Why is vitamin K a vital and life-saving vitamin for my newborn baby?

What is vitamin K?
Vitamin K is an important vitamin that is used by the body to form clots to stop active bleeding.  It stops us from continuing to bleed. All humans need this vitamin.

Why does a newborn baby need vitamin K?
Without vitamin K, baby can have internal bleeding. Babies have a long journey to birth whether it is labour (~10-24 hours of contractions and squeezing), with or without vacuum or forceps intervention, C-section, and are handled after birth. In other words, there are many opportunities for pressure to their body, and bleeding that can lead to jaundice (bruising of blood vessels that become yellow) and bleeding from any organs. Bleeding from the brain is a stroke, for example.

Newborns have low levels of vitamin K and thus need it from another source for bone and blood health. Vitamin K does not pass through the placenta from mom, so even taking prenatal vitamins will not increase baby’s vitamin K. Breastmilk has low levels of vitamin K.

Why is it given by injection instead of orally?
Vitamin K injection is NOT a vaccine. It is given by injection to the muscle because it takes 5-7 days for the body to make the clotting (coagulation) factors. Baby’s low levels of vitamin K continue to fall after birth and cannot be replaced by vitamin K from breastmilk. An injection is a quick way to give medicine. Vitamin K injections have been given to babies for over 60 years. Oral doses would require repeated doses over several weeks and months. Oral doses are too slow to make the clotting factors.

Why can’t I wait to see if my baby needs it?
Waiting to have a vitamin K shot may be too late because the bleeding is internal into the intestines or brain. Waiting leads to emergency medical intervention such as blood transfusion, resuscitation, surgery, hospitalization, or death.  The amount in the injection replaces baby’s very low levels at birth, then is stored in the liver and continues to help make the clotting factors over the next few months.

What is hemorrhagic disease of the newborn?
Hemorrhagic disease of the newborn is vitamin K deficiency bleeding (VKDB). It leads to internal bleeding from any organs that can occur in the first couple days of life or can also happen later. This bleeding risk remains for 6 months and is life-threatening or can cause 1 in 5 babies with VKDB to die. Internal bleeding leads to an emergency need for injections, blood and plasma transfusion and resuscitation for baby to stay alive.

What is in the vitamin K injection?
Vitamin K1 (Phytonadione) comes in a clear yellow preservative-free solution and includes propylene glycol and polyethylene glycol (PEG-15) and water. Those common nontoxic chemicals help to dissolve the vitamin K into water. They are used in many food products. There is no known toxicity or side effects from vitamin K1 (vs vitamin K3 was given in the past).

What is the potential harm of not giving vitamin K?

  • Newborns who do not get vitamin are 81 times more likely to have severe bleeding.
  • They have high risks for long term problems (organ or brain damage) or death.

Are some babies at higher risk for VKDB?

  • All newborns are at risk
  • Baby boys, breastfed babies, preterm babies (< 37 weeks), and those born by vaginally are at slightly higher risk
  • Babies born to moms on anti-seizure, anti-tuberculosis, and cephalosporin antibiotic medications also have lower vitamin K.

What is the risk of death from not giving vitamin K?

  • 20-50% risk of death due to bleeding from the brain.

If we decline vitamin K injection for our baby, what should we be watching for?
Bruising, oozing (from nose, belly button cord stump, or circumcision site), inactive baby, difficulty breathing (baby working hard to breathe where you can see their ribs and abdomen drawing in), belly getting big and distended, abnormal yellow eyes or skin or pale colour of baby, extra sleepiness or irritability, vomiting, black stool (old blood) or bloody stool. These are emergencies that need immediate medical attention.

How can I help my baby with their injection?
Feeding your baby while they get their injection can be very soothing.

Vitamin K1 injection is:

  • A life-saving intervention for your baby
  • An easy way to prevent internal bleeding and early and late VKBD
  • Is preservative-free
  • Not a vaccine
  • Non-toxic
  • Safe
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