Expert Health Articles

Vitamin K Injection in Newborns: A Lifesaving Recommendation

After the birth of a precious newborn, there are a few choices that parents make that can be a matter of life and death. One of the most important recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC is the one-time injection of Vitamin K. This vitamin shot prevents bleeding in the brain, which can cause permanent disability and death.  


When babies are born, they have very low levels of Vitamin K in their bloodstream. Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding (VKDB) happens when there are low levels of Vitamin K, which causes the blood to not clot well. If the infant does not receive the Vitamin K injection after birth, it takes six months for the baby to absorb enough Vitamin K to achieve normal levels. This means that the infant is at risk for life-threatening bleeding in the brain or the intestines for the first six months of life. 


The reason that newborns have such low levels of Vitamin K is because the Vitamin K does not cross the placenta well, which means that the mother cannot share her own Vitamin K with her developing baby. We get Vitamin K from the food we eat and from the normal bacteria that live in the intestines. There is very little Vitamin K in breastmilk. Also, when babies are born, they have very few normal bacteria in their intestines, which is why it takes several months for the baby to reach normal Vitamin K levels if they do not receive the Vitamin K injection after birth. This is also the reason that giving Vitamin K by mouth is not absorbed well and is not an effective alternative to the shot.  


Giving Vitamin K injections to newborns is a very safe practice. It has been recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and routinely given to newborns in the US since the 1960s. Since that time, Vitamin K has been studied extensively and has been found to be safe. There are very few ingredients in the Vitamin K injection. Most hospitals give preservative-free Vitamin K and the dose given is what is needed to protect the baby from bleeding.  


The risks of the Vitamin K injection are the same as any local injection, including pain, bruising or swelling at the place where the injection was given. You can ask to hold or breastfeed your baby during or immediately after the injection to help with the pain. The benefit of giving the Vitamin K injection is the prevention of bleeding in the brain and the intestines. Half of babies with Vitamin K Deficient Bleeding experience bleeding in the brain. One out of every five babies with VKDB dies.  


If you have questions or concerns about giving your newborn the Vitamin K injection after birth, please talk to your physician. This important vitamin can save your baby’s life!


Jennifer Hohman, MD


Pediatric Hospitalists of Northwest Ohio