Newborn babies require a lot of care and attention to keep them safe from germs that could compromise their tiny systems. In addition to ensuring they have proper vaccines and fresh diapers, parents and caretakers need to protect their babies’ eyes from damage and infection. In utero, a baby’s eyes start to develop around the 17th day of gestation, and by day 50, the iris is fully developed. By the time they emerge from the womb, a newborn’s eyes are about two thirds of their full potential, so it’s important for caregivers to make sure that nothing interrupts the continuing development of lenses, corneas, and pigmentation. There are three main areas to keep an eye on for the first year of a baby’s life.
Known more commonly as infant eye infection to laypeople, ophthalmia neonatorum is a condition that develops in newborns’ eyes as a result of gonorrhea or chlamydia. If the mother is infected with one of these STIs and delivers vaginally, the baby is at risk for picking up the infections and suffering from partial or total vision loss. Today, doctors will instill a newborn’s eyes with erythromycin ointment, which is comfortable for the baby and reduces the likelihood of infections caused by gonorrhea or chlamydia. If a doctor knows that the mother has these infections, the doctor can recommend a C-section, which will totally avoid passing on the infection, but often these STIs present no symptoms and mothers are unaware they’re infected.
Nasolacrimal Duct Obstruction
Once babies start to produce tears around the three-week mark, parents need to keep an eye out for nasolacrimal duct obstruction, or blocked tear ducts. Often, bacteria or other gunk will stop up a baby’s tear ducts and cause tears not to fall properly. To keep the eyes clean, take a soft washcloth or cotton pad, dampen it with room temperature purified water, and wipe the baby’s eyes from the inside corner to the outside corner. If the blockage doesn’t clear up or visibly worsens, consult your pediatrician, as the baby may need medication or minor surgery to open up the ducts.
Occasionally, babies will be born with milky white pupils as a result of congenital cataracts or retinoblastoma that obscure the lenses of the eyes. If the cause is in fact cataracts, the baby will likely need surgery within the first year to avoid prolonged vision impairment. However, if the cause is retinoblastoma, a form of eye cancer that primarily afflicts children, the baby will need nearly immediate surgery to save the eyes and other parts of the body.