Hey, parent, if you are the soon-to-be guardian of a newborn human child fresh from a womb, congratulations! I too have a tiny human on the way. I bet we are feeling a lot of the same things. We are probably making a lot of the same decisions.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve done this a couple times before. It’s not quite so overwhelming for me this time. I feel reasonably sure I’ve got this.
But there’s one newborn thing that nobody ever really discussed with me the first time around, and I want to make sure you know more about it than I did.
The Vitamin K shot.
The Vitamin K shot helps your baby’s blood clot properly so they will be a lot less likely to develop internal bleeding, especially in their brain.
Somehow this life-saving vitamin has gotten swept up in the cascade of anti-vaccine misinformation that is rampant on social media. This doesn’t make any sense. Other than the fact that it is administered with a needle, the Vitamin K injection isn’t even a tiny bit related to vaccines.
A Vitamin K injection at birth has been routine in the United States since 1961, and the recommendation is still in effect. Years of use tell us that it’s safe and it works.
Letting a stranger poke your baby’s little thigh with a needle might sound scary. My first son spent a few days in NICU, and I cried a million tears over every tiny needle mark on his perfect little body. I totally understand. But the Vitamin K injection is an incredibly simple way to prevent potentially fatal brain bleeds in the first six months of life. One tiny poke is nothing when you consider the pain refusing might cause.
If more parents start refusing this vitamin, more babies will die. It’s truly that simple (and that devastating).
Why do babies need vitamin K right away?
Vitamin K is a substance our bodies use to properly clot and prevent uncontrolled bleeding. Contrary to what you might have read, it doesn’t make their blood any thicker. It only helps them clot.
They need it right away because babies are born deficient of this vitamin. It doesn’t pass the placental barrier very well, so there’s not enough Vitamin K in a baby’s body at birth. That means your baby won’t be born with the sufficient ability to clot. The biggest concern for a baby whose blood won’t clot is bleeding on the brain, but uncontrolled bleeding can actually happen anywhere inside or outside the body. Bleeds that occur in the first 24 hours of a child’s life are often severe to catastrophic. The sooner we introduce the vitamin to our baby’s body, the sooner they can start clotting efficiently, and the less likely they are to be one of the unlucky few that develop a bleeding-related injury.
This injection actually protects your baby for the first six months of their life. Bleeds can happen any time in the first few months because your baby needs time to begin ingesting as much as they need. This one little injection can provide life-saving protection from brain bleeds for much longer than the first 24 hours.
Let’s talk about some Vitamin K facts and dispel some rumors.
1. Babies are born vitamin K deficient, which has serious risks.
Thankfully, Vitamin K deficiency bleeds are pretty rare. The problem is, they are almost impossible to predict. Since we have been administering the shot for so long, it’s very difficult to determine how frequent they might be if more of the population didn’t receive Vitamin K at birth. In 2013, four babies presented at my local hospital with brain bleeds after their parents refused the shot at birth. None showed signs of trauma or abuse. They survived, but not unscathed. The vitamin could have saved them the pain.
2. The Vitamin K shot is not a vaccine.
It’s a vitamin. Many things that are not vaccines are injected. Even if you are vaccine hesitant, it’s unwise to delay or refuse the Vitamin K shot. They’re wholly unrelated.
3. There are no harmful levels of aluminum and mercury in this tiny shot.
There is a minuscule amount of aluminum present in the shot. Your baby’s body can easily filter it out. There is absolutely no mercury in the shot. (There is also no mercury in any vaccines on the U.S. pediatric schedule, so there’s that.)
4. It is identical to the Vitamin K that occurs naturally in foods.
Sure, it’s “synthetic,” but it’s not a “harmful chemical.” It’s a vitamin with the exact same molecular make-up as the Vitamin K you get from kale, spinach and brussels sprouts.
5. Breastfeeding is a healthy way to feed your baby, but breast milk is food, not medicine.
Breast milk isn’t a magic cure-all, and it won’t help a baby clot. As a matter of fact, breast milk is extremely low in Vitamin K, and it’s even more important to protect exclusively breastfed babies by allowing the injection.
6. Anti-vaccine propaganda has latched onto the idea that there is a “black box warning” on the Vitamin K solution used in this shot.
This claim is designed to terrify you. It has very little basis in reality. The warning exists for those situations in which a person needs a high dose of vitamin K in a short amount of time. A small number of people have dangerous reactions to receiving the solution in their IVs, and one baby on record has had a confirmed serious reaction to an injection in the muscle. The anaphylaxis risk associated with this vitamin shot is almost zero. Driving them home from the hospital is exponentially more risky than allowing them to have this shot.
7. If your baby gets a brain bleed, there isn’t a whole lot doctors can do to treat them.
They’ll do their best, but once a brain is bleeding, there’s a lot that they can’t predict. Preventing the brain bleed if at all possible is the best way to protect your baby. Vitamin K can do that.
If you’ve already secured a pediatrician for your impending bundle, they are the right person for you to consult to verify everything I’ve just told you. If you don’t have a doctor for your baby yet, it’s a good time to start looking for one. You’re going to have lots of questions, and a good pediatrician can help you make the best, safest choices for your baby.
Vitamin K at birth is one of those choices.