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Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye) in Newborns

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.

Antibiotic Drops at Birth Prevent Pink Eye

Neonatal conjunctivitis includes eye redness, eyelid swelling and other similar symptoms. In the U.S., this condition is normally caused by an infection the baby’s mother caught while having sex.

The most common infections leading to conjunctivitis in a newborn are herpes, gonorrhea and chlamydia. While many women are tested for these types of infections before delivery, some are not. Your baby is more likely to get this type of infection if you have a vaginal birth. This doesn’t mean babies born via C-section, can’t get the condition too, though.

There are other types of infections that also lead to newborn conjunctivitis, as well, that aren’t caused by having sex.


Usually the signs of conjunctivitis (Pink Eye) in newborns occur between two days and six weeks after delivery. They may include:

1. Gooey, thick liquid coming from baby’s eyes

2. Watery liquid coming from baby’s eyes (not normal tears)

3. Eyes that are red

4. Swelling eyelids

5. Acting like the eye hurts, even crying

Right after birth in the U.S., most newborn babies have antibiotic medicine put in their eyes. This can help prevent the type of conjunctivitis which gonorrhea causes. It won’t prevent the types of conjunctivitis caused by other infections.

You’ll want to take your baby to the doctor immediately if you see any signs of newborn conjunctivitis. If you don’t treat it right away, it may lead to blindness or other serious eye problems.

Learn about pink eye in newborns


Your nurse or doctor will want to ask you questions about your baby’s symptoms and probably do an exam, too. They will want to try to find out what’s causing the conjunctivitis.

Typical tests include:

  • Blood tests

  • Testing a liquid sample from the eyes

  • Testing small samples of cells from the eye, rectum, throat or from a bowel movement

  • A spinal tap (Your doctor will put a thin needle into your baby’s lower back and remove a small sample of spinal fluid. This is the fluid surrounding the spinal cord and brain. Lab tests will then be run on the spinal fluid.)


Medicine is used to treat newborn conjunctivitis. This may be an antiviral medicine if the herpes virus caused the condition. This type of medicine fights infection caused by a virus.

Antibiotics may also be used to help fight bacterial infections. This may come in the form of a shot, through an IV inserted into a vein, or by mouth. Which antibiotic your child uses will depend on the infection which caused the problem.

Some babies need to be treated in the hospital. This may be the case if the problem spread to other parts of your baby’s body or if it caused other eye problems in your baby.


There are ways to prevent conjunctivitis (Pink Eye) in newborns from happening. Makes sure you see your doctor either before you get pregnant or soon after. Your doctor can check to see if you have any infections, which could lead to newborn conjunctivitis. This give you time to get treatment before delivery and may help your child from getting conjunctivitis.

You also want to ensure your baby is given eye antibiotics immediately after delivery. This is routine in the U.S. These antibiotics will lower the infection risk that comes with gonorrhea, one of the causes of newborn conjunctivitis.


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