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RaMa Mama: Doula Share

In Hospital Births, What Do They Put In A Newborn Baby's Eyes After Delivery & Why?

In most hospital births since the late 1800's, erythromycin eye ointment has been given to newborn babies in order to avoid an illness called ophthalmia neonatorum (conjunctivitis of the newborn that can occur within the first 30 days of life). Ophthalmia neonatorum is caused by the baby's contact with the mother's birthing canal which has been infected with an STD that can be bacterial, chlamydial, or viral (chlamydia being the leading cause). Before antibiotics were discovered, about 0.3% of infants (3 out of 1,000) were blinded by ophthalmia neonatorum in the US. Worldwide, about 10,000 babies go blind because of this every year.

Since 2019, it has been "standard procedure" to anoint every newborn with this antibiotic, regardless if the mother has a sexually transmitted disease or not. The CDC, the World Health Organization, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists all agree. However, the Canadian Pediatric Society does not. Many countries in Europe also disagree, like Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. They believe that each case is unique, and if the mother does not have an STD, it should not be used. The reason behind not applying the antibiotic to babies who do not pose a risk is because of the possibility of becoming anti-biotic resistant. Every mother has a choice to decide what is best for their child in most states, but that is changing quickly. The key is to have a conversation with the doctor or midwife before the birth and work as a team to decide the best choice for your family.

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