Going through nursing school, in my OB rotation, there were some things we learned that were routine and done for every newborn. A hepatitis B shot and Vitamin K shot were two of them. Today I wanted to lay out some information on the Vitamin K shot to help you and your partner make an informed decision on whether or not you would like to go through with this for your newborn.
I’m not going to lie, this is a tough one. There is fear as a new parent, where we don’t want to do anything that could put our new, precious, innocent little baby in danger. As with any medical procedure, there are ALWAYS risks, however low they may be, which is why it is important that you have all the facts.
Why is Vitamin K important?
Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin needed for blood clotting. One of it’s primary functions is to activate clotting factors in the body. Vitamin K’s other job is to put calcium in the right places (bones and blood) and keep it from being deposited in the wrong places (calcification of the blood vessels, bone spurs and calcification of soft tissues). We do not make our own vitamin K. 90% of our vitamin K (vitamin K1) levels comes from plants such as green leafy vegetables and about 10% (vitamin K2) comes from fermented foods, some animal fats, and bacteria production in the gut.
Why does every newborn routinely get a vitamin k shot?
When babies are born, they are ALL born with low vitamin K levels, and regular “clotting factors”. Even with low vitamin K levels, our bodies can still clot, however, if levels get too low, the infant can be at increased risk for bleeding complications. Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding (VKDB) is very rare, however, it occurs with unknown cause and the signs are not easy to detect until the baby is in trouble. One in 20,000 babies will suffer from Hemorrhagic Disease of the Newborn (HDN), where internal bleeding can cause brain damage or death. In attempts to prevent that 1 baby in 20,000 from suffering from these complications, medical policy began integrating vitamin K shots into the plan of care for every newborn.
In 1944, a definitive Swedish study was published including more than 13,000 infants who were given 0.5 mg of Vitamin K (either oral or injection) on the first day of life. The researcher found that infants who received Vitamin K experienced a 5-fold reduction in the risk of bleeding to death during the first week of life. It was estimated that for every 100,000 full-term infants who were born, Vitamin K would save the lives of 160 infants per year (Lehmann 1944). In 1961, it became recommended for all newborns to get a vitamin K injection after birth.
Why are babies born with low Vitamin k?
That’s a great question, my friend. This is where I have a tough time because this question doesn’t have any clear answers found yet by science. For an excellent alternative view on vitamin K deficiency, please check out this article here. It would seem to be that there is a reason 100% of babies are born with low levels. It should be acknowledged as well that because 100% of babies are born with lower levels of vitamin K than the average adult, no baby is actually deficient, because they are similar across the board. Does that make sense? Studies have shown that fat-soluble vitamins (A,D,E,K) do not transfer as easily across the placenta from mom to baby. Vitamin K is also not transferred in high amounts via breast milk from mom to baby.
There are 3 different types of VKDB:
- Early VKDB- Onset within 24 hours after birth and is almost exclusively seen in infants of mothers taking drugs which inhibit vitamin K. These drugs include anticonvulsants (carbamazepine, phenytoin and barbiturates), antituberculosis drugs (isoniazid, rifampicin), some antibiotics (cephalosporins) and vitamin K antagonists (coumarin, warfarin).
- Classic VKDB- Onset between 24 hours and 7 days after birth and is associated with delayed or insufficient feeding.
- Late VKDB- Onset between 2-12 weeks of age and is exclusively associated with breast fed only babies. In fully breast-fed infants who did not receive vitamin K at birth, the incidence is between 1/15,000 and 1/20,000. Babies with gall bladder, liver, or malabsorption disorders are at particular risk.
Although in the above statistics, Late VKDB is associated only with breastfed infants, studies have also shown the following regarding breastfeeding & VKDB:
• Breast fed babies whose mothers ate leafy green vegetables while pregnant, did not get VKDB
• Breast fed babies whose mothers were supplemented with vitamin K tablets while pregnant did not get VKDB
• There are higher levels of vitamin K in colostrum, the baby’s first milk, so it is really important that he gets to drink colostrum as soon as possible. A study in the British Medical Journal in 1992 showed that babies who had unrestricted access to the breast immediately after birth, and who had breast fed before they were 24 hours old, did not get VKDB.
What is in the Vitamin K injection?
If the injected vitamin K was from a natural source with no potentially hazerdous added ingredients, I wouldn’t have any reservations about this shot. That, however, isn’t the case. The Vitamin K used in the injection is a synthetic Vitamin K form, known as vitamin K3 or PHYTONDIONE. The dosage is also incredibly high at almost 9,000 times the adult level of vitamin k. According to Archives of Disease in Childhood, 1997, a baby given a vitamin K injection receives 300 times more vitamin than is recommended for an adult and has a 9000 times higher blood plasma level. It should be noted that your tiny baby has to process all of that excess vitamin K in addition to all of the additives through it’s liver, which is why there is an increased risk of jaundice with the vit K injection. Different brands of vitamin k shots vary slightly in their ingredients, but for the most part they include the following:
As you can see, there is more than a decision of whether or not to supplement your newborn with extra vitamin K when it comes to the shot. There are quite a few additional ingredients being injected into your newborn, which always brings question to it’s immediate and long term effects.
Pro’s Vs. Con’s of the Vitamin K Shot
- Going off the current studies on vitamin K injections in newborns, your infant’s risk of suffering from VKDB is significantly decreased with the injection. It should be kept in mind that only 1 in 20,000 infants suffer from VKDB, and this isn’t including factors such as medication of the mother, nutrition of the mother, health of the baby, pregnancy complications, etc.
- A synthetic version of vitamin k is used. Synthetic vitamins should be avoided as they can cause imbalances in the body and have unintended consequences. For example, synthetic vitamin A actually causes the type of birth defects that natural vitamin A prevents!
- Increased risk of jaundice and liver problems in the newborn
The fact is that medical science still does not know that much about the metabolic fate of vitamin K. Little to no unmetabolized vitamin K shows up in urine or bile. This is disturbing given the fact that vitamin K is a fat soluble vitamin and therefore has the potential to accumulate in body tissues. More disturbing is that the liver of a newborn does not begin to fully function until 3 or 4 days after birth. As a result, this little being has very limited to no ability to detoxify the large dose of synthetic vitamin K and all other the ingredients in the injection cocktail.
- Midwifery Digest, Vol 2 #3, September 1992 estimated that the chance of your child developing leukemia from the vitamin K shot is about one in 500! This means that the risk of developing leukemia from the vitamin K shot is much higher than the risk of bleeding on the brain which the vitamin K shot is supposed to prevent!** There have been additional studies that have supposedly disproven this study, however, this study was still done, and I believe should still be in the back of parent’s minds. It wouldn’t be the first time man-made medicine made the human body sicker instead of healthier.
- Although uncommon, reported infant anaphylactic shock has occured due to the vitamin K injection (source).
- Pain in the newborn immediately after birth. This may be a bigger deal than you may think. Dr. David B. Chamberlain, psychologist and co-founder of the Association of Pre-and Perinatal Psychology and Health, wrote in his article “Babies Don’t Feel Pain: A Century of Denial in Medicine”:v “The earlier an infant is subjected to pain, the greater the potential for harm.” A 2004 studyvii found that very early pain or stress experiences have long-lasting adverse consequences for newborns, including changes in the central nervous system and changes in responsiveness of the neuroendocrine and immune systems at maturity.
- An injection creates an additional opportunity for infection in an environment that contains some of the most dangerous germs, at a time when your baby’s immune system is still immature.
How to naturally decrease your baby’s risk of VKDB without the vitamin K shot-
- If circumcising your son, WAIT until day 8 after birth, do NOT do it sooner. Day 8 is said to be the only time in a baby’s life when his prothrombin level will naturally exceed 100 percent of normal. As it turns out, Genesis 17:12 of the Bible mandates the circumcision of infant boys on the eighth day after birth—a recommendation pronounced long before we had the science to back it up. Cool, huh?
- Vernix, the milky white substance covering baby at birth, is also high in vitamin K, so parents may want to consider allowing this substance to be absorbed by their baby rather than washed off, allowing for all the nutrients to absorb into baby’s blood stream.
- Immediate clamping or cutting of the umbilical cord results in a loss of up to 40% of the baby`s blood volume. Valuable platelets and coagulation factors are also lost. While some studies have shown only a minimal amount of vitamin K in the cord blood, it is always a good idea to let your baby keep all of it’s nutrients from the womb before clamping or cutting the cord.
- Mom, it’s a GREAT idea for you to consume a plethora of green veggies during pregnancy, especially towards the end to increase your vitamin k levels. You could also find a natural vitamin k supplement if you would like. Since part of our vitamin K levels come from fermented foods and healthy gut bacteria, I would also like to think that a mother who consumes daily probiotic foods will birth a child with higher friendly bacteria counts in their gut, therefore naturally increasing vitamin k levels in baby. That would make sense, wouldn’t it? 🙂 Down that sauerkraut, kombucha, and kefir!
Oral vitamin K supplementation option-
For those of you who aren’t aware, across the world, OB caregivers also give the option of oral vitamin K supplementation. With this option, you can naturally supplement vitamin K levels in the newborn without the pain and extra additives. There is a wonderful supplement by Biotech’s Research Corporation which you can find on amazon here.
Dosing varies slightly depending on practitioners. Ultimately, you should consult with your pediatrician or midwife.
The Cochrane Collaboration has determined the following dosing schedule, which results in very similar rates of protection from HDN:ix
- 1 milligram liquid vitamin K weekly, OR
- 0.25 milligram liquid vitamin K daily
Here is a study of oral vitamin K given to infants and the incidence of VKDB…which was zero- http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12892158
Ok, my friends, now you should have a well rounded view of the vitamin K in newborns debate. Hopefully you can now make an informed decision on what will be the best route to take for you and your baby. Either way, have grace with yourself, knowing you are making the best informed decision you can for your little one. Be an advocate for your baby.