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Vitamin K shots protect newborns from severe bleeding

March 1, 2022

A one-time shot of vitamin K can be a lifesaving choice parents can make for their newborns.

Vitamin K helps form clots and prevent bleeding. Research shows a single vitamin K shot at birth protects babies from developing dangerous bleeding that can lead to brain damage or death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Babies are born with very little vitamin K in their bodies. The vitamin does not cross the placenta, and levels are low in breast milk. It can take several months for infants to get enough vitamin K.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that every newborn receive a one-time vitamin K shot at birth to prevent life-threatening bleeding and the complications that may follow.

The vitamin K injection is safe for newborns. Vitamin K is not a vaccine, and the shots do not contain mercury.

Babies who do not receive a vitamin K shot are 80 times more likely to have a severe bleed. The most common site of bleeding is the brain. One in five babies with a serious bleeding event from vitamin K deficiency will die.

A recent rise in cases of vitamin K deficiency bleeding (VKDB) highlights the importance of the vitamin K shot for newborns.

Often, there are no warning signs before a life-threatening bleed starts. Babies who do not get a vitamin K shot at birth might develop these signs of VKDB:

  • easy bruising, especially around the baby’s head and face;
  • bleeding from the nose or umbilical cord;
  • paler than usual skin color or pale-appearing gums in babies with dark skin;
  • yellow eyes after the baby turns 3 weeks old; and
  • blood in the stool, black tarry stool or vomiting blood.

Irritability, seizures, excessive sleepiness or vomiting may be signs of bleeding in the brain.

Some parents are worried about pain from the shot and ask whether vitamin K can be given by mouth. The AAP says oral vitamin K is not as effective as the one-time shot and must be given repeatedly over several months. There is no oral vitamin K product approved by the Food and Drug Administration for newborns.

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