the most common way babies get it. If you're positive for the STD, this can help prevent that. So it's a good thing there. But on the natural front, breastmilk is a great treatment and preventative, too, especially anti-body rich colostrum.

However, if you're not positive for an STD is there any point? The treatments generally make the eyes swollen, red, sore, and the vision blurry -- especially silver nitrate which bonds to the membranes of the surface of the eye. A newborn who can't see their mom can potentially have some bonding issues at first. Of the four causes of pink eye in newborns, one is these treatments, it seems silly to me to administer something that can cause the very thing which you're trying to prevent if you know you don't have the disease in the first place?

But I'm a blogger, not a doctor. You can and should talk to your doctor or other experts about this and do your own research as well, but know that despite the laws, this choice is still up to you and is just the first in a line of many, many choices you'll make as a parent. You should always go in informed.

Are you opting for or out of the eye ointment?


Images via abardwell/Flickr

tests & procedures, baby health, bonding, natural parenting, newborns

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Christine Summers

 I was completely unaware that they did this!

Xakana Xakana

I refused it with both girls--no reason to do it, since I've always been STI free.

Katie Hines

I will totally opt out of this the next time around.  I wish I had knew more the first time.  I would've opted out. So many unneccesary interventions........

Angela Kuzior

Yep, we opted out too. I felt the same as you and knew I didn't have any STDs, so it would have been a silly thing to do to my newborn, IMO.

banan... bananas91510

On a personal level, I hate that they assume an STD could be present. Especially when they test for them in pregnancy! When I tried to refuse it (hospital policy! ugh), the nurse looked at me like I was insane. Being totally over it and exhausted after pushing out a child, I gave in. 


Yet another reason, should I ever birth in a hospital again, I'm hiring a doula.

Floopy27 Floopy27

I had my son at a birth center located inside of the community hospital, and they didn't put anything in his eyes. I was also allowed to have a water birth. I would definitely refuse that intervention if it had been forced upon us. 

Lynette Lynette

w/ my first 2 children I didn't know any better.  But w/ my 3rd I had a homebirth and was much more informed I skipped the eye ointment.  Shoot I even opted out of the STD testing in pregnancy.  I have been married for 12 yrs, and we were virgins when we married.  Plus I had had the mandatory testing w/ my first 2 since they had been hospital births

nonmember avatar Prenatal Coach

We'll be declining the eye ointment. I'd much rather do STD testing (which I've already done before pregnancy) but even that is unnecessary since my husband and I have been together for so long with no other sexual partners.

Stephanie Hayes

My first child I had in the hospital. I believe they put that crap in her eyes, but I was never asked or told about it. My second, due in Nov, will be a home birth, and we will be opting out of many things a hospital "thinks" in necessary to do to a newborn. I also tested NEG for any STD's. It's astonishing the things that you have no control over when it's YOUR child.

danie24 danie24

I didn't let them put this stuff in my babies eyes.. and I didn't let them vaccinate or circumcise, either.


It's all a money racket.

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