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Vitamin K for Babies

A range of healthcare professionals all recommend that newborn babies should be given a vitamin K supplement at birth. This includes Paediatricians, the Department of Health and the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE).

The supplement is to avoid the rare but serious (and sometimes fatal) disorder called vitamin K deficiency bleeding (VKDB). There are no known drawbacks to the treatment.

Why is Vitamin K important for my baby?Show [+]Hide [-]

Vitamin K is essential for the normal process of blood clotting to prevent bleeding. It is not found in many foods, so our body makes it from helpful bacteria and stores it in the liver. Newborn babies have very low levels of vitamin K, and for this reason, we give babies vitamin K at birth, to help prevent serious bleeding that can occasionally happen.

If your baby develops VKDB, he or she may have obvious bleeding:

  • From the umbilical stump
  • In the urine 
  • From the bottom
  • From the skin, nose or gums
  • Appearing as bruising on the skin
  • There is also the risk of internal bleeding, for example inside the head.

There may be warning signs of VKDB:

  • Prolonged jaundice
  • Not gaining weight
  • Pale stools
  • Dark urine

You must ask your midwife, doctor or health visitor to review your baby if any of these signs develop.

How common is bleeding from a lack of Vitamin K?Show [+]Hide [-]

Fortunately bleeding from Vitamin K deficiency is very rare, affecting approximately one in every 10,000 newborn babies.

Approximately 30 in every 100 babies affected are left with some mental impairment because of bleeding in the brain and about seven in every 100 affected will die.

Which babies are most at risk?Show [+]Hide [-]

Babies are more at risk if:

  • They are born prematurely
  • They are delivered by forceps or caesarean section
  • They are bruised after delivery
  • They have breathing difficulties after birth
  • If you were taking certain drugs during pregnancy such as anticonvulsants for epilepsy
  • If the baby is a boy who is going to be circumcised.

Does my baby have to be given Vitamin K?Show [+]Hide [-]

As a parent you have the right to refuse the treatment. However, we strongly encourage you to allow your baby to have this simple treatment, which lowers the risk of death or permanent handicap in a healthy baby. There are no alternatives to Vitamin K for the prevention of VKDB.

In the early 1990s it was suggested that Vitamin K injections might increase the risk of leukaemia (a type of cancer of the blood) in children. Since then there have been many more reports disproving this. Current, well informed scientific opinion is that there is no link.

How is Vitamin K given?Show [+]Hide [-]

Vitamin K can be given by mouth or injection. For healthy babies it is probably best to give it by mouth. For babies who need to be cared for on the special care baby nursery the injection is usually better.

The midwife looking after you and your baby will talk to you about vitamin K and ask if you are happy for the first dose to be given shortly after birth, and if so, will give this first dose.

If you intend to breastfeed you will also be offered a bottle of vitamin K to give your baby a small daily dose by dropper. You will be shown how to give this to your baby and given a bottle with enough Vitamin K for a daily dose until your baby is about 14 weeks old. Vitamin K is oil based so sterilising the dropper is not required and it is best just wiped clean if needed. If you decide to fully bottle feed your baby with formula milk, you will not need to give extra daily vitamin K. This is because the milk manufacturers add vitamin K to formula milk. For babies who are mixed feeding we advise that you continue with the full course of vitamin K until your baby is receiving less than half their milk as breast milk.

You can of course decline the offer of extra vitamin K. Please talk to the staff looking after you and your baby if you have any concerns, or would like to talk this through.

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