The eyes of premature infants are especially vulnerable to injury after birth. A serious complication is called retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), which is abnormal growth of the blood vessels in an infant's eye. About 7% of babies weighing 1,250 grams (2.75 pounds) or less at birth develop ROP, and the resulting damage may range from mild (the need for glasses) to severe (blindness). The cause of ROP in premature infants is unknown. Although it was previously thought that too much oxygen was the primary problem, further research has shown that oxygen levels (either too low or too high) play only a contributing factor in the development of ROP. Premature babies receive eye exams in the NICU to check for ROP.
While in the NICU Morgan Kate received eye exams every two weeks. She didn't receive her first exam until she was 30 days old, which is pretty standard. The exams were grueling, not only for her, but for me as well. The doctor used these tiny metal grips to hold MK's eye lids open while he was doing the exam. The total exam only lasted a few seconds, a minute at the most, but it was awful and felt like an eternity. MK cried, I cried, it was pitiful. Thank goodness her eyes were great and she never dealt with ROP. For the first year of her life we saw a pediatric opthamologist every six months, and now we go once a year until she is three.