Your beautiful bundle of joy has arrived!
When you become a parent for the first time or again, you certainly need to navigate all the interesting problems your newborn might have.
One of these is your baby’s eye discharge. This condition can certainly be confusing and you might have questions.
Do I need to seek medical advice? Is this normal for my baby? What can I do to help with this?
We will try to answer many questions about newborn discharge, its varying colors, and its causes.
What is a newborn eye discharge?
Discharge from the eye in newborns is usually a normal process and clears quite quickly.
It might be your newborn is clearing some of the fluids that are around at the time of birth. It can also happen as a result of a blocked tear duct.
Sometimes only one eye is affected. In this case, it’s more likely to be due to a blocked tear duct rather than an infection.
Some eye discharges, however, aren’t normal and warrant further investigation.
Let’s take a further look into the different types of discharge from eyes.
Newborn eye discharge causes
The main cause of discharge in a new baby’s eye is a blocked tear duct. This can clear up on its own after several months.
Other causes of discharge might be infections, such as pink eye or conjunctivitis.
The color of the discharge might be different depending on the causes. Keep reading for more information about what might be causing discharge in your infant’s eyes.
Newborn yellow eye discharge
Yellow discharge from the eye can be the result of your baby having a blocked tear duct. It can also be due to any type of eye infection.
Often the eye appears sticky and the eyelids will stick together a little bit.
It’s recommended you seek medical advice if your child has yellow discharge from the eye. Your doctor can determine whether the duct has a blockage or an eye infection is the cause.
Newborn green eye discharge
Green discharge of the eye in your baby is usually is due to infection, and you will see symptoms like a red or puffy eye and swollen eyelids.
If your baby has green discharge from the eyes you should seek medical advice. You can consult your midwife or doctor before seeing an eye doctor or ophthalmologist.
Newborn white eye discharge
White discharge from the eye is usually normal for a newborn and is due to a blocked tear duct. It will disappear over the next few weeks.
The blockage tends to be in only one eye or tear duct, but can be in both.
Eye infections that affect newborns
Conjunctivitis (pinkeye) is the main type of eye infection in new babies.
Newborns with symptoms of conjunctivitis should see a doctor as soon as possible.
Neonatal conjunctivitis is red eye in a newborn, caused by infection, irritation, or a blocked tear duct.
When caused by an infection, neonatal conjunctivitis is a concern and can be very serious. In newborns it can result in eye damage.
There are different types of conjunctivitis including:
- Inclusion (chlamydial) conjunctivitis. Women with untreated chlamydia can pass this to their newborns during vaginal birth
- Gonococcal conjunctivitis. Women with untreated gonorrhea can pass this to their babies as they are birthed through the birth canal
- Chemical conjunctivitis. This occurs when the baby’s eye(s) are irritated by medicated eye drops.
You might want to read Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis) in Newborns for more information.
Can a cold cause eye discharge in newborns?
If your baby has the signs of a cold, you might also notice one or both eyes are watery. Colds can cause eye drainage problems.
A cold can cause excess mucus, which can then affect the eyes and nose. This is usually seen as a watery discharge in the eyes. If the color is yellow or green, though, it’s more likely to be an infection.
If drainage in the eyes improves and the discharge disappears when the cold goes, this is a good indication it was just a cold affecting your infant’s eyes.
The treatment for colds is to keep fluids up; it should pass quickly.
Pink eye in newborns
As described above, pink eye in newborns is also conjunctivitis caused by viral or bacterial infections, or an allergy accompanied by swollen and red eyes.
The baby is usually very irritated by this and often will want lots of cuddles and possibly not want to be put down.
Seek medical advice if you think your baby has pink eye; antibiotics might be required to clear the infection.
If you would like more information about symptoms of conjunctivitis, please read Conjunctivitis in Babies – Treatment and Symptoms Of Conjunctivitis.
Newborn eye discharge treatment
Treatment depends on whether there is an infection and the type that’s present.
It’s important to seek medical advice if you’re not sure what’s causing the discharge.
For non-infected eyes, you can treat discharge from the eye in newborns at home.
You might like to try:
- A warm compress over the eye, using a damp, warm (not hot) flannel
- Gently putting breast milk in the corner of the eye. Breast milk has antibodies and can soothe irritation and provide comfort
- A warm eye wash, using warm water on a cotton ball. Squeeze out excess water and wipe all around the edges of the eye
- Gently massaging the inner eye around the tear ducts.
If the eye is infected, you might see pus-like fluid draining from the eyes or in the lower eyelids. This won’t resolve on its own and needs to be reviewed by a pediatrician, midwife, or doctor.
Your doctor will probably offer antibiotic eye drops or ointments for conjunctivitis.
Be mindful some newborns find the medication causes chemical irritation. If your baby’s eyes don’t appear to be getting better, return to your health professional for another assessment.
Nasolacrimal duct obstruction
Nasolacrimal duct obstruction is a fancy name for a blocked tear duct. This can occur in an adult or a newborn.
Tears normally drain through little openings in the corner of the eyelids and enter the nose through little tubes called nasolacrimal ducts.
Watery eyes in young children are often caused by a problem with the tear drainage of the eye, when tear ducts are blocked.
How do I unclog a baby’s tear duct?
Usually, a blocked tear duct will open up on its own, especially if your baby is under 6 months of age.
The best way to help the tear duct unblock is to massage the eye area gently.
You might like to apply a few drops of breast milk to the area beforehand.
Apply gentle pressure towards the opening of the duct, along the upper part of your baby’s nose, then along the lower eyelid.
Parents who aren’t sure how to do tear duct massage can ask their doctor or midwife to demonstrate.
You might want to see a doctor if you’re not sure whether a blocked tear duct is the problem.
Breastmilk and newborns eye infection
Breastmilk is often recommended to assist in healing infections and unblocking tear ducts in newborns. Best of all, it’s an easy treatment to do at home; it’s effective and costs nothing.
There is a good reason breastmilk is recommended. This wonderful fluid contains white blood cells, antibodies, enzymes, and other substances that boost your baby’s immune defenses.
It’s gentle and won’t irritate your baby’s skin or eyes.
Newborn eye discharge and saline solution
Saline solution is essentially salt and water. It’s recommended to purchase saline eyedrops from a chemist.
You can put drops into the baby’s nose to assist in moving mucus and clearing nasal passages.
The saline eye drop will also help to unblock the tear duct if that’s the cause of discharge.
When will newborn eye swelling go down?
Almost all infants have puffy eyes after they are born. This is technically known as eyelid edema and is related to the pressure on the face as they pass through the birth canal.
Usually, this swelling is minimal, but might make it look as if your newborn is having trouble opening his eyes. In nearly all infants, it usually settles down after a few days.
If newborns develop signs of conjunctivitis, the swelling doesn’t settle and their eyes might also look red and tender. They will also develop a discharge that appears watery or viscous. This can make their eyelids stick together. This condition requires antibiotic treatment.
If you find the swelling or eyelid edema does not settle, or if your newborn experiences the symptoms of infection, see your doctor or midwife.