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Eye Medicine and Vitamin K Injection for Newborns

Newborn babies routinely get eye medicine and a vitamin K shot (injection) soon after birth. Both prevent serious conditions.

Why do newborns get eye medicine?

Antibiotic eye drops or ointment are placed in a newborn's eyes after birth. This is to protect babies from getting bacterial eye infections that can occur during birth. Untreated, these infections can cause serious problems including blindness. The antibiotic erythromycin is used most often.

The ointment or drops may make a baby's eyes look cloudy or moist around the eyelids. In rare cases, some newborns' eyes may become red or swollen. This is short-term. The medicine shouldn't be washed or cleaned out of the eyes.

Why do newborns get vitamin K injections?

Vitamin K is important to blood clotting. Newborn babies normally have low levels of this vitamin until a few days after birth. The injection prevents vitamin K deficiency bleeding (hemorrhagic disease of the newborn). Most babies get an injection of vitamin K in the upper thigh. This may be briefly painful to the baby, but it doesn’t seem to cause babies any pain afterward. Without the vitamin K injection, babies are about 80 times more likely to have vitamin K deficiency bleeding. This bleeding can lead to death or serious long-term disability.

If you have concerns about either of these treatments, talk with your baby's healthcare provider.

Medical Reviewers:

  • Mahammad Juber MD
  • Stacey Wojcik MBA BSN RN
  • Tracy C. Garrett RNC-NIC BSN