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Why newborn babies need extra vitamin K

01 March 2018 Blog
The National Health and Medical Research Council recommends all newborn babies are given vitamin K to reduce their risk of developing a rare disorder called vitamin K deficiency bleeding (VKDB). Midwife Sue Bradshaw explains how babies can be given vitamin K in hospital and why.

Why do newborn babies need vitamin K?

Vitamin K helps blood to clot and prevent serious bleeding.

Babies do not have enough vitamin K when they are born and they do not get enough from breastmilk. Without vitamin K babies are at increased risk of developing a rare disorder VKDB which can cause bleeding in the brain.

Extra vitamin K can help protect babies against VKDB.

How are newborns given vitamin K?

  • By injection – the easiest and most reliable method. One injection protects your baby for many months until they can build up their own supply. Since about 1980, most babies have been given an injection soon after birth.
  • By mouth – several oral doses can be given to your baby to help protect them. Three doses are needed as vitamin K is not as easily absorbed by mouth and the effect does not last as long. If your baby vomits soon within one hour of taking this oral dose, they will need to have it again.

Is vitamin K ok for all babies?

All babies need to have vitamin K (source The National Health and Medical Research Council). Very small or premature babies may need smaller doses but your doctor will advise you about this.

It is your choice if you baby has vitamin K, however it has been shown that it is a very simple way of preventing a very serious disease.

If you decide against the vitamin K injection, you need to inform the midwifery staff and your doctor of your decision, your baby will need to be watched very carefully for any symptoms of VKDB, including:

  • Unexplained bruising or bleeding
  • Signs of jaundice after three weeks of age

How do you get vitamin K for your baby?

During your pregnancy, your doctor or midwife should ask if you would like your baby to have vitamin K by injection or mouth and they will arrange for it to be provided.

Soon after birth your doctor or midwife will give your baby the vitamin K injection or the first dose by mouth. If your baby has vitamin K by mouth, the second two doses can occur:

  • Second dose - when your baby has the newborn screen test in hospital or by your local doctor
  • Third dose – you must remember to take your baby to your local doctor to receive their third dose between three and four weeks of age.

How can I find out more?

We recommend that all parents read the Vitamin K National Health and Medical Research Council brochure before your baby is born.

Sue Bradshaw - Midwife

Sue Bradshaw is the Midwifery Services Manager at St John of God Murdoch Hospital and has more than 30 years’ experience as a nurse and midwife. She is an accredited lactation consultant and has a Post Graduate Diploma in Business Administration.