During your pregnancy, you will be given the choice of whether or not you would like your baby to receive vitamin K after birth, either with a shot or orally. Be sure that your final decision is based upon the evidence-based information available to you.
Vitamin K is present in our bodies to help our blood to clot and prevent serious complications from bleeding.
Babies are found at birth, and while breastfeeding up until approximately six months of age, to have low levels of vitamin K in their systems. This is because insufficient levels are transmitted from their mothers during pregnancy and low levels are found in breastmilk. It takes an infant approximately six months to build up to an appropriate level of vitamin K on their own.
Without enough vitamin K to help with blood clotting factors in their bodies, babies are at increased risk of a rare, but serious condition called vitamin K deficiency bleeding (VKDB). This can lead to bleeding in the brain resulting in brain damage and possibly death.
One of the most common methods of providing vitamin K to a newborn after birth is by injection. This one vitamin K injection will protect infants for several months. This is a simple way to prevent a potentially serious complication.
Another method available in some countries is an oral form of vitamin K. Several doses need to be given in this form as absorption and protection is limited in this form. The oral form is non-effective in infants whose mothers were taking anti-seizure medication, blood thinners, or medication for tuberculosis while pregnant.
Vitamin K injections have been given to infants after birth for approximately 20 to 30 years without complication.
Some information states that vitamin K given orally or by injection is associated to childhood cancers. Several studies have been conducted that found no relationship between the development of childhood cancers and infants receiving vitamin K at birth.
The American Academy of Pediatrics [AAP] (2006) recommends giving injectable vitamin K at birth to prevent early vitamin K deficiency bleeding of the newborn (VKDB).
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics [AAP], VKDB has an incidence of 0.25 to 1.7 percent during the first week after birth. Other findings stated by the AAP are:
- Late VKDB can also occur in infants who are 2 to 12 weeks old.
- Infants who are breastfed exclusively and have not received the vitamin K injection or have received the oral vitamin K prophylaxis are more prone to late VKDB.
- Late VKDB appears as a sudden central nervous system hemorrhage with an incidence of 4.4 to 7.2 per 100,000 births.
- Vitamin K by injection prophylaxis prevents the development of late VKDB except may rarely occur with infants who have a severe form of malabsorption syndrome.
- A claim that the vitamin K injection was associated with childhood leukemia was proven in several studies not to be correlated.
- The difference exists in the development of late VKDB with an incidence of 1.2 to 1.8 infants per 100,000 live births to those infants who received oral vitamin K.
- The study showed if the infant received an incomplete oral dose of vitamin K, the rate of VKDB was 2 to 4 per 100,000 live births.
- Infants who received vitamin K by injection in the study showed no development of late VKDB.
Women’s Excellence in Midwifery want you to be able to make informed decisions based upon the evidence available. Your midwives are available for further information regarding injectable and oral vitamin k after birth if necessary. Be sure to also discuss this with your baby’s pediatrician.