Excerpt from Natural Baby and Childcare
Infections in Newborns
Ophthalmia neonatorum is an infection of the eye in newborns which is contracted from an infected mother's birth canal. The sexually transmitted diseases (STD), gonorrhea and chlamydia, are usually the cause. In most cases, there is an inflammation of the eyelid and cornea which appear within two or three days after birth. Gonorrhea has been known to cause blindness, conjunctivitis and other infections.
In most medical facilities, preventive eye treatment for newborns is placed in baby's eyes after birth. Erythromycin ointment is the current medicine of choice. In the past, silver nitrate was used. In most states, routine eye prophylaxis whether delivery is vaginal or caesarian is required by law. The antibiotic ointment is considered harmless by the medical profession. However, many parents in my office practice refuse eye treatment. Some of the more common reasons include no known history of gonorrhea and other STD's, the adverse effects from antibiotics, and blurring of baby's vision.
Current research suggests that routine use of antibiotics to prevent eye infections in newborns may not be necessary. A clinical trial sponsored by the National Eye Institute was done to compare the effectiveness of silver nitrate drops, erythromycin ointment, or no medication in preventing eye infections. In the trial, the rate of eye infections in newborns was similar in both groups. It was concluded that no eye treatment was reasonable for women who tested negative for sexually transmitted diseases while pregnant.
The ointment can cause baby's eyes to be red or swollen. Silver-nitrate drops were discontinued because it irritated babys' eyes. The antibiotic ointment occasionally causes infection with the characteristic 'goopy eyes'. In addition, the ointment can blur baby's vision, which can impede the bonding between parents and baby. For parents who have chosen to have the eye drops, administration of the ointment can be delayed an hour or more in most medical settings.