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Avoiding The Eye Goop

It’s standard procedure for newborns to get the eye goop – the drops or cream right after birth. But is it necessary and does it have any undesirable side effects?

What is the eye goop? Usually it’s erythromycin – an antibiotic. They used to use silver nitrate (some hospitals still do). Both have side effects.

But the bigger question is-why? Why does every baby need this without question, without exception?

The practice began in the 30′s, and was given to women who may (or may not) have gonorrhea and/or chlamydia. It was believed women with those STDs could possibly pass the bacteria to the baby during delivery, and the bacteria could potentially cause eye infections and blindness.  After the invention of penicillin, this practice became somewhat unnecessary, since the diseases are easily treated if it turns out the baby has caught the STD. It has subsequently been discovered that the eye treatment only helped in the case of gonorrhea, and that the antibiotic didn’t touch chlamydia. It was also then discovered that silver nitrate was itself causing blindness.

So just to re-cap:

It’s given to babies regardless of if the mother does or does not have gonorrhea.
Even if the mother has gonorrhea, it doesn’t guarantee the baby will catch it.
Even if the baby catches it, it is easily treatable and has obvious signs.

Some mothers may be reading all this and say, ok fine but what’s the harm in just giving it to my baby just in case?

Well, there is the issue of giving antibiotics for antibiotic resistant infections. Some doctors/nurses suggest it’s still a good idea to do the eye treatment because hospitals are dirty and why not just protect the baby? The issue is that most of hospital bacteria are largely resistant to a simple antibiotics like erythromycin.  So now the baby has been given antibiotics mere moments after birth, and the small body has to fight that much harder to fight any infection that may actually occur because of resistance built up in the body for an infection that didn’t exist.

There is also the issue that the normal skin flora that work to prevent infections in the eyes in the first place aren’t allowed to colonize the eyelash beds, because that flora/bacteria is killed off by the antibiotic eye treatment.

The other problem is that blurring the vision of the baby in those early crucial days can really inhibit mother-baby bonding. It may seem like a small thing, but if your baby can’t even see you and stare into your eyes right when she/he is born you will feel the distance.

These aren’t any “big bad” side effects, but I still think they’re worth while checking out as long as the medicine is potentially completely pointless. If you think you may be high risk for gonorrhea, ask your care provider about testing and see if you and the baby will need treatment. You can even wait and be tested towards the end of the pregnancy to confirm nothing was brewing in the beginning of pregnancy.

 

**Edited to add: even though this is an easily google-able topic, including why impairing the (yes limited already) vision of the newborn may inhibit bonding, I direct you to this Dr’s site that lists a handful of studies/articles on the subject that can start you off on your research journey on this topic. There are many more sources that support this information, but as with any health topic there are those that disagree.  It is obvious that I’m not giving medical advice, simply sharing information.

 

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