It often takes several weeks before newborns can produce adequate levels of vitamin K. (For Spectrum Health Beat)
It often takes several weeks before newborns can produce adequate levels of vitamin K. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Birth is a life-changing event for all, but it’s especially dramatic for your new baby, who must adapt quickly to life outside the uterus.

Shortly after delivery, your baby has to undergo all kinds of procedures.

The moments immediately after birth typically include delayed cord clamping (unless you’re donating your baby’s cord blood to Michigan Blood Bank); skin-to-skin time with mom; APGAR scores; vital signs; and the golden hour, that special time when we encourage alone time for mom and her support team.

Then there’s breastfeeding, after which the new family has a chance to bond and the baby is weighed and measured.

Two things are then typically applied in that first hour or so of life: eye ointment, which is erythromycin, and a vitamin K injection in the thigh.

As new parents, you always have the opportunity to refuse any procedure, although you should do some research so you fully understand why you would want to refuse a treatment. You should also talk to your provider before making any decisions.

Vitamin K

What is vitamin K? It is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps the blood clot. Our bodies produce this vitamin from food and the bacteria in our gut. 

Newborn babies, however, have very little vitamin K in their body, and it can be several weeks before they’re able to produce adequate levels.

I remember one new mom who wondered if she could just take vitamin K herself at the end of her pregnancy. Quite frankly, it wouldn’t help the baby because vitamin K doesn’t cross the placenta. It is possible to give your baby vitamin K drops, but they’re not as successful as the injection.

The fact is, vitamin K shots have been the standard of care since the 1960s.

Researchers have found that by administering vitamin K at birth, they can decrease the risk of bleeding during the circumcision of a newborn boy.

I’ve heard some parents say they shouldn’t have to worry about vitamin K because they weren’t having a boy, or if they were, they weren’t having him circumcised.

But babies can bleed in other areas besides the circumcision area.

Does your baby really need vitamin K if you have a gentle birth (including no trauma, vacuum, or cesarean section)? The problem with insufficient vitamin K is called vitamin K deficiency bleeding.

In cases from a few years ago, six infants were admitted to Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee, with life-threatening bleeding. The infants were diagnosed with late vitamin K deficiency bleeding—four had bleeding in the brain, two had bleeding in the intestines.

They all survived, but two required immediate life-saving brain surgery. One had severe brain damage and two had mild to moderate brain injuries.

The babies were all vaginal deliveries with moms who breastfed.

The only thing the infants had in common: They didn’t have vitamin K injections after birth.

Cases of bleeding have occurred in newborns, with no apparent reason.

Spectrum Health’s refusal form for vitamin K states: “Bleeding from not having enough vitamin K happens in 25 to 170 out of 10,000 babies in their first week of life when they have not been given a vitamin K shot.”

I encourage you to do your research, but I think the evidence has shown the importance of giving your newborn the vitamin K injection.