Newborns may have eye conditions appear shortly after birth. A common symptom, yellow discharge, may appear after a few days or weeks. In some infants, the discharge will clear and not require further thought from exhausted new parents. In some newborns, the yellow discharge out of the baby's eye may require evaluation. Knowing some of the common causes of the colored discharge may encourage a parent to seek treatment for the baby.
During a vaginal birth, a newborn will have exposure to bacteria or viruses in the birth canal. Exposure may cause an eye infection called neonatal conjunctivitis. The infection may cause a yellow discharge as well as redness and swollen eyelids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A mother does not need to have an active virus or bacteria for the child to have exposure. If, however, the mother has an active or known condition, such as chlamydia, the doctor may recommend a Caesarean section to reduce the baby's exposure to the condition.
Blocked Tear Duct
The eye has tear ducts near the corners of the eyelids. At birth, some babies have a blocked or poorly formed tear duct. This may cause a yellowish discharge and excessive eye watering. Since these symptoms mimic other eye conditions, a pediatrician will evaluate the eye and determine if the infant has a blocked tear duct. Initially, the doctor will encourage the parents to massage the area around the duct a few times a day to stimulate activity, according to Southwestern Medical Center. The doctor may also prescribe eye drops. If these measures fail, the doctor may recommend an in-office procedure to open the duct. In some cases, a child may require surgical repair of the tear duct if the tear duct did not form properly.
To prevent eye infections, particularly those that result from contagions from the mother, the doctor or nurse will put a medication into the newborn's eye a short time after birth. Doctors use two medications, so the infant will have either an eye drop called silver nitrate or an ointment called erythromycin, says the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Hawaii. Most newborns do not react to the medications, though some babies have an allergic response that causes irritation and possibly a discharge from the eye.