The gel that nurses or doctors put in your baby’s eyes after birth is call Erythromycin Ointment, although some simply refer to it as “the eye goo”. Erythromycin along with a Vitamin K shot, and Hepatitis B vaccine are routinely given to baby’s shortly after birth. It is recommended to give the ointment to babies within 24 hours after birth to prevent ophthalmia neonatorum, commonly known as pink eye, which in severe cases can cause blindness. Pink eye in newborns is much more serious than the infection is in adults. The previous treatment was silver nitrate drops; thankfully they no longer use this method of treatment.
Most cases of newborn pink eye infections are caused by Chlamydia and gonorrhea and usually only if the mother currently has an outbreak at the time of birth. Of the two, gonorrhea typically causes more severe infections resulting in a higher chance of newborn blindness. However, these two sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are not the only bacteria that can cause pink eye in newborns. Other bacteria present in the vaginal or rectal area can also cause newborn pink eye, and erythromycin is thought to help protect against those bacteria as well.
Many states mandate the use of Erythromycin as a preventative measure to protect newborns from getting pink eye. Most states will allow parents to decline the medicine by signing a waiver, though some states do not allow parents to refuse the ointment. If you want to know if your state allows you to refuse, ask your doctor at your next appointment.
The ointment does not hurt your baby at all though it may cause some disorientation from the blurred vision. You can ask to delay the application of the Erythromycin ointment until after the first successful nursing session to allow your baby clear sight when searching for your nipple. This also allows your baby a clear view of you for the first hour when they are usually most alert and looking at your face.
Evidence Based Birth has a wonderful article discussing the history of this treatment and detailed risks and benefits of Erythromycin. I highly encourage you to read all of their articles regarding pregnancy and newborn procedures as the information they present is based on evidence and they allow you to come to your own conclusions with the facts they provide.
Next week I will be blogging on the letter F… F is for Feeding.