Vitamin K : Yea or Nay?

As a postpartum doula in the Cleveland area, I have worked with many clients over the years. Many of the conversations with those parents revolves around what they wish they knew before having their newborn. Thus, I have begun a series to help expectant parents become aware of issues that may effect them immediately postpartum; many of them that don’t make the headline news. I believe strongly in parental empowerment and being able to be confident in one’s educated decisions. That being said, this information is in no way meant to be medical advice or a scientific article. My intention is hopefully to get you thinking about your options and give you time to research before you encounter them.

Vitamin K…is that even a real vitamin? Many people have never heard of vitamin K, let alone thought about giving the vitamin to their newborn.

What is vitamin K and what does it do? Vitamin K is not a dietary supplement as most vitamins are. Vitamin K is a fat-soluble compound that has a vital role in blood clotting and preventing excess blood loss. Good natural food sources of vitamin K1 include vegetables like spinach, asparagus, and broccoli. Beans and soybeans, eggs, strawberries, meat are other food sources providing vitamin K. Vitamin K2 is produced in the gut by bacteria. While most adults generally aren’t lacking in vitamin K due to their diets & gut bacteria, newborns are. By age 6 months most babies have adult levels of vitamin K in their bodies thanks to the introduction of solids and gut bacteria. Babies under 6 months are lacking an adequate amount of vitamin K (1&2).

Vitamin K does not cross the placenta and newborns do not have the gut bacteria to make vitamin K. So what is the issue? Since lack of vitamin K can cause excessive bleeding, bruising and cuts on a newborn may be harder to stop. This concern is referred to as “Hemorrhagic Disease of the Newborn” (HDN) and more recently as “Vitamin K Deficient Bleeding” (VKDB). This is especially a concern in brain hemorrhaging. Breastfed babies are at most risk for VKDB since vitamin K has a very low transfer rate from milk to newborn. Formula fed babies are at a much lower risk for VKDB as vitamin K is present in the formula.

To compensate for this lack of vitamin K at birth, newborns are given a vitamin K shot after birth. So what’s the problem you ask? As with any introduction of a substance into the body their is risk of an allergy or adverse reaction. Mild to severe reactions to the injection have been reported. Other concerns include the ingredient list, injection site bruising and the pain it causes the newborn.

A growing number of parents are refusing the vitamin K shot. There are a variety of reasons, but a majority report they prefer a natural approach to birth without interventions as nature intended. Another reason given is that if cord clamping was delayed, the parents believe, newborns would receive the cord’s stem cells providing the newborn with the natural protection needed to prevent excessive bleeding and not wanting to introduce any of the added ingredients to a newborn’s system.

Are these valid concerns? What are the risks versus benefits of the vitamin K injection? What does the research conclude?

Below are a few websites with information on vitamin K injections in newborns to get you started. These websites are a few in a sea of thousands.

As with any intervention, you as a parent, have the right to accept or refuse the intervention. Please take the time to research for yourself, so when you are asked, “Vitamin K?” you can give your answer with complete confidence!

Lisa Falkenstein BA, BEC, CNMI is a trained postpartum doula, certified breastfeeding educator, and certified infant massage instructor serving the greater Cleveland area.

Filed under: Newborns, Treatments and Your Options, Postpartum Planning