Eye Medicine and Vitamin K Injection for Newborns

Newborn babies routinely get eye medicine and vitamin K shots (injections) 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 be acquired during birth. Untreated, these infections can cause serious problems including blindness. The antibiotic erythromycin is used most often.

The ointment or drops may cause a baby's eyes to appear cloudy. Although it is rare, some newborns' eyes may become red or swollen. This is short-term. The medicine should not 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 several days after birth. The injection prevents vitamin K deficiency bleeding. This is also known as 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 result in death or serious long-term disability.

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