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Vitamin K Shot

After your baby is born, there are several vaccines and medications that many providers will recommend administering. Amongst them is the Vitamin K shot, which is a fat-soluble vitamin injected into your baby’s thigh at birth. What is this shot, and why would a mom choose to give it to her baby? Here is a breakdown of the facts.

What is Vitamin K?

Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin that is essential for blood clotting. We are unable to synthesize Vitamin K ourselves, nor do our bodies easily store it. Vitamin K1 is found in leafy green vegetables, while Vitamin K2 is often given to us from bacteria that live in our intestinal tracts. The presence of Vitamin K is essential in order for our bodies to activate clotting factors, which are molecules that help the blood clot. Though the clotting factors are present in our babies at birth, they aren’t fully activated because babies are born with low levels of Vitamin K. Therefore, if we do not have enough Vitamin K, we cannot activate these molecules. This makes a baby’s blood less able to clot. These Vitamin K levels can continue to decrease, which comes with the risk of losing the ability to clot altogether and resulting in spontaneous bleeding (Dekker, 2016).

What Happens if A Baby Lacks Vitamin K?

If a baby lacks sufficient Vitamin K levels, he or she can begin bleeding spontaneously, which is known as Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding (VKBD). This can be the result of an underlying condition in the baby, such as cystic fibrosis or medication side effects, or the cause can also be unknown. This bleeding can also occur at different points of the baby’s life, such as within the first 24 hours, during days 2-7 of life, or even during weeks 3-8 (Dekker, 2016).  

What are the Risk Factors for VKDB?

Breastfed babies are at greater risk of Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding because breast milk, itself, has very tiny amounts of Vitamin K. Colostrum has more Vitamin K than mature milk, but significantly less than formula. Therefore, there are virtually no reports of Vitamin K Bleeding Deficiency occurring in a formula fed infant.

Babies with underlying health conditions such as cystic fibrosis or gallbladder disease are also at greater risk, especially if they are also exclusively breastfed.

What are the Benefits of the Vitamin K Injection?

The Vitamin K shot is very effective in preventing both classic and late VKBD. The Vitamin K is more readily absorbed in the body via injection and is thought to slowly release over time, thereby providing the baby with an ample amount of Vitamin K until they are able to reach adult levels.

What are the Risks of the Vitamin K Injection?

The risks include that the injection, itself, causes pain. This pain can be minimized, though, if it is given during a feed. There can also be bruising or bleeding at the injection site.

Is the Vitamin K Injection Right for You?

There is sufficient evidence to show that giving the Vitamin K1 injection at birth greatly decreases the risk of VKDB. Out of millions of injections given, there has only been one report of an allergic reaction (Dekker, 2016). Therefore, it is with sufficient evidence that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that the Vitamin K injection be administered to your baby at birth to avoid VKBD. Is the injection right for you and your baby, though? This is something that you must determine with your healthcare provider. Ask questions about the risks and benefits to see if it is right for you and your family.

Jessica Rockowitz is a former OB/GYN Health Educator. She obtained her undergraduate degree in Biotechnology with a minor in Marketing from Endicott College. Upon graduation, Jessica worked in stem cell research at Harvard University and simultaneously volunteered with teen parents and disadvantaged women. Being a former teen parent herself, she has always been passionate about serving young moms and helping empower them to achieve their goals. Itching to pursue a field with more patient interaction, Jessica left the research field and attended a second degree nursing program at The University of Pennsylvania. She then worked in the field of OB/GYN Health Education at a women’s health clinic in downtown Philadelphia. Jessica is also a mother of three and has experienced both a traditional hospital birth with an epidural, followed by two unmedicated birth center births. She likes to think of herself as the perfect balance between holistic and pro-science. When Jessica’s second child was a little over a year, she turned her passion for serving others into a marketing and photography career in Austin, TX where she lives with her husband, three children, and rescue fur baby.