When Babies Don't Get Vitamin K

Vitamin K for newborns can prevent risk of severe bleeding

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) The more that has been learned about the first few days of a baby's life, the more doctors understand about how to keep newborns healthy. But parents are partners in treatment too.

A recent report found that significant numbers of parents may be declining vitamin K for their babies after their birth, especially babies born outside of hospitals.

Vitamin K is routinely administered to newborns to prevent a condition called vitamin K deficiency bleeding.

This condition occurs when a newborn naturally experiences a drop in their vitamin K levels after no longer receiving any from their mother's placenta. It can lead to severe bleeding in the stomach or the brain, which can lead to long-term brain damage or death.

A single injection or three doses of oral vitamin K given at specific times in the two weeks after birth can prevent this condition.

"Ask a pediatrician what vitamins your child needs."

The report, led by Michael Warren, MD, of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), looked at how common it was for parents to decline vitamin K administration for their newborns in the Nashville area.

The report also described four infants who had vitamin K deficiency bleeding in the same area.

The four babies all experienced vitamin K deficiency bleeding between 6 and 15 weeks old. The cases occurred at a hospital in Nashville, Tennessee between February and September 2013.

One of the babies had gastrointestinal bleeding, and three had a condition called intracranial hemorrhage, which involves severe bleeding in the brain.

All four babies survived, but one of those with brain bleeding had problems with gross motor skills, and all three were being followed by neurologists.

The parents of all four babies had refused vitamin K for their babies after birth, but the researchers found that the parents had been unaware of the risks of vitamin K deficiency bleeding.

The parents said they were worried about "toxins" being given to their babies, thought the vitamin K was unnecessary and worried that it could cause leukemia.

However, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, vitamin K injections are safe, necessary for babies and have not been found to increase the risk of any cancers.

The researchers then investigated the practices of parents at three Nashville area hospitals and four birthing centers in Tennessee.

They found that approximately 3.4 percent of 3,080 babies born in one hospital had not received vitamin K because their parents had declined it.

Among the four birthing centers, 28 percent of 218 babies did not receive vitamin K after birth because their parents refused it.

The researchers did not find any other cases of vitamin K deficiency bleeding in Tennessee in 2013 or between 2007 to 2012.

"It is recommended that all newborn babies receive vitamin K," said Tracie Newman, MD, a pediatrician with Sanford Health in Fargo, North Dakota. The American Academy of Pediatrics has made this recommendation since 1961, including for babies born at home, she noted.

"Injectable vitamin K is preferred to oral, as oral supplements are less effective in preventing late-onset vitamin K deficient bleeding," Dr. Newman said. "There is no oral vitamin K preparation approved for use in the United States."

When babies do not receive vitamin K, about 0.25 percent to 1.7 percent will experience vitamin K deficiency bleeding within the first week of birth.

In addition, between 4 and 7 babies out of every 100,000 babies will experience vitamin K deficiency bleeding between 2 and 24 weeks old (6 months old) if they do not receive vitamin K after birth.

The report was published in the November 15 issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The report was funded by the CDC, and no conflicts of interest were reported.

Review Date: 
November 18, 2013
Last Updated:
November 20, 2013