Canadian Pediatric Society no longer recommends this practice from the late 1800's (it is now 2017)
What is that eye ointment babies get after birth and why do they get it? It is erythromycin and it is for prevention of severe eye infections in newborn babies. This routine practice has become outdated and no longer recommended. This might be a topic you would like to have a conversation with your care provider about.
Neonatal ophthalmia (NO) is a relatively common infant illness & is defined as conjunctivitis occurring within the first four weeks of life. This term originated from cases caused by N gonorrhoea, but the term now currently refers to any conjunctivitis in this age group.
In most instances, neonatal ophthalmia is a mild illness and can easily be treated case by case once infectious conjunctivitis is determined & distinguished from eye discharge secondary to blocked tear ducts and from conjunctivitis due to exposure to some kind of irritants or chemicals. The exception to this is ophthalmia due to infection with N gonorrhoea. Those cases are quite dangerous for infants.
Historically, the purpose of prophylaxis treatment with Silver Nitrate at birth was for neonatal ophthalmia eye infections due to N gonorrhoea. But when I say historically, I mean the late 1800's!
A lot has changed in Canada since then and the Canadian Pediatric Society is no longer recommending routine prophylaxis for neonatal ophthalmia. The primary reason is that N. gonorrhoea strains isolated in Canada are showing considerable resistance to the treatments routinely used and there are no recent studies of the efficacy of ophthalmia prophylaxis with these treatments.
You can see the position statement, complete recommendations from the CPS and the history of NO, risk factors & legal considerations depending on where in Canada you live on the Canadian Paediatric Society website.