In the first hour after birth, while parents are oblivious to everything but their new little miracle, nurses have a lengthy checklist to attend: Measure the baby’s weight. Record the pulse. Clean the tiny body. And squeeze a thin ribbon of antibiotic goo across the newborn’s eyes.
That bit of goo, called erythromycin ointment, is now at the heart of a debate between Erlanger Health System officials and bedside caregivers like nurses and midwives, who worry that a newly tightened policy on the ointment could pit them against parents in a delivery room battle.
The key question: Where does the buck stop when it comes to a newborn’s care: The parents, the hospitals or a 100-year-old law?
Erythromycin protects babies’ eyes against infections they can acquire in the birth canal if the mother has a sexually transmitted disease such as gonorrhea or chlamydia. Such infections can lead to blindness, and since 1915 Tennessee law has required protective ointment be applied within an hour after birth — no exceptions. Georgia requires the same thing.
Doctors say the ointment is effective and without side effects. However, a few parents are refusing the ointment. Some insist they don’t have STDs, and so the ointment is unnecessary and unnatural. Others say the procedure interferes with critical bonding during their child’s first moments of life.
Traci Josephsen, clinical resource specialist for women and infant services at Erlanger, said fewer than one parent a month refuses the ointment. But, unlike vaccinations and newborn screenings, state law provides no exemptions. So when parents refuse it, hospitals face a dilemma: Respect parents’ wishes and break the law? Or go against a parent’s will?
Chattanooga Times Free Press