Key points to remember
- all babies need vitamin K
- vitamin K helps blood to clot and prevents serious bleeding
- babies have low levels of vitamin K in their bodies
- without vitamin K, babies are at risk of getting a rare bleeding disorder
- the bleeding disorder is called VKDB (vitamin K deficiency bleeding) or HDN (haemorrhagic disease of the newborn)
- VKDB is serious and can cause brain damage or death
- a single vitamin K injection given at birth is the most effective way of preventing VKDB
Why is vitamin K important for my baby?
What is the risk of my baby developing VKDB?
Why do babies have low levels of Vitamin K?
Babies have low levels of vitamin K in their bodies because:
- vitamin K is primarily made by bacteria in the gut and there are few bacteria in a baby’s gut at birth
- babies do not get enough vitamin K from their mothers during pregnancy or breastfeeding
Which babies are most at risk of developing VKDB?
all babies have low levels of vitamin K and are therefore at risk
infants born to mothers taking certain medications
How is vitamin K given to my baby?
- vitamin K is not absorbed as well when given by mouth
the protection does not last as long and so three doses are required (at birth, at five to seven days and at six weeks)
there may be doubt as to whether the dose has been swallowed
there is a risk that the later dose may be forgotten
some babies may have conditions that prevent absorption of vitamin K from the gut
Can all babies have vitamin K?
How safe are vitamin K injections?
One study in the early 1990s suggested that injections of vitamin K might be linked to one type of childhood cancer. Later research has proven that vitamin K is not associated with any kind of childhood cancer, whether it is given by mouth or by injection.
Does my baby have to have vitamin K?
When should I seek help?
If you decide against your baby having vitamin K, you need to watch very carefully for symptoms of VKDB (vitamin K deficiency bleeding). You should always see your doctor urgently if your baby has any of the following warning signs:
increasing bruising around their head and face
bleeding from the nose, gut or umbilical cord (bleeding and bruising are not normal in the first months of life)
irritability, vomiting, paleness which might be due to internal bleeding
is over three weeks old and there are any signs of worsening jaundice
Where to go for more information
Your LMC can provide you with more information about vitamin K.
National Health and Medical Research Council, Paediatric Division of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, Australian College of Midwives. 2010. Vitamin K for newborn babies: Information for parents.
http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/_files_nhmrc/file/publications/synopses/ch38_vitamin_k_brochure_2010.pdf [Accessed 23/03/2011]
Darlow BA, Phillips AA and Dickson NP. New Zealand surveillance of neonatal vitamin K deficiency bleeding (VKDB): 1998-2008. Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health. 18 Feb 2011. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-1754.2010.01995.x. [Epub ahead of print].
© Paediatric Society of New Zealand and Starship Foundation 2005 – 2013
Printed on 23 May 2013. Content is regularly updated so please refer to www.kidshealth.org.nz for the most up-to-date version
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© The Paediatric Society of New Zealand and Starship Foundation 2005 - 2012