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Does your newborn need a Vitamin K injection immediately after birth?

July 20, 2015

Those first moments after your baby is born can feel like a whirlwind.

Suddenly, the moment you’ve been anticipating for many long weeks of pregnancy is here, and it’s as though you’re living in a dream. You see your baby’s face for the first time, touch her soft skin, hear those precious cries and hold those tiny hands in your own. There is no feeling on this earth quite like it. It is heavenly and surreal and altogether unbelievable.

After you’ve had some time to get to know your new little one, your doctor and nurses will do their part to take care of your precious bundle. They’ll wipe her off to keep her from getting too cold and examine her briefly to ensure that there are no obvious problems or abnormalities. They will weigh her and measure her and wrap her in a blanket. Before you leave the delivery room, they’ll also give her an injection of vitamin K.

You may be thinking that giving your baby an injection shortly after birth doesn’t fit with your ideal delivery room scenario. I get that, but here’s why it’s important.

What is Vitamin K?

Vitamin K is an important nutrient necessary for our blood to clot. We get our vitamin K from certain foods we eat such as green, leafy vegetables and fruits like avocado and bananas. Some vitamin K is also produced by the good bacteria found in our gut.

Every person needs an adequate amount of vitamin K for life. You might think of the clotting process as a sort of domino effect; it takes a lot of different proteins and clotting factors in several sequential steps to get to the ultimate goal of preventing a person from bleeding. Vitamin K is one domino that must fall into place or clotting won’t occur.

Why does my newborn need a Vitamin K injection?

You may be thinking that all of this information about blood clotting is nice and all, but what does it have to do with your baby? Here’s the thing: a body’s ability to clot and stop bleeding isn’t just necessary when there’s an injury. Every person must have the ability to prevent bleeding within their body as a necessary part of life.

Without the ability to clot, bleeding can occur in the brain, abdomen and other vital organs. It can become a life-threatening problem and one that occurs more frequently in newborns because they are born with low vitamin K stores since the nutrient doesn’t easily cross the placenta, they don’t yet consume vitamin K-containing foods and haven’t acquired the good bacteria in their gut.

Serious bleeding can occur within the newborn period, but also can occur up to 12 weeks after birth (and rarely up to six months after birth). It often happens without warning or obvious signs or symptoms.

However, infants who receive a vitamin K injection at birth are 81 times less likely to develop this life-threatening bleeding problem known as vitamin k-deficiency bleeding.

Is it safe?

The administration of 0.5 to 1 mg of intramuscular vitamin K is very safe.

The benefits that a vitamin K injection offer your child in the form of protection against life-threatening bleeds far outweigh the potential risk.

While some parents may wonder whether an oral dose of vitamin K instead of an injection may suffice, research has shown that oral dosage regimens do not offer adequate protection against vitamin k-deficiency bleeding, particularly for breast-fed babies. Oral intake appears to protect the infant within the early period (the first two weeks of life), but not in later infancy (up to 12 weeks of age and beyond).

If you’ve heard the rumor that vitamin K injection can cause certain childhood cancers, know that this potential correlation was reported in one study in the early 1990s. Since then, many medical studies have examined this issue and found no correlation between the two.

Since the administration of a vitamin K injection is known to prevent vitamin K-dependent bleeding in newborns and older infants, and the claims that it is associated with childhood cancer are unsubstantiated, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all newborns receive 0.5 to 1mg of intramuscular vitamin K after birth.

What should I do if I have concerns?

If you have questions about the vitamin K injection, ask your doctor. Don’t wait until the moment when it’s about to be given in the delivery room. Talk to your doctor and set your mind at ease so that your delivery room experience can be peaceful and pleasant.

If you’re interested in learning more, see these excellent resources:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The American Academy of Pediatrics