Following the birth of your baby you will be asked if you wish for your baby to have vitamin K in line with The Department of Health recommendation that all babies should receive vitamin K at birth. It is important that you understand what this is for and the options available to you prior to either consenting or declining its administration.
What is vitamin K?
Vitamin K is a substance which the body needs for blood clotting. Newborn babies have low levels of vitamin K. This puts them at risk of a rare but serious and potentially life threatening condition known as vitamin K deficiency bleeding. This may cause bleeding from the nose, mouth or into the brain. It may not be possible to see the bleeding. Bleeding into the brain may cause brain damage or even death.
Which babies are at greater risk?
Bleeding in the first 24 hours of life is a particular risk to babies of mothers on certain drugs, such as anti-convulsant or anti-tuberculosis therapy.
Bleeding after 24 hours is more common and babies at greater risk are those who:
- are premature
- had an instrumental delivery (forceps or ventouse)
- are sick infants who are not feeding
- have had surgery
- have liver disease that may show as prolonged jaundice, pale stools or dark urine
- mother with cholestatic liver disease (liver disorder)
- have bleeding or spontaneous bruising in the newborn
However, bleeding can still occur in babies with none of the above risk factors.
Could vitamin K be harmful?
A paper from the UK Childhood cancer Study concluded that "there is no convincing evidence that neonatal vitamin K administration, irrespective of the route by which it is given, influences the risk of children developing leukaemia or any other cancer" (Fear et al, 2003).
How can vitamin K be given?
There are two methods of giving vitamin K to your baby by injections or by mouth. It is recommended that babies with additional risk factors should receive vitamin K by injection.
One intramuscular injection of vitamin K soon after birth prevents vitamin K deficiency bleeding in virtually all babies.
Vitamin K can also be given by mouth. However, this is not quite so effective and repeat doses are needed later on to protect against later onset bleeding.
For exclusively breastfed babies, three doses are necessary:
- At birth
- At 7-10 days
- At one month
For bottle fed babies, two doses are necessary:
- At birth
- at 7-10 days
This is because bottled milk contains added vitamin K.
Breast milk is still the ideal food for your baby because of its many other benefits to your baby's health.