Why newborn babies need a Vitamin K shot at birth

Children's Health

by Darshan Patel, MD

Jul 12, 2022

As a parent, there are tons of newfound feelings the moment your baby is born into the world. There is joy, happiness and excitement for the future. At the same time, so begins the string of important decisions you as the parent will have to make for your child’s health.

One of the first medical decisions that must be made happens shortly after birth. This decision is giving consent for medical providers to give your child a dose of intramuscular (IM) Vitamin K. This decision is an important one that is perhaps not talked about with new parents as much as it should be.

Today, we will discuss what exactly Vitamin K is and why it’s important for the health of new babies shortly after birth.

What is vitamin K?

You may be asking “what is vitamin K?” Vitamin K is just like the other vitamins that we use daily to help our bodies function. Vitamin K’s effect mainly takes place in the blood.

Now, we all know what it feels like when we have a small cut or injury that causes us to bleed. Initially, there is a gush of blood that slowly stops on its own with time. This is because the body can create a clot in the cut area so that bleeding can stop.

Your body specifically uses vitamin K to help key molecules allow your blood to clot properly. For most people, vitamin K comes from food. The main food source is leafy green vegetables. Additionally, bacteria in the gut also help produce vitamin K.

Vitamin K shots at birth

However, for babies, this is not true. Babies initially have very little amounts of vitamin K in their body at birth. This is because the baby is only able to get a small amount of vitamin K from the placenta. Also, babies do not initially have active guts that can help create vitamin K. Additionally, breast milk does not have a lot of vitamin K but is still the preferred method for nutrition when possible.

Knowing that babies do not have a good supply right after birth, vitamin K is offered in the form of an injection.

The reason for giving the vitamin K shot is to ensure that every baby has a good amount of vitamin K in their system to prevent Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding (VKDB). VKDB is when bleeding occurs in your baby due to ineffective clotting since there is not enough Vitamin K in the body.

There are three different patterns to VKDB: early, classical and late. The early pattern happens in the first 24 hours of life. Bleeding will usually occur on the skin, in the brain and in the abdomen. The classical form usually happens around day two to seven of life (mostly during days two and three). The classical form is when levels of vitamin K are the lowest. Types of bleeding in this case include: the GI system, umbilical cord, skin, nose and circumcision site. It is thought that breastfeeding and generally poor feeding or risk factors for this.

The late pattern generally occurs around weeks three to eight of life. The main site of bleeding in this case will be in the brain, and there is a higher chance of death due to the brain bleed. Babies who do survive from the brain bleed still have around a 40% chance of long-term brain damage.

Signs of Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding

Some warning signs to be aware of to make sure this doesn’t happen include:

  • Nosebleeds
  • Jaundice
  • Pale skin color
  • Difficulty feeding
  • Increased sleepiness
  • Visible bruising that comes on easily
  • Bulging fontanelle (the soft spot starts curving outward or sticking out)

If you are concerned about any of these signs, call your pediatrician or seek urgent care.

Worried about vitamin K shots?

Vitamin K comes in the form of an injection as there is no oral version at this time. There are preservative-free versions available, depending on the hospital that you deliver at. For information about the other ingredients that may be in the injection, ask your doctor for more details. Parenting decisions are not always easy, so don’t hesitate to talk to your OBGYN and pediatrician about any worries on your mind.

Hopefully, this information helps you understand why this shot is so important to be given to your child right after birth. It’s all about giving your child the best chance at a healthy life, so you can help them thrive!

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