There are a number of things that happen in very quick succession once your baby is born- especially if you aren’t informed enough to say no ahead of time! One of those is that your newborn’s eyes will immediately be smeared with a antibiotic cream called erythromycin.
A long time ago (we’re talking last century), it becomes increasingly common for newborns to develop conjunctivitis very soon after being born, and sometimes even to go blind. Doctors recognized this and began immediately treating the eye of newborns with silver nitrate, which significantly decreased the amount of infections (silver nitrate burns, however, and was eventually replaced with erythromycin). Eventually, doctors were able to make a connection between mothers with chlamydia and gonorrhea and the infants developing conjunctivitis- a breakthrough that, again, significantly decreased the likelihood of infection.
What are the risks of erythromycin? Health-wise, the risks of the treatment itself are negligible. Any amount of antibiotics can be seen as a hindrance the the natural development of the infant’s immune system. Erythromycin also occasionally causes eye irritation. However, the biggest risk of this treatment is that it messes with the infant’s already subpar vision- which can be detrimental to the bonding process so soon after birth. Babies can only see within a foot or so in front of them, and this treatment makes even that vision blurry!
So, if the connection between these STDs and the infections is so obvious, why is it that newborns are routinely dosed with erythromycin? Simply put, it’s easier to just give it to every baby. Is it necessary? Yes, if you have one of the applicable STDs. But what if you don’t?
STD screening is routine in pregnancy, no matter if you see a midwife or an obstetrician, and they will obviously tell you if you test positive. However, if you are negative and in a monogamous relationship with someone who is also negative, there is virtually no reason to allow your child to be dosed with erythromycin. Put it in your birth plan, discuss it with your caregiver and nurses when you arrive at your place of birth. If you don’t want it to happen, don’t let it!