Newborns routinely receive a vitamin K injection after birth to prevent or slow a rare problem of bleeding into the brain called Newborn Hemorrhagic Disease (HDN). This disease can occur 3 to 7 weeks after birth in just over 5 out of 100,000 births (without the vitamin K injection). 40% of those infants suffer permanent brain damage or death.
The cause of this bleeding trauma is usually liver disease, which is undetected until the bleeding begins. Several liver problems can reduce the liver’s ability to make blood-clotting factors out of vitamin K, therefore extra K helps this situation.
What Babies are at Risk?
Infants exposed to drugs or alcohol and those from mothers on anti-epileptic medications are at risk for Newborn Hemorrhagic Disease.
The use of antibiotics (both maternal and baby) can inhibit baby’s generation of clotting factors, possibly making the need for vitamin K more necessary.
Babies who have experienced traumatic births such as forceps, emergency Cesarean and those who are born with bruises may be at risk for HMD.
Babies whose cord is prematurely cut deprives baby of 25% to 40% of blood volume and clotting factors. Keeping the cord intact until it stops pulsating can reduce the risk of Newborn Hemorrhagic Disease.
What are the Potential Side Effects of the Vitamin K Injection?
Numbers vary but based on several tightly controlled studies, the downside is a possibly 80% increased risk of developing childhood leukemia. Other studies have shown an increase of 10 to 20% risk.
What About the Oral Dose?
Depending on hospital, you can supplement with several low oral doses of liquid vitamin K over several days or weeks.
Where Else Can Baby Receive Vitamin K?
Colostrum is rich in vitamin K and can provide baby ample amounts if he is able to suckle immediately after birth. Continued breastfeeding raises baby’s vitamin K levels very gradually after birth. Babies who are breastfeed do not show deficiencies in vitamin K.
Can Mom Supplement?
Fresh, organic dark leafy veggies are a good source of vitamin K that mom can eat postpartum.
Nursing moms can also take vitamin K supplements daily or twice daily weekly for 10 weeks (1 mg per day).
Supplementation of the pregnant mom does not alter fetal levels but supplementation of the nursing mom does increase breast milk and infant levels. This provides a cumulative extra 1 mg to her infant over the 10 week period and seems to be enough according to various studies.