Why & How to Give Baby Eye Drops

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The health of your baby’s eyes is important. You need to keep those beautiful eyes healthy so that they can develop properly, and proper vision helps them meet other developmental milestones. Whether it’s for treating an infection, clearing a blocked tear duct, or any other reason, knowing why and how to administer eye drops safely can make the process smoother for both you and your little one.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Why Do Babies Need Eye Drops?

Babies might need eye drops for various reasons:

  1. Infection Treatment: Conjunctivitis (pink eye) is a common eye issue in babies that may require antibiotic drops.
  2. Blocked Tear Ducts: Sometimes babies have blocked tear ducts that need special drops to help clear them.
  3. Eye Examinations: Occasionally, eye drops are used in routine exams to dilate the pupils for a better view of the eye.

Your baby’s eyes are one of the primary ways that they receive information and make sense of the world around them. For this reason, it is important to keep them healthy and ensure that they are developing properly. If problems are left untreated, then the connections made between the eyes and brain may be incorrect, causing vision loss that could be permanent. I

f your baby’s doctor has given you eye drops or ointment to put on your baby’s eyes, make sure you do so as prescribed. This includes following all precautions (like proper handwashing and washing the baby’s eye first), and also giving the full course of the medicine, even if you think the eye looks better. So, what is the proper way to instill eye drops?

How to Give Your Baby Eye Drops or Eye Ointment

If your baby develops an infection or other eye condition, the treatment often involves eye drops or ointment to put in your baby’s eyes. While this may sound simple, getting a squirmy baby to hold still while you drop something in their eye can be a daunting task, even for an experienced pro. Fortunately, there are some tips that might make it a bit easier.

Preparing for the Task

  1. Wash your hands before you start: This includes not only washing well, but also rinsing really well so that there is no residue that could get into baby’s eye and cause pain.
  2. Wash baby’s eye before applying the medicine: Wet a soft, clean cloth with warm water. Gently wipe from the inside corner of the eye to the outside. If the eye is crusted, hold a warm wet cloth on the eye for 1 minute. Repeat as needed. Use a separate cloth for each eye.

How to Administer Eye Drops

  1. Get your baby into position: If your baby is small enough, you can simply wrap their arms and legs in a blanket and hold them. Their head should be tilted back so they are looking up at you.
  2. Open the Eye Gently: Use one hand to hold the eye drop bottle and the other to gently open your baby’s eye. You can do this by lightly pulling down on the lower eyelid or holding the upper eyelid.
  3. Apply the Drops or Ointment: Aim for the inner corner of the eye, near the nose. It’s okay if the drop lands on the eyelid—it will seep into the eye when your baby blinks. Or, if giving an ointment, apply a thin line of ointment along the lower eyelid. (This is easiest to do with a q-tip. Don’t touch the applicator tube to baby’s eye, as you don’t want to spread the infection.)
  4. Let the Baby Blink: Allow your baby to blink, as this will help spread the eye drop over the surface of the eye.
  5. Clean Up: Wipe away any extra medicine or tears with a clean cloth or tissue. Make sure to wash your hands when you are done, to avoid spreading the infection.

Tips for Success

  • Distraction: Use toys or make faces to distract your baby during the process.
  • Consistency: Try to administer the drops at the same time each day to create a routine.
  • Stay Calm: Babies often pick up on their parents’ emotions. If you stay calm, it can help your baby remain relaxed too.

Other Eye Drop Questions

What is the eye ointment for newborns?

You may have noticed that pictures of newborns often show them with eyes that look slathered with ointment, and may have wondered why. In the U.S., babies are routinely given topical antibiotic called erythromycin in their eyes just after they’re born to prevent eye infections that they could get from the mom during delivery.

Learn More: Newborn Eye Ointment Can I Refuse It?

How can I treat my baby’s eye infection at home?

The short answer is, don’t. Even if you think you know what’s going on with baby’s eye, or if you have used medication from another family member, you should never try to treat infections on your own. Only use medication, including eye drops and ointment, under a doctor’s care.

Administering eye drops to your baby might seem challenging at first, but with patience and practice, it becomes easier. Remember, you’re doing this for the health and comfort of your little one, and that makes you an amazing parent. Keep up the great work, and here’s to happy, healthy baby eyes!

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  1. Mukamal, R. (2019 Dec).  20 Things to Know About Children’s Eyes and Vision. American Academy of Opthalmology. https://www.aao.org/eye-health/tips-prevention/tips-children-eyes-vision
  2. Infant Vision: Birth to 24 Months of Age. American Optometric Association. https://www.aoa.org/healthy-eyes/eye-health-for-life/infant-vision?sso=y
  3. Eye Infections in Infants & Children. (2016 Feb). American Academy of Pediatrics. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/eyes/Pages/Eye-Infections.aspx
  4. How to Give Eye Drops and Eye Ointment. (2013 Feb). American Academy of Pediatrics. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/at-home/medication-safety/Pages/How-to-Give-Eye-Drops-and-Eye-Ointment.aspx
  5. Turbert, D. (2020 Jul). Childhood Eye Diseases and Conditions. American Academy of Opthalmology. https://www.aao.org/eye-health/tips-prevention/common-childhood-diseases-conditions
  6. Specific Eye Problems in Children. (2017 Jan). American Academy of Pediatrics. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/eyes/Pages/Specific-Eye-Problems.aspx
  7. Tear Duct- Blocked. (2020 Aug). Seattle Children’s Hospital Research Foundation. https://www.seattlechildrens.org/conditions/a-z/tear-duct-blocked/
  8. Vision Screenings. (2016 July). American Academy of Pediatrics. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/eyes/Pages/Vision-Screenings.aspx#:~:text=As%20part%20of%20each%20well,At%203%20to%204%20years.
  9. Rao, S., Chun, C., Fan, J., Kofron, J. M., Yand, M. B., Hegde, R. S. Ferrara, N., Copenhagen, D. R. & Lang, R. A. (2013). A direct and melanopsin-dependent fetal light response regulates mouse eye development. Nature, 494, 243-246. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature11823

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Meet Katie Griffin

I’m a registered nurse, Lamaze certified childbirth educator, and the mother of 7. I help women realize their dream of a natural, intimate, and empowering hospital birth.

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The health of your baby’s eyes is important. You need to keep those beautiful eyes healthy so that they can develop properly, and proper vision helps them meet other developmental