Care of the Newborn

By Susan Perri, Clinical Herbalist

Eye Care

Your birth attendant will most likely advise you that antibiotic eye ointment, usually erythromycin, is to be applied to the newborn’s eyes as a precaution against any bacteria which may have been transmitted from the birth canal to the baby’s eyes. Bacteria that cause syphilis and gonorrhea can cause blindness in the infant. While the ointment is mild and not as dangerous as its precedent, silver nitrate drops, which also caused blindness, there are effective herbal alternatives.

Many midwives will accept a clean test for the sexually transmitted diseases in question from the mother as a justification for not applying antibiotic ointment. Provide a good alternative in its place. Washing the eyes with a warm echinacea root decoction is an excellent, safe, and effective alternative to the conventional ointment. This eyewash can also be diluted with mother’s milk, if any is available. Mother’s milk is abundant in natural substances called lysosomes, which can also be found in saliva and tears. These convey remarkable protective antiseptic and infection fighting qualities, and it is fine for this new milk to go into tender new eyes. These same options can also be used if an eye infection does develop. Newborn eye infections are common, as before baby’s tear ducts begin working things can become congested. Regular washing of the eyes with tepid water will serve as a preventive measure. If pinkeye, or conjunctivitis should develop, the echinacea eyewash with or without mother’s milk will soothe, protect, and initiate healing.

Umbilical Care

The umbilical site needs care and attention until it falls off, usually within a week after the birth. If the area surrounding the navel becomes red and tender, or the umbilicus itself shows a puslike discharge or emits an unpleasant odor, these signs indicate an infection and medical assistance should be sought. Herbal powders in single or combination form have proven to be potent allies in this instance. The following powder has a reputation for completely drying the umbilical stump within three days after the birth. The powder can be gently applied several times daily, usually at diaper changes, with a cotton ball or swab. It will also help to be certain that the diaper is not rubbing or chafing this delicate area, and that it is in general kept clean and dry. In fact, if weather permits, it helps to expose the area to fresh air and sunlight for a time each day to promote healing.

Herbal Cord Care Powder

Barberry root

Oregon grape root

Goldenseal root

Combine equal parts of each and blend well with a wire whisk. Store in a clean, dry glass jar. These three roots share the berberine alkaloid, which is a powerful astringent and antimicrobial. These herbs must be ordered from ethical sources, such as organically grown, as the wildharvested variety contributes to their preca

rious status as endangered plants. Goldenseal especially has been overharvested to a point of extinction from its natural habitat to meet the huge consumer demand. Using organically grown herbs gives the environment an opportunity to replenish and grow strong again, ensuring that these valuable plants are not lost to us.

Honey is another option and an old remedy for protecting and drying the umbilical stump. Traditional midwives praise honey for its natural antibiotic properties, as well as being nutritive and healing for the skin. Apply honey to the umbilical site following the birth and thereafter several times a day.

Continue your chosen remedy even after the stump drops off for a few days, to protect while the healing process is fully completed.


This once routine practice of removing the male infant’s foreskin from his penis is happily being questioned more widely. In fact, The American Academy of Pediatrics no longer advocates routine circumcision. Giving birth in a hospital, it would be wise to make your wishes regarding this procedure very clear prior to the birth so nothing is incorrectly assumed. The procedure is nothing short of torture to the little infant, who is strapped down and offered no painkillers or anesthetics.

From a wiser perspective, to place our sons in this situation when they are so tender, new, and trusting, is not a sound practice. Perhaps this violence committed against them so early in their lives and on such a large scale has some impact on the violence we live with in the larger scope of our world.

This text intends to provide information on the traditional uses of native plants, not to prescribe. If your child is not well, please seek the assistance of a competent health care provider.

Susan Perri is a Clinical Herbalist, author, and mother in upstate New York. The article is excerpted from her book The Complete Herbal for Pregnancy and Childbirth. For more on books, herbal medicine instruction, and high quality herbal formulas, visit