What Are Newborn Eye Drops?

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  • Written By: Christina Edwards
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 17 October 2019
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Newborn eye drops are thick eye drops put in the eyes of newborn infants. While silver nitrate was once used, it has since fallen out of favor, and an antibiotic called erythromycin is now more commonly used. This ointment is usually applied just after an infant is born to help prevent serious eye infection that can cause blindness.

The silver nitrate that was once used for these types of eye drops was replaced in recent years because silver nitrate caused irritation and pain in infants' eyes. Eye drops are used to prevent conjunctivitis in infants. Before newborn eye drops were used, eye infections in infants were fairly common. Along with causing irritation and discharge, some of these infections can also cause blindness.

Untreated sexually transmitted diseases are the most common cause of eye infections in newborns. Some of these diseases, particularly chlamydia, may not have any noticeable symptoms. As a newborn is coming out of the birth canal, he can come in contact with his mother's infected blood and other bodily fluids. When the bacteria that causes chlamydia, known as Chlamydia trachomatis, comes in contact with a newborn's eyes, it can cause a serious eye infection. If this infection is not treated properly, it can cause blindness.


Nurses or doctors may administer newborn eye drops immediately after birth. After the baby is cleaned and weighed, the ointment is rubbed onto the eyes, but some doctors may wait until up to a couple of hours after the birth. Some states in the United States even require that all newborns are given newborn eye drops.

Some mothers prefer that their infants are not given newborn eye drops after delivery. This medication can cause vision problems, such as blurred vision, in many infants. Since the newborn has trouble seeing after this medication is administered, he will often have trouble seeing his parents. Some experts agree that this can delay the bonding process.

Women who do not want newborn eye drops administered should talk to their obstetricians or midwives. Depending on where they live, it may be up to the discretion of the parents whether children get these drops. Mothers who would rather not have this medication administered to their newborns, however, should be thoroughly screened for any sexually transmitted diseases or other infections.


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