You’ve just had a baby and… oh no! Your little one has a sticky eye. You might have heard that sticky eyes are quite common in newborn babies but you’ve also heard about conjunctivitis and eye infections (bacterial infection or viral infection) and you want to make sure your baby’s eyes are kept clean and clear of infection.
Let’s look at some advice on newborn sticky eye to reassure you your babies’ eyes are healthy and to help keep them that way.
What is Newborn sticky eye?
When a baby’s eye produces a yellowish-white discharge it’s called a sticky eye. It’s usually harmless but it bothers the parents much more than it bothers the baby. Following a few hygiene steps usually clears it off in no time.
Is it normal for newborns to have sticky eyes?
It is quite common for a newborn baby to have a sticky eye. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do anything about it. Neither does it mean you need to run to the doctor the moment you see a bit of goop in your baby’s eye.
Taking care of your newborn’s eyes is not complicated. Let me walk you through the main steps to keep your baby’s eyes clean and free of infection. You’ll also learn when you need to talk to a healthcare professional regarding your baby’s eye health.
Newborn sticky eye or conjunctivitis?
First of all, rest assured sticky eyes are very common in newborn babies. On the other hand, it shouldn’t be confused with an eye infection or conjunctivitis. Let’s look at the main difference between the two.
The main cause of a sticky eye in a baby is a blocked tear duct. When this happens, the tears pile up in the corner of the eye and this extra moisture can become gooey and sticky.
Conjunctivitis can also develop if a blocked tear duct becomes infected. Other causes of conjunctivitis can be viral or bacterial infection, passed from the mother to the baby during birth.
In some countries, all babies born in a hospital are given antibiotic eye drops as a prophylaxis to avoid infection; this treatment, however, removes the baby’s natural defenses and can lead to conjunctivitis.
Pink eye in a newborn baby
A pink eye in a baby is usually a symptom of infection. The term ‘pink eye’ is commonly used as a synonym for conjunctivitis. If your baby has pink eye, inform your baby’s doctor who will advise you on the best steps to take.
Research shows that the sooner treatment is commenced, the better the results; this applies to both viral and bacterial newborn eye infections.
Newborn sticky eye discharge
Sometimes we can see sticky eye discharge coming out of the baby’s eye. White discharge or yellow discharge means there’s no sign of infection; it’s usually a natural consequence of blocked tear ducts.
When the sticky discharge is green, though, then there’s an infection in the baby’s eye.
You can read more in BellyBelly’s article Newborn Eye Discharge – Yellow, Green or White.
Blocked tear duct
A tear duct goes from the inner corner of the eye to the nose. It’s the natural way eyes get rid of extra moisture. When a nasolacrimal duct obstruction occurs, tears accumulate in the eye until they’re big enough to drain out as a tear. The baby’s eye looks full of water and tears keep falling out of that eye.
A tear duct is the size of a hair so it’s easily blocked. The good news is that it’s also easily unblocked.
The main reason babies get sticky eyes is that their tear ducts are not yet fully developed. That’s why blocked tear ducts are so common in babies during their first few months and not very common in older children.
How do you unblock a baby’s tear duct?
First of all, you must identify the duct. It goes downwards, from the inside corner of the eyelids towards the nose. You can actually see the tiny opening in the rim of the bottom eyelid.
Wash your hands and gently massage the duct outwards from the eye toward the nose. Apply gentle pressure, directing the blockage towards the end of the duct. If the eye area isn’t infected this shouldn’t be painful for the baby.
Newborn sticky eye treatment
There are different treatments that can help sticky eyes go back to normal. Most treatments can be done easily at home by the baby’s parents.
Clean baby’s eyes regularly
Watery eyes will become sticky after a short while, as the tears accumulate; the excess water will become gooey with time.
Wash your hands thoroughly; you shouldn’t clean anything with dirty hands. You’ll need some gauze or cotton wool and cooled, boiled water. Insert the cotton ball into the warm water and place it slowly on the baby’s eyelids. Gently wipe from the center towards the outer corner of the eye.
Make sure that the part of the damp cotton wool in contact with the eye only comes in contact with your baby’s eye once. Use a clean piece of the cotton ball each time you place it on the eye. Wiping your baby’s eyes with a dirty piece of cloth can lead to an infection. A used piece of cotton is still dirty – even if it doesn’t have any sticky yellow goop on it. Use a separate towel, cotton ball, or wipe every time you clean your baby’s eyes.
You can also use saline solution instead of boiled water. This is especially handy when you’re not at home.
Be gentle – especially if your baby has swollen eyelids – but make sure the eyes are completely free of sticky discharge when you have finished the procedure.
Newborn sticky eye massage
While you’re cleaning your baby’s eyes, massage the tear ducts. Begin draining the blockage by placing your index finger over the inside corner of the eye and gently but firmly move it towards the nose. Keep massaging over the tear duct until it becomes open naturally. Stop the treatment immediately if your baby is distressed.
Newborn sticky eye home remedies
Euphrasia and rose petal water is the number one home remedy to clean your baby’s eyes. Bring water to the boil and add both to the boiling water. Let the mixture cool down with the herbs inside and drain. Use this instead of just plain boiled water to clean your baby’s sticky eyes.
Newborn sticky eye and breast milk
You might have heard breast milk can be used for many things in relation to your baby: for eczema or nappy rash, and for making soap. It can also be used to clean your baby’s eyes.
Breast milk is full of elements that can support your baby’s immune response; it is totally adapted to serve your baby’s needs. It’s the number one liquid to treat your baby’s ailments.
For example, when you kiss your baby you take a sample of the bacterial flora in your baby’s body. This information travels to your brain and the right defenses are sent to your milk to protect your baby. This is one of many reasons why breastfed babies are so healthy.
Read this article to learn How To Make Breast Milk Soap.
Antibiotic eye drops
Sometimes, especially if there are signs and symptoms of eye infection, your baby might need medical attention. Your doctor might suggest antibiotics to treat your baby’s eye condition. If you’re not certain you want your baby to have antibiotics at such an early age, you might prefer to seek advice from a different health professional.
Although most of the time a baby’s sticky eyes will resolve with the remedies already mentioned, or with simple medical treatment, there are a few babies who might require eye surgery to keep the duct open.
If this is a recurrent problem with your baby’s health, your health visitor or pediatrician will be able to discuss this and provide further advice on the subject.