Sarah Norris – The Baby Detective

Sticky Eye – What Is It And How Do I Treat It ?
April 8, 2020

Sticky Eye – What Is It And How Do I Treat It ?

Don’t squirt breastmilk in it !

I know, ‘everyone’ says it, literally everyone, even health professionals who should know better, but this is one of those times when you should not listen to ‘everyone

What Is Sticky Eye

Sticky eye is very common in babies under 1 year of age, and it is caused by a blocked tear duct. This means that the eye does not drain properly and all the gunk that normally gets washed away by tears just hangs around and builds up in the corners of the eyes. It looks yellowish and a bit manky, and is sticky (hence the name) and can glue baby’s eyelid down, so it is understandable to think it is an infection, but it isn’t, it is a temporary mechanical failure that causes temporary inconvenience. If you gently wipe it with cooled boiled water, or sterile saline solution it will go away on its own, and may come and go many times in the first year.

It is not, I repeat, not an infection, so does not require antibiotic drops or cream, it does not require a doctors appointment, or an A&E trip.

It also does NOT need you to be squirting breastmilk in to baby’s eye The reasoning behind this myth is usually that breastmilk has antibacterial properties so will help with the infection. But we know it is not an infection, it is a blockage, so logically, breastmilk cannot possibly help. I know there are lots of people with anecdotal evidence of how it cured their baby’s sticky eye, but remember, sticky eye goes away on its own, so what they have witnessed is just coincidence (and wishful thinking)


How Do I Know If It Is Sticky Eye Or An Infection ?

…just look for redness

If the whites of the eye are bloodshot, or if the inner rims or lids are red, or if there is any new redness anywhere around the eye, then you are probably looking at an infection like conjunctivitis, or ‘Pink Eye’ This DOES require a doctors appointment, and they will usually prescribe an antibiotic cream or drops which you apply several times a day, and keep the eye clean with cooled boiled water or saline solution. This is when you should definitely NOT squirt in breastmilk, because whilst it does have a mild antibacterial quality, it is not as effective as the cream, and it also has the added risk of making the infection a lot worse. This is because breastmilk is packed with sugar, which is the absolute best food for bacteria…they love it, and multiply exponentially when they have a ready supply.

I have witnessed first hand several cases where breastmilk has caused serious complications, one of which went on for so long before the mother visited a doctor, that baby’s sight in both eyes was at risk.

The text conversation opposite is with a recent client, which is what prompted me to share this blog with you, to make sure you don’t fall in to the ‘everyone says’ trap.

Luckily this mum noticed it worsening, and very quickly got a video appointment with her doctor (written during Covid Lockdown), got the antibiotic cream, and the infection started clearing up the same day.

Just to be very clear…breastmilk is food…put it in babies mouth, nowhere else.

So how do you clean a babies eyes ?

  • Get a bowl containing a little water that has been boiled (so is sterile), and then cooled to room temperature. Use fresh water every time.
  • Get several cotton wool balls or pads ready (remember to never leave your baby unattended on the changing unit, even for a second !)
  • Lay baby down on the changing mat, slightly on their side.
  • If they are on their left side, you start by cleaning the left eye, so that any water dribbles down on to the mat, and not in to baby’s other eye. This is important because you may not know if there is any infection involved, and you don’t want to risk spreading it to the other eye.
  • Wet the cotton wool and squeeze it so it is damp rather than wet, and gently but firmly wipe from the outside of the eye towards the inner corner and the tear duct.
  • Repeat this several times until the eye is clear.
  • It may take a while to unglue a stuck down eyelid and baby can get annoyed and squirmy, so try and have someone else hold them still, or wrap them firmly in a swaddle so they are easier to manage if you are on your own.
  • If it is sticky eye, rather than an infection, you can help by doing a few seconds very gentle massage around the tear duct several times a day, to try and help unblock it.
  • Clean the eye any time it looks gunky, but in the case of infection, make sure you clean it before you apply the antibiotic cream or drops.

So there you go, I hope this has helped clear that up for you (no pun intended 😊), and that you understand how normal sticky eye is, how it is nothing to worry about, and how to recognise and treat it yourself.

Sarah x

If you have any questions please just comment below, or come and ask in my free Facebook group that I have set up especially to help support pregnant women and parents during the Covid emergency, Lockdown Babies

The Author

I’m Sarah Norris, a Baby Care Consultant and Parenting Coach.

I have spent over twenty five years, often working 24 hours, 6 days a week, supporting hundreds of families with new or young babies aged from newborn to 12 months old, and often helping with their toddlers and older children.

I help parents discover what parenting style they want to use to care for their baby, and offer advice on different approaches that might suit them and their circumstances best.


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