E is for Eye Ointment after Birth

Baby New rubbing eye.jpg

The administration of eye ointment to infants after birth (Erythromycin, to be precise) is an antibiotic treatment which is offered for infants at birth. This is one of a number of options you will discuss with your care provider in advance of or immediately after the birth of your baby. 

During childbirth classes and prenatal visits with clients, this is a topic that comes up often, and one that most families feel a little bit confused on. 

Is erythromycin an outdated practice, or a necessary safety precaution?

Our first answer: Have an open discussion with your care provider; this their area of expertise, and out of our scope to offer advice. Like with any option or intervention that you’re unsure about, one of things we always share with our clients during prenatal visits and classes, is to pull B.R.A.I.N. out of your back pocket to help you formulate questions and make an informed decision. 

In the meantime, what IS Erythromycin, and what is it being used for? 

Erythromycin is a prophylactic (a fancy term for: ‘preventative’), antibiotic treatment used to treat neonatal conjunctivitis (newborn eye infection contracted during delivery).  Eye infections are common and usually harmless, unless the infant has been exposed to an active, sexually transmitted infection, Chlamydia being the most prevalent. 

There is a risk of blindness to infants who are exposed to Chlamydia, and routine administration of prophylactic eye treatment has been used to reduce the incidence of severe complications from this kind of infection since the early 1800’s. 

While Erythromycin treatment has proved to reduce the development of infection due to exposure, it is not 100% effective, and comes with it’s own set of risks. Research is increasingly seeming to suggest that the benefit of this routine medication does not outweigh the potential risks associated with routine use. 

STI’s like Chlamydia are routinely screened during your prenatal care blood work. If you are unsure if you may be a carrier, ask your care provider to check that your blood work is up to date and discuss the safest options. 

We like this thorough explanation on Erythromycin, written by Evidence Based Birth. The Canadian Paediatric Society also put out this research article in 2015 that explains their stance on this issue. 

What did you decide for you infant - did you opt in our out of eye ointment, and why?