Vitamin K & Your Newborn

Vitamin K is a natural vitamin needed to help blood clot (clump together to stop bleeding) appropriately. Newborns have low levels of vitamin K. Sometimes, a baby will develop bleeding due to a lack of vitamin K, causing the baby to bleed suddenly. This can be catastrophic, such as a bleed into the brain, or can also be minor. Bleeding from not having enough vitamin K (vitamin K deficiency bleeding) can happen in any baby — it is not limited to babies who had trauma during birth or baby boys who are circumcised.

What are the risks of not having Vitamin K given to my baby?

The chance of having Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding has been found to be around 10% in at risk infants (babies who are preterm or their mothers had certain medications). The risk of bleeding in normal babies who don’t get Vitamin K at birth is around 1 in 100. About half of this bleeding is serious like a hemorrhagic stroke.

This risk of bleeding is estimated to be reduced to about 1 in 100,000 babies if given Vitamin K within 6 hours of birth by intramuscular injection (this is the best way to give Vitamin K).

In general what can happen?

The bleeding can be minor, such as bruising very easily; or bleeding can be very serious, such as bleeding in the brain. Sometimes the bleeding can cause death. Babies who don’t get Vitamin K at birth can have serious bleeding problems up to 6 months of life. Breast milk will not give your baby enough vitamin K to reduce the risk of this bleeding effectively.

We cannot predict which babies will have bleeding problems, but we do know that a vitamin K shot at birth greatly lowers the number of babies who have bleeding problems.

What are the risks of the vitamin K shot?

Vitamin K is very safe. It has been used for years and the benefits far out weigh any miniscule risk. Vitamin K has been used since the 1960s. Many studies have been done to make sure it is safe and none of the reliable studies have shown any problems. As with any shot, the area may be red or sore after the shot is given.

Is there another option besides a shot?

Vitamin K taken by mouth does not work as well as the shot to prevent bleeding. Oral vitamin K needs many doses over 3 months and is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). So the injection of Vitamin K is highly recommended.

Sources: American Academy of Pediatrics, March 1, 2021 Vol 147, Issue 3
CDC statement on Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding