All about vitamin K for your baby

Soon after your baby’s born you’ll need to decide if you want her to be given vitamin K. We explain why

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Why do we need vitamin K?

Vitamin K is responsible for making proteins that are involved in blood clotting, helping wounds to heal properly. It is found in leafy green vegetables, vegetable oils and cereals. Small amounts can also be found in dairy products. What’s more, some of the bacteria in our intestines produce it naturally, so most adults are not at risk of a deficiency.

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Why does my baby need a boost?

Babies have low levels of vitamin K at birth because their intestines don’t produce it yet. Although the vitamin K you eat during pregnancy can be transferred to your baby through the placenta, it isn’t stored at high levels.

Babies with very low levels of vitamin K are at risk of developing a very rare disorder called vitamin K deficiency bleeding (VKDB). Although this occurs in only around one in 10,000 babies, it is potentially very harmful. It can lead to bleeding from the nose, mouth or into the brain, and if this goes undetected it can cause brain damage or even death.

Are all babies at risk?

Yes, though some little ones are more at risk that others. These include babies born prematurely (before 37 weeks); babies whose mothers took certain drugs during pregnancy, such as anticonvulsants for epilepsy or drugs to prevent blood clots; those who had a complicated delivery or were bruised during delivery; those who have liver problems or difficulty absorbing feed; or those who had breathing difficulties at birth.

How is vitamin K given to my baby?

In order to minimise the risk of VKDB, it is policy in this country to administer vitamin K to newborns within the first hour after delivery.

From the 60s until the early 90s, babies were routinely given vitamin K by injection.

But after a study showed a possible link between this injection and childhood leukaemia, some hospitals switched to giving vitamin K by mouth instead. It has never been proved that the injection causes cancer, and subsequent studies have found no link, but soon after your baby is born you’ll be asked whether you want her to be given vitamin K, and if you do, how you want it to be administered.

You normally have the choice of a single injection immediately after delivery, or a course of three oral doses. Be sure to tell your doctor whether you plan to breastfeed or use formula milk, as the oral dose may need to be altered accordingly (vitamin K is added to formula).

How do I decide?

If you have concerns, discuss them with your midwife or healthcare provider. Vitamin K is highly recommended for babies in the high-risk categories, but in around one third of cases, VKDB bleeding occurs without warning in babies who aren’t in a high-risk category.

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Whatever you decide, ensure you always report unexplained bleeding to your midwife or doctor.

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