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Avoiding The Eye Goop

By arianne |

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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About arianne



Arianne Segerman writes about homeschooling, autism and walking through grief after losing her daughter Mabel in 2010 on her blog Mabel and Riv. She blogged for the Parenting channels at Babble about pregnancy, motherhood and all things family.

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38 thoughts on “Avoiding The Eye Goop

  1. Amy Tuteur, MD says:

    “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.”

    What on earth are you talking about?

    Babies don’t build up resistance to antibiotics. Bacteria can become resistant to antibiotics, but then we give different antibiotics.

    Please, please, please DON’T give medical advice when you have literally no idea what you are talking about.

  2. tara says:

    Are you a doctor? If not don’t give medical advice. Stick to fluff.

  3. Aleah says:

    I am so tired of random Babble bloggers putting themselves forth as medical authorities. Having a computer and a child does not, in fact, qualify you to dispense medical advice.

    And naturally we have to bring up the bonding. So, in addition to formula feeding and Cesarean sections, we’re now adding antibiotics to the list of things that inhibit bonding?

    Please. Opine on cloth diapering and household detergents. Holding forth on things you’ve googled and formed a knee-jerk opinion on, warranted or not, is nothing new, and really just lumps you in with the legions of other Babblers trying to stand out from the rest of the Stepford crowd.

  4. emily says:

    1. You claim the abx are supposed help fight the infection that the infant can acquire in the hospital. How about: They are to fight potential infection that the baby could have picked up in the birth canal. Although chlamydia and gonorrhea are the two most common causes of neonatal conjunctivitis, other strep and staph bacteria can cause it as well.

    2. How is giving the baby abx making it fight harder to fight off an infection that it already has?

    3. Your baby is not looking into your eyes. It can’t even focus for the first few months of its life because those muscles do not work properly yet (they were not working at all in utero). So, those early crucial days when the eye goop is supposedly preventing your baby from looking you in the eye? All they see is a big blur, and the difference between light and darkness. They don’t have adult vision until they are a couple years old, and they can’t even recognize mom’s face until they are months old.

    Really, it’s a simple antibiotic. Like you said, not any big bad side effects. So, neonatal conjunctivitis and further complications without the abx? Or, abx?

  5. visionary says:

    i am an ophthalmologist. 100% of everything written in this article is untrue.

    a few things:

    - the antibiotic or antiseptic drops help to protect against a variety of organisms, not just those that cause STI’s. if your vaginal tract is without STI’s, your baby can still get neonatal conjunctivitis.

    - silver nitrate does not cause blindness. it CAN be an ocular irritant; the irritation in the vast majority of cases goes away on its own without leaving a trace. the erythromycin ointment is very gentle on the eye.

    - you don’t want to wait for your baby to get the conjunctivitis to treat it. the disease is worse than the treatment – painful, swollen, irritated eyes, and in neonates, they will usually undergo a work up for sepsis including an lumbar puncture. gonorrhea can perforate an intact cornea within 24 hours, which can definitely lead to loss of the eye. neonatal conjunctivitis carries a risk of sepsis, which carries a risk of death, which is why the work up is done. yes, believe it. kiddos have died from this. that is not fear mongering. that is the simple truth. you never hear about it any more………because most kids get the ointment!!

    - babies vision is quite blurry to begin with (not better than the big E at the top of the chart at your eye doctors office). just after birth, you are not doing any harm to their vision with a little ointment. they will still be able to see the parts of you that they can see otherwise (they will be able to make out the contrast in your hairline and your skin). the ointment is only one application and is transparent. it wears off before the day is over. it is silly to suggest it affects bonding in any way.

    - the resistance issue has been covered above.

    the “eye goop” is fine, tried, tested, and true. your babies eyes are precious. protect them, and get your information from reliable sources….clearly NOT the person who wrote this article.

  6. Alecto says:

    This entire article is ridiculous, but I really had a good laugh at the mother/baby bonding paragraph. Are you listening, new moms? If you are not STARING into your baby’s eyes at all times it will HATE you. LMAO!!!!

  7. Sue says:

    Author – in addition to the errors outline above, you said this:
    “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.”

    Sorry – wrong again. What the eye drop s are preventing is infection in the baby’s eyes from organisms it came in contact with passing through the mother’s birth canal. It has nothing to do with “normal skin flora colonising the eyelash beds”.

    Babble editors – Ms Segerman’s bio on this page doesn’t mention any health care qualifications, and there are no references for her assertions. I would advise caution about lay people giving medical advice. Are they held responsible if someone received poor advice and has a poor outcome?

  8. EllenD says:

    I’m curious about your claim that erythromycin eye ointment in newborns is not effective prophylaxis against chlamydia. Do you have some scientific studies you can link me to?

  9. April says:

    You know, if you’re so terribly worried that baby having poor vision will inhibit bonding, then you should be all about the eye goop, considering that it can prevent several infections (not just gonorrhea) that can cause blindness.

  10. Sarah says:

    This is rubbish! It’s not just given for stds but other flora as well. And babies Can’t see very well anyway for the first few days after birth! Whoever wrote this has no idea of the harm they could be doing to a baby whose mother may decline the eyedrops thinking it’s only for stds not realizing that normal vaginal flora can actually be damaging to the eyes of a newborn

  11. SJ Cunningham says:

    So are you saying that babies born blind or with limited eyesight will not bond with their mothers? Really?

  12. b says:

    Our hospital lets you opt out of the goop. Talk to your doctor FIRST about why they give it and you might be surprised.

  13. Midwife{ology} says:

    NEVER give out medical advice, even under the guise of opinion, if you are not qualified to do so. It is dangerous and makes you look stupid. Trust me, I learned this the hard way.

  14. Meghan says:

    We’re opting out with our second child. Beyond the fact that I’ve been tested for STD’s during this pregnancy, and came out clean, when my daughter received the Erythmo after her birth, she experienced what can best be described as a skin burn on both of her cheeks, where the medicine ran down. All of the photos from her first 3 weeks show the evidence. This has left her with nearly invisible (but visible to us) scarring on both cheeks. Every doctor I’ve talked to afterwards have said its no big deal to avoid it. I wish doctors were more prepared to discuss the needs and reasons for all of the medications piled onto babies as soon as they’re born, unfortunately most seem to follow the don’t ask don’t tell policy. I suppose its our duty to make sure we question how mandatory each of them truly is.

  15. Sarah@EmergingMummy says:

    We didn’t do it with our youngest two and I appreciated having the choice.

  16. LoraLynn @Vitafamiliae says:

    We opted out with our fifth and will opt out again with this one. I’m relieved just to have the choice to decide what I think is best for my child.

  17. Amy Tuteur, MD says:

    Ms. Segerman,

    In the wake of an ophthalmologist pointing out to you that 100% of what you wrote is wrong, you ought to fix it.

    Instead, you are triumphantly tweeting that you still have no idea about how unethical it is to give erroneous medical advice:

    You tweeted: “if people don’t know why giving newborns antibiotics for a disease they don’t have isn’t ideal, i can’t even begin to reply.”

    No, Ms. Segerman, YOU don’t understand the concept of PREVENTIVE CARE. That’s fine; you’re a lay person, but once it’s been pointed out to you, don’t ignore it.

    “i actually thought it was leaning towards a fluff piece – i’m just sharing the info and not telling people what to choose!”

    No, Ms. Segerman. You aren’t sharing “info.” You are sharing lies and you have an ethical obligation to your readers to RESEARCH what you write, not pull stuff that appeals to you off natural childbirth websites.

    “hehe :) didn’t even think this was that controversial! in my world everyone opts out. easily google-able. sheesh!”

    Okay, now we know that you have friends who have no idea what they are talking about either. It still doesn’t make what you wrote true, and it certainly doesn’t justify failing to correct your factual mistakes.

    “no worries, i rarely read comments there, but did today for some reason. back to my hidey hole… :)

    How nice. You rarely bother to find out whether what you write is true before you post it. Now that you’ve found what you wrote is untrue after you posted it, you plan on not checking in the future. How professional.

  18. Squillo says:

    Ms. Segerman:

    You screwed up. Own it and correct it. That’s what professional writers do.

    Refusing to correct factual errors that have been pointed out to you is not courageous. It is arrogant and unprofessional.

  19. tara says:

    You really should remove this post, instead of tweeting how horrible we are. you have been proven wrong by an actual educated person. Remove it before someone actually takes it seriously and loses their baby because of it. It is morally wrong to leave it up.

  20. Squillo says:


    Simply pointing to Dr. Gordon’s website and the studies he has chosen to post to support his (predictable) tendency to go against consensus is marginally helpful to readers who are interested enough to look at them, but doesn’t absolve you of responsibility to correct the errors you have made in your own article.

    Further, if you intend to use the studies Dr. Gordon has posted to support your assertions, it would behoove you to read them first.

  21. suzannah {so much shouting, so much laughter} says:

    dang, the haters here are vocal! not every reputable doctor or medical professional recommends this procedure, plain and simple. mine did not, and we opted out twice.

    it is given to treat STIs. If the mother has none, opting out is a legitimate decision to consider. acquiescing blindly to interventions without making an informed decision is the real issue at hand.

  22. Eskimo! says:

    I googled “erythromycin inhibit infant bonding” and found nothing to back up your claim that infant bonding is effected by the goop. Did you google something else? Can you share that information? Well, ok, the website wonderfullymadebelliesandbabies said there is no link between the two. So where did you find that info? Thanks.

  23. Alecto says:

    Yes, please cite the professional studies you used when doing your research for this article. And no, pointing to other crazy Babble mommybloggers who are saying it too doesn’t count.

  24. FullNelson says:

    Wow, a new low, even for babble. Babble editors – if you are going to tackle medicl issues, please hire a writer with some kind of medical background! (No chiropractors or homeopaths, please.)

  25. MIRIAM says:

    Thank you for writing this article.

    My husband and I opted out when our first son was born, choosing to avoid the ointment because I had read in my natural childbirth research on multiple non-scientific sites with anecdotal information that it inhibited bonding. I also knew I didn’t have any STDs, so it didn’t seem necessary. I wondered why the staff of the hospital threatened to call CPS to report my refusal (as was the policy in the hospital — but then when I told them I was a social worker and knew many of the CPS folks personally, so could they please tell them hello from me, they didn’t actually call). It didn’t seem like that big a deal to us to refuse.

    Now that I’m pregnant again, I probably would have opted out again if I hadn’t read your article and the following expert commentary. Nothing has changed with my STD status. It’s just that, when an ophthalmologist (and an OB, Dr. Tuteur) points out the fallacy of your obviously poorly researched information, I tend to side with the educated instead of putting my child at risk.

    I’m glad there were no complications with my son’s eyes when we opted out before. He couldn’t even open his eyes anyway, being completely swollen shut after being stuck in the birth canal for over 5 hours before my transfer from a homebirth to the hospital.

    I’m thankful, once again, to have happened upon this article and the comments.

  26. Shandra says:

    Suzannah, there is a difference between saying “hey, did you know you can opt out of the eye goop?” and stating things that are totally untrue.

    For example, antibiotic resistance (which I’m not sure is an issue with eye goop, but I don’t know) does not work by weakening a body’s defenses. It occurs because the bacteria get stronger, not because the body gets weaker. So the change is in the *bacteria* out in the world, not in a particular newborn’s immune system. This is really basic science here.

    The question of bonding is kind of laughable, except that vulnerable mums might be reading this thinking that their babies hate them because they had blurry vision for a short time!

    I really wish bloggers would stop making stuff up. But I REALLY wish Babble would stop permitting this kind of thing to be posted.

  27. Shandra says:

    I should add, the bacteria become stronger _against that antibiotic_ (that’s the resistant part) not even against a body’s immune response. The scary bit is that then those infections can’t be as effectively treated with that antibiotic – not that somehow “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.”

  28. Tiffany says:

    Wow! This is the biggest load of bull crap that I have ever read!!
    I agree with everyone else, DO NOT give medical advice…period!

  29. MsFortune says:

    Facts – who needs them?

  30. SJ Cunningham says:

    It is not being a ‘hater’ to point out that this blogger has given medical advice without any link to the medical literature and without any qualification to give such advice, and made unfounded claims about ‘the eye goop’ impeding bonding.

  31. Bunnytwenty says:

    There is something incredibly creepy about the post wherein Amy Tuteur keeps referring to the blogger by her last name. Are you stalking her or something? I don’t know anything about whether this post is legit or not, but there’s something very wrong with siccing your army of internet haters on a blogger.

  32. Erin says:

    Bunnywenty, it looks to me more like people are upset that Arianne has basically written an article that is essentially giving medical advice, but that what she has said is demonstrably false. Several statements in her article are patently untrue, and when the fact that what she has said is false was pointed out to her, she has chosen to taunt her readers – and yes, her commenters are her readers, particularly this one (I followed her on Twitter, too, but not after this) – rather than admit that she is wrong. Personally, I am glad for the comments pointing out where she was wrong. After spending 10 minutes on google(!), I have been able to verify for myself that a lot of what she said is completely wrong. I don’t know Amy Tuteur, I’m going to go look her up now, but I, for one, am glad that there are people willing to point out where a blogger with a large following has gotten something so blazingly incorrect, with the potential to actually cause harm. What if some soon-to-be mother reads this, doesn’t have the time to look up the information for herself, and follows Arianne’s advice here, and her child goes blind? Or some much worse infection is allowed to develop because it wasn’t prevented? The eye goop recommendation is there for a reason, not because it’s ‘fun’ to put erythromycin into a newborn’s eyes. And it is a really simple preventative measure that can save the need for more complicated and involved treatment later. I think it’s irresponsible of Arianne to have published something so incredibly filled with incorrect statements that I am now questioning whether I should continue to read her.

  33. AspenEmerald says:

    It’s not about being a hater. It’s about someone writing a factually untrue piece. It’s about a non medical professional giving advice. If you are going to be a writer, and present medical information, one should be familiar with the subject. One should have research to back up everything.

  34. Sterrell says:

    No, Bunny, what’s wrong and disturbing is someone with absolutely no medical training or credentials spewing utter lies and garbage as truth, all to suit her ideology. She has absolutely no idea of what she’s talking about, and should be ashamed at her own arrogance and ignorance. People, talk to a HEALTH CARE PROFESSIONAL if you have concerns about eyedrops, not some random blogger.

  35. Sue says:

    I don’t see any “hate” here – but I see a lot of frustration from medical professionals, including an ophthalmologist, when medical advice is so misleading.

    It would be OK to say “eye goop isn’t compulsory” and interview an expert in the area to discuss the pros and cons. It is not acceptable to write a post with such misunderstanding of immunity and antibiotics – is people accept those srrors as fact,t hey might be convinced to avoid antibiotics when they are actually needed.

    What I would hope to see posted here is a disclaimer by the managers of the site, and an apology from teh author for posting incorrect information. Is that too much to ask?

  36. FullNelson says:

    I just noticed that Arianne homeschools. I sincerely hope she puts more thought inoto her children’s curriculim than this post.

  37. Concerned says:

    Does Dr. Amy Teuter have anything better to do? Maybe go practice medicine and be a Dr.??? I always see her bashing other peoples blogs and articles, not sure when she actually works as a Dr. Probably a good thing because she seems to really be angry at anyone that is not doped up on the medical world. She is pro cesarean, meds, vaccines and everything completely UN natural. It is very sad to see.

  38. Sue says:

    Here’s a tip for the author, in case she chooses to re-write the piece using only factual information:

    What is the eye-goop often given to newborns and is it reasonable to refuse it?

    The ointment of drops are given to prevent infection in the baby’s eyes (bacterial conjunctivitis) from organisms aquired from contact with the birth canal. The most important one is the STD gonorrhoea, but there are other bacteria that can live in the vagina but infect the baby’s eyes.

    Why not just wait to see whether an infection develops?

    You could do that, especially if you are in a low-risk group for gonorrhoea, but some people would rather prevent an infection than wait for the baby to develop this painful and irritating condition. Especially since the down-side of using the drops or cream is minimal.

    Isn’t it better to avoid the anitbiotics?

    A single dose of topical antibiotics is highly unlikely to do harm. Very little gets absorbed into the baby’s system – it acts locally. And since it is only used once, many other issues are avoided. There is a small chance of irritation of the baby’s skin if some falls onoto the cheeks – this can generally be avoided by wiping any excess off the skin immediately.

    Will my baby’s vision be affected by the drops?

    Babies’ vision does not become 20/20 until several months of age. A newborn’s vision is blurry on the first day. A single application of ointment or drops will not affect ongoing vision.

    What is the risk if I refuse?

    If you are at low-risk for gonorrhoea, the risk to your baby is small, but still exists from other birth-canal organisms. The likelihood is that your baby will not get conjunctivitis. On the other hand, the risks of having the treatment are so small that most people are happy to accept this preventative treatment.

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