First recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 1961, giving Vitamin K at birth is important for infants to help their blood to clot normally. Infants are born with very low levels of vitamin K, which can cause significant bleeding problems. Pediatricians recommend a vitamin K shot at birth for every infant because it is safe and necessary.
Vitamin K injections are routinely given at birth because infants are born with low levels of vitamin K, which is vital for blood to clot.
Babies who don’t receive a Vitamin K injection are at risk for developing Vitamin K deficiency bleeding (VKDB), which occurs when a baby’s blood doesn’t clot and can lead to potentially fatal bleeding.
There is an increase in the number of parents refusing vitamin K injections, causing an increase in vitamin K deficiency bleeding.
Vitamin K injections are safe and are recommended by pediatricians for all infants.
Vitamin K shot – why your baby needs one?
Birth is a busy time full of emotions, weighing and measuring, and getting to know your new family member. No parent likes the idea of their brand-new baby getting poked! But babies need vitamin K because they don’t receive much vitamin K from the birthing parent, and their intestines don’t yet contain bacteria that can make vitamin K.
Babies who don’t receive vitamin K at birth are at risk for vitamin K deficiency – a potentially fatal bleeding disorder – for the first 6 months of life. This can cause bruising or bleeding in almost every organ in the body, but almost half of vitamin K deficiency bleeding (VKDB) involves bleeding in the brain. VKDB is completely preventable with a one-time vitamin K shot into the leg muscle at birth.
What is vitamin K?
Vitamin K is a nutrient the body uses for blood to clot and to stop bleeding. It is found in foods such as leafy greens, meat, dairy, and eggs. It is also made by bacteria in the gut. However, vitamin K is not easily shared between the birthing parent and infant, even through breast milk. Newborn’s intestines do not yet have a lot of bacteria, so they cannot make enough vitamin K of their own until they start eating solid foods.
Vitamin K deficiency
When a baby does not have enough vitamin K, their blood doesn’t clot and their body can’t stop the bleeding. They can bleed internally or externally. A baby can develop VKDB in the first 24 hours of life, within the first week after birth, or sometime between the second week and six months of life.
Unfortunately, there may not be warning signs of life-threatening bleeding before it occurs. Babies may show the following signs:
- Vitamin K deficiency bleeding (VKDB).
- Have blood in their stool or black, sticky stool.
- Vomit blood.
- Bleed from their nose or umbilical cord.
- Develop pale-looking gums or skin.
- Develop a yellow tint on the white parts of the eyes 3 weeks after birth or longer.
- Show signs of brain bleeding such as irritability, seizures, sleeping too much, or vomiting.
Vitamin K safety
In the 1990s, one study suggested a possible link between vitamin K and developing childhood cancer. However, researchers have not found that link in any study since then, finding no evidence that vitamin K is associated with cancer. Unfortunately, the misinformation persists.
When your baby receives a vitamin K shot, it stores in their liver and slowly releases over months until they start absorbing vitamin K from solid food and making it themselves.
VKDB on the rise
Pediatricians are concerned about an increase in parent refusal of vitamin K. Parents may refuse a vitamin K injection because they do not believe it is important or fear that the injection will cause pain. Some parents are also concerned about the small amount of preservative, benzyl alcohol, in the injection. However, there is no evidence that it is harmful to infants, and many infants receive vitamin K that does not contain a preservative. If you have questions or concerns about your baby receiving a vitamin K injection, talk with your pediatrician. It’s important that you feel heard, and also that you are counseled about the risks associated with vitamin K deficiency.