What is…Vitamin K?

vitamin k

Vitamin K helps our blood to clot, a deficiency can lead to uncontrolled bleeding.

Babies are born with low levels of Vitamin K and the concern is a rare but serious complication called Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding (VKDB), which is why all newborn babies are offered Vitamin K.

What are the risks of VKDB? 1 in 10,000 babies could experience bleeding without the Vitamin K. VKDB is rare but it can be serious – bleeds are not always obvious so some babies can experience internal bleeding. An injection of Vitamin K reduces a baby’s risk to one in 100,000.

The three categories of VKDB are:

  • Early VKDB: bleeding during the first 24 hours after birth
  • Classic VKDB: bleeding during the first week of life
  • Late VKDB: bleeding when your baby is between 2-12 weeks old
vitamin k

How it is given? Vitamin K is given to babies shortly after birth. Most maternity units now give Vitamin K by injection – the NICE guidelines recommend this as the most effective way but it can also be administered orally with around three doses. The challenge with the oral dose is that there isn’t clear evidence on how much to give and it’s impossible to know how much a baby has swallowed.

baby beside woman

Are some babies more at risk of VKDB than others? It is thought that some babies are more vulnerable than others, these include babies who:

  • are born before 37 weeks of pregnancy
  • are delivered by forceps, ventouse or caesarean section
  • have experienced bruising during birth
  • have liver issues
  • experience breathing difficulties at birth
  • are born to mums on certain medication during pregnancy, such as for epilepsy
  • are circumcised
shallow focus photo of man carrying his baby

Can you say no to Vitamin K? Some parents opt out of the routine use of Vitamin K but it is worth knowing what to look out for in case there is a problem with blood clotting. Sara Wickham highlights 5 things to be aware of:

  1. active bleeding from your baby’s nose, mouth, gums, cord stump or heel prick site
  2. signs of blood in your baby’s urine, poo or vomit 
  3. any bruising on your baby
  4. if the fontanelle/soft spot on your baby’s skull looks unusual
  5. any changes in your baby’s health, behaviour or looks – this could include differences in sleeping, feeding, crying, alertness, skin colour

It’s not always easy for new parents to know what isn’t normal with their new baby, which is why raising any concerns and speaking to a health professional is important.

Based on the evidence we have, we know that administering Vitamin K by injection is safe and effective.

We don’t know why babies have low levels of Vitamin K and we don’t know what the potential side effects could be

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As a doula I work with parents from across Newcastle and Tyneside.

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Copyright: Janine Smith