For parents of a healthy, term newborn, the Vitamin K shot tends to give parents a lot of worry. Here’s some info:
- The placenta won’t provide much K to your baby, breast milk is low in K, and baby doesn’t have the gut bacteria to make its own K. Thus, breastfed babies have limited Vitamin K. There may be an advantage to the low K, but we haven’t proved what it is.
- K is integral to blood clotting, so because baby is low in K, its clotting cascade is underdeveloped. Most babies do fine.
- A small number of babies will have Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding (VKDB), usually in the brain, skin or digestive tract. We often don’t know what causes it. It can also arise when mothers take some meds or when baby has an illness, like gallbladder disease.
- VKDB has a death rate of 14%-20%, and 40% of surviving infants will have brain damage.
- When babies get no K at birth, 4.4-7.2 out of 100,000 will develop VKDB. When all babies get a K shot, 0-0.4 out of 100,000 will develop VKDB. Thus, the shot is very good at preventing a rare but catastrophic event.
There are few risks to the K shot:
- Temporary discomfort for baby
- Infection, bleeding, and bruising at shot site
- If baby has an underlying illness, the shot may not prevent VKDB
What are the alternatives?
- No treatment. You will take a small risk that your baby will develop a serious disorder
- Feed formula instead of breast milk. There are few to no cases of VKDB when babies are formula-fed
- A couple studies suggest that supplementing the breastfeeding parent with K may increase baby’s levels of K to that of a formula-fed baby
- Synthetic oral K is available in some countries. Given on a specific regimen, it is not as effective as the shot
- Botanical oral K, which is available over-the-counter in the US, can be administered by parents weekly for six months. It is not regulated so dosing may not be accurate
For more information or for a list of ingredients in the shot, check out Evidence Based Birth!