Newborn babies are sweet, cuddly and require daily care to keep them happy and healthy. One of those areas of their health that must be addressed is eye care. Babies can’t tell you if they have eye or vision problems, if they are itchy or swollen. That’s why both physicians and parents alike need to stay diligent when it comes to caring for a baby’s eyes.
Your Newborn’s First Eye Exam Happens in the Hospital
Believe it or not the baby will have their first eye exam before they leave the hospital. This first exam doesn’t require the participation of the baby but rather involves the doctor looking for signs or physical symptoms that the child has difficulty with their sight. They check the reflexes, shape of the eye, movement of the eye ball and for any unexpected swelling or discharge. If they detect a problem they will refer the child to an ophthalmologist after discharge.
To help prevent infections in the eyes of newborns physicians use antibiotic eye drops and ointments. These can cause swollen eyelids for a short time and sometimes a chemical conjunctivitis, which is an inflammation of the membrane that lines the eyelids. This condition can cause a yellow discharge from the eyes and swollen lids.
Identifying a Problem
Infant blocked tear ducts are another common problem for newborns. Blocked tear ducts are usually the result of a thin membrane that didn’t ruptured after birth, closeing the duct. The tear gland (lacrimal gland) continues to produce tears that flood the eye and drip over onto the baby’s cheek because the duct, which normally helps remove the tears, is blocked.
New parents will sometimes mistakingly think that their newborn has conjunctivitis because the dried tears often have a yellowish tint and look infected. The physician will show the you how to do a gentle massage over the area to help break up the membrane and allow the tears to drain naturally through the duct. Don’t panic if the the massage therapy doesn’t work. Babies are resilient and by th first baby tear duct problems clear up on their own.
There are warning signs that a newborn or infant is having trouble with their sight and parents should call their pediatrician immediately if they notice any of these signs:
- Uncoordinated movements after the baby is 3 months
- Eyes that appear to be looking downward
- Cloudy areas of the eyes
- Eyes that tear daily
- Dark yellow discharge from the eyes
- Red or swollen eye lids
- Pus that sticks the eyelids together
- The whites of the eyes are red or pink
Routine eye examinations and newborn eye care is important to find problems early, prevent problems or start early treatment for issues that may result in permanent loss of sight.
When you bring your infant home keeping a daily routine of cleaning the eye area, without soap, is essential for good daily hygiene. Using a cotton ball or the edge of a soft washcloth that is wet with warm water sweep the eye from the inner corner near the nose to the outer corner. Look at the eyes carefully for anything that appears abnormal and report it to your doctor as soon as possible.
Go Ask Alice: Why do Doctors put Eyedrops in the Eyes of Newborn Babies?
Pediatrics: Lower Stress Responses after Newborn Individualized Developmental Care and Assessment Program Care During eye Screening Examinations for Retinopathy of Prematurity
ACTA Paediatrica: Immediate Newborn Care Practices Delay Thermoregulation and Breastfeeding Initiation
March of Dimes: Bring Baby Home
Children’s Hospital of Orange County: Conjunctivitis
BabyCenter: Eye Examinations for Babies
Cleveland Clinic: Raising Health Infants, Children and Teens
KidsHealth: Medical Care and Your Newborn
HealthyChildren: Newborn Eye Color