When a baby is born, one routine medical procedure is administering a vitamin K shot. This shot is given to help prevent bleeding disorders in newborns, which can be potentially life-threatening. However, as with any medical intervention, there are pros and cons to consider before deciding whether to give the vitamin K shot at birth. This article will explore this standard medical procedure's potential benefits and drawbacks.
Since 1961, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended giving vitamin K shots to newborns to prevent the risk of Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding (VKDB).
Giving the shot right after birth can reduce the risk of life-threatening internal bleeding, occurring anytime between 0 and 6 months in infants.
According to experts, one out of five babies with VKDB die because of the condition. Two out of every five survivors end up with long-term neurological damage.
VKDB may also lead to motor skill defects, cognitive issues, and organ failures in surviving children.
What Is Vitamin K, And What Does It Do In The Body?
Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin that is found in two forms in the food you consume.
- Phylloquinone - Found in green leafy vegetables
- Menaquinones - Found in fermented foods and animal products
One of the essential uses of vitamin K is making the proteins needed for blood clotting.
Vitamin K deficiency can lead to low levels of prothrombin in the blood.
Prothrombin is a blood clotting protein, and lack of blood clotting factors can lead to hemorrhage (internal bleeding) and blood loss.
In adults, vitamin K deficiency is very rare. It happens in individuals with malabsorption issues or those under medications that interfere with vitamin K absorption.
Why Is Vitamin K Important For A Newborn Baby?
According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), infants between 0 and 6 months need two micrograms of vitamins K/day to maintain adequate nutritional levels.
However, most newborns have low levels of vitamin K in their blood. Two main reasons for this are:
- The inability of vitamin K to flow through the placenta from the mother to the fetus
- Deficient levels of vitamin K in breastmilk (1 mcg/liter)
Low vitamin K levels in infants put them at a higher risk for developing VKDB in the first six months of their life.
Three types of VKDB occur in infants.
Early VKDB occurs within 24 hours of birth.
The baby could be born with an existing bleeding disorder, which may worsen due to low vitamin K levels.
The use of certain maternal medications also increases the risk of early VKDB.
Classic VKDB occurs between 24 hours and one week of birth.
This is due to a natural decrease in vitamin K levels, which is not replenished by breast milk.
Late VKDB occurs between one and 24 weeks (6 months) of birth. This could result from existing liver problems in the baby, making the liver unable to produce clotting factors.
All three cases of VKDB causes bleeding in the gut or brain and can turn severe quickly.
How Is Vitamin K Given?
Vitamin K is usually given as a single intramuscular shot right after birth.
The injection contains vitamin K and certain safe additives that maintain the vitamin's pH levels and improve its absorption rate.
A single shot of 0.5 mg (for babies weighing less than 1500g at birth) or 1 mg (weighing over 1500g at birth) of vitamin K given right after birth can entirely bring down the risk of developing Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding.
According to the Canadian Pediatric Society, the vitamin K shot must be given within six hours of birth to reduce the risk of VKDB entirely.
For parents who prefer oral supplementation over shots, oral vitamin K doses are also available for newborns.
Oral vitamin K supplements are offered to newborns in three doses - within six hours of birth, 2-4 weeks, and 6-8 weeks.
Parents must note that oral vitamin K supplementation is less effective than vitamin K shots.
Vitamin K Shot At Birth: Pros And Cons
A 2019 study analyzed why parents refuse vitamin K shots to their infants after birth.
The following are the reasons stated by parents.
- The risk of the shots may be high.
- Lack of trust in the healthcare industry.
- Their other children did not receive vitamin K shots and are healthy.
- Vitamin K shots are not natural.
Some parents also ask if they could wait and see if their baby needs vitamin K shots before administering them.
According to medical experts, this may not work. The baby will start showing symptoms only after internal bleeding has occurred.
Babies with low vitamin K at birth may start bleeding internally since their livers cannot form blood clotting factors.
When the bleeding does not stop, the condition gets severe and medical interventions may not be helpful.
One of the biggest pros of vitamin K shots is increasing the risk of internal bleeding in babies under six months of age.
Pros Of Vitamin K Shot At Birth
- Vitamin K effectively prevents a rare but severe blood clotting problem in infants.
- Vitamin K administration is straightforward: orally or via injection, the latter being more effective.
- Compared to other drugs, vitamin K is one of the safest.
Cons Of Vitamin K Shot At Birth
- Rare instances of infection at the site of injection; occasional bleeding or bruising
- Some facts about why babies have low vitamin K at birth are unknown.
Does Vitamin K Have Any Side Effects On Babies?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are no severe side effects of vitamin K shots identified.
Just like other shots, vitamin K injections may lead to swelling or bruising in the place of injection.
In some cases, the shots can cause mild pain or scarring of the skin. All these symptoms should disappear in a few days.
Scientists and doctors worldwide believe there is no link between vitamin K shots and childhood cancer and conclude that these shots are safe.
Some of the vitamin K shots have added benzyl alcohol as a preservative. Benzyl alcohol may be toxic when taken in large quantities.
However, benzyl alcohol in each shot is not high enough to cause toxicity and is safe.
Do All Newborn Babies Need Vitamin K?
All newborn babies have low vitamin K levels and would benefit from getting vit K shots or oral doses.
How Do I Get Vitamin K For My Newborn?
All hospitals and birthing clinics offer vitamin K for newborns.
They may also choose vitamin K oral doses over shots.
How Much Does Vitamin K Cost?
In most countries, vitamin K shots are offered for free.
What To Know Before Opting For Vitamin K Shot At Birth
Parents should know the pros and cons of choosing vitamin K shots for their babies to make an informed decision.
- Knowing the potential risks of VKDB may help you decide with confidence.
- You should also talk to your doctor and know what to do if the child develops swelling or fever post-administration.
- Vitamin K doses are chosen based on the birth weight of the baby. Please check the suggested dose and clarify with your doctor if there is a doubt.
- An allergic reaction to vitamin K is infrequent. However, be aware of the signs of an allergy trigger and contact your pediatrician immediately if you notice any discomfort in the baby post-administration.
- Vitamin K is an essential nutrient needed for the liver to produce a protein called prothrombin. Prothrombin helps in blood clotting.
- Babies are born with low vitamin K levels because this nutrient cannot flow through the placenta from the mother to the fetus.
- Low vitamin K levels at birth put the babies at risk of developing Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding (VKDB), a condition causing internal bleeding due to a lack of blood clotting factors.
- A single vitamin K shot within 6 hours of birth reduces the risk of developing VKDB in babies.
- Parents who don’t want to opt for shots can also request oral vitamin K administration in three doses.
- The benefits of vitamin K shots outweigh the risks, and getting the shot reduces the mortality rate and risk of brain or other organ damage in infants.
- After getting parental approval, doctors or midwives administer vitamin K shots in all hospitals and birthing clinics in the United States.