Eye Drops for Newborn Baby at Birth: When to Apply & FAQ's

Newborn Eye Ointment to Prevent Eye Infection at Birth

Newborns are given an eye ointment, an antibiotic ointment to prevent their eyes from getting infected with gonorrhoea. If this ointment is not given to a baby, his/her chances of developing blindness or other severe eye diseases may increase later in life. Many health organizations and health practitioners recommend this ointment to all newborns.

What Is Eye Ointment for Newborns?

Erythromycin ointment is an antibiotic given to babies to prevent eye infection. This ointment application to newborns is called eye prophylaxis.

The mother might be having a gonorrhoea infection in the body during the time of birth. This infection is caused by a sexually transmitted bacterium that infects both females and males. It mostly affects the rectum, urethra, or throat. In the case of females, it might affect the cervix too.

So if the mother is carrying this bacterium, it might pass on to the child during birth. The eye infection in newborns caused by this bacterium is called ophthalmia neonatorum. If this medication is not given, the child may have puffy and red eyes with pus, usually within five days of birth. A child suffering from ophthalmia neonatorum will need antibiotics via IV. If the treatment is not provided, it can damage the corneas and result in blindness.

That said, the erythromycin ointment may not prevent or treat ophthalmia neonatorum caused by Chlamydia. This infection has become more prevalent in recent times but less severe. A child suffering from Chlamydia infection will be prescribed oral antibiotics.

When Is It Applied?

The practice of application of eye ointment dates back to the 1800s. Back then, doctors used silver nitrate instead of an antibiotic. Later, they started using erythromycin because it caused less irritation to the newborn’s eyes.

In most countries, erythromycin application is dictated by state law. But some doctors follow their hospital or personal policies. According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, the medication should be provided within 24 hours of birth.

What Is the Need for Eye Ointment for Babies?

The reason behind this prophylactic treatment is the prevention of eye infections caused by sexually transmitted diseases. Gonorrhoea and chlamydia are not the only cause of eye infections in newborns. There are other microorganisms that can cause mild infections in little ones. Any microorganism present in the pregnant women’s vagina can pass on to the newborn’s eye and cause the infection. So prevention is necessary. The eye ointment is and should be given to all newborns, despite the type of delivery method. Whether a baby is born vaginally or via C-section, he/she should be given the eye ointment.

How to Safely Apply the Eye Ointment

If in case you are planning a homebirth, ask your midwife or doctor for this ointment. In this case, there are chances that the ointment needs to be provided by you, here’s how you can apply eye ointment to your child:

1. Wash your hands.

First things first: wash your hands before handling your child’s eyelids and the ointment.

2. Get your child in the correct position.

When applying the ointment to your child, you can tilt his/her head back when you lay him flat on his back. Ask your spouse to take him in his arms or hold him in place. Also, cover him with a thin blanket.

3. Gently bring down the child’s lower eyelids.

To avoid any pain to the little one, do this step carefully. Do not apply pressure on the eye.

4. Apply the ointment.

Now apply a thin strip of the ointment inside your baby’s eyelids. Do keep in mind you cannot touch the baby’s eye with the ointment-tube tip.

7. Wipe away any excess ointment.

Whatever excess ointment comes out of the child’s eyes, wipe it off with clean tissue paper.

How to Take Care of the Baby After Applying the Ointment

Usually, the eye ointment does not cause any discomfort to a newborn. It is manufactured with keeping newborns in mind and yet not losing effectiveness. Please use it according to your doctor’s prescription even if the symptoms disappear.


1. If I Undergo a C-Section Delivery, Will My Baby Still Need Eye Ointment?

It is always good to take precautions. That is why doctors always recommend this eye ointment, even in case of a C-section delivery. In fact, most US states have prescribed this ointment in their state law. It is always advised to go by your health professional’s suggestions for the well-being of your child. Ophthalmia Neonatorum might prove fatal. It progresses very rapidly and causes permanent damage to a baby’s eyes.

2. Are There Any Side Effects of a Baby Eye Ointment?

Every treatment comes with side effects that might affect a few children. Here are some observed side-effects:

  • Applying eye ointment can prevent the chances of infections. However, their effects can range from very low to mild. According to a study, antibiotic treatments for newborns for chlamydial conjunctivitis has shown very mild side effects like erythema and oedema of the eyelids after erythromycin application. No major outcomes were observed in the study.
  • Sometimes the treatment itself will irritate the eyelids. It is called chemical conjunctivitis. This infection becomes the root cause of the entry of various other infections.
  • The baby might develop other allergic reactions like itching or hives, skin rash, swelling of the lips, face, or tongue.
  • The baby might develop blurry vision post erythromycin application. This is the prime reason that few parents refuse or delay the application. According to them, this application affects the bonding time between the newborn and the mother.
  • Another major cause of concern in parents is unnecessary exposure to antibiotics. It may cause system imbalance like antibiotic resistance. This, in turn, leads to the growth of other infection-causing bacteria. Although the amount of antibiotics in this treatment is very less, this should not at all be a cause of worry.

4. How to Store the Eye Ointment After Use?

Parents should be cautious about few things while storing the ointment. These are:

  • The ointment should be kept in a dark and cool place. It should be closed tightly and kept away from the reach of the children.
  • Always check the expiry date before applying it to your child.
  • Read the instruction leaflet carefully and then apply the ointment to the affected eye. If the doctor prescribes the child a different tube for each eye, apply it accordingly.
  • Once you open the ointment, it should be completely used within four weeks. This is because an open tube might become dirty and get infected. Write the first date of application for easy memory.

It is always good to trust your health practitioner completely. At the same time, do all your research and make a wise decision for your child. After all, you are the best judge for your child.

Also Read:

Watery Eyes in Infants
Eye Problems in Infants
Eye Discharge in Newborn Babies

Previous article «
Next article »
Aarohi Achwal holds a bachelor’s degree in Commerce and a master’s degree in English Literature. While working as an intern for an English daily, she realised that she likes writing above anything else. The idea of being heard without having to speak appeals to her. She likes to write research-based articles that are informative and relevant. She has written articles on pregnancy, parenting, and relationships. And she would like to continue creating content on health and lifestyle.