There are many decisions to make throughout your pregnancy and whether to give your baby vitamin K is one of them. Your midwife will discuss this with you during your pregnancy and after your baby is born, you will be asked for your consent before vitamin K is given to your baby.
Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin that is known to help with blood clotting, which can help to stop any bleeding if it occurs.
Why give your baby Vitamin K?
We know that babies are born with naturally low levels of Vitamin K, what we don’t know is why their levels are so much lower than, for example an adult. Having low levels does not cause a potential problem for a baby unless they experience a reason to bleed. If unexpected or internal bleeding occurs, then potentially their blood may not clot enough to prevent the bleeding from becoming more serious and possibly harmful to them. This can then lead to a rare condition called Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding (VKDB), which is thought to affect approximately 1 in every 10,000 babies.
What are the options for my baby?
Once your baby is born, you can decide on:
- An injection - This is a single injection given into your baby’s thigh soon after birth which gives immediate protection. It is thought to reduce the risk of VKBD to 1/100,000. Most parents don’t like the thought of their newborn baby having an injection. If you decide to opt for this, studies have shown that breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact can help soothe and calm your baby during the administration.
- Drops given orally – The drops containing the vitamin K are given directly into your baby’s mouth, however the absorption rate is not known and may be less effective, so it is recommended that three doses are given.
- The first soon after birth
- The second when your baby is about 7 days old
- The third when your baby is about 4 to 6 weeks old (If you are bottle feeding the third dose is not needed as Vitamin K is added to formula milk).
Once you have been given all the information you can also make an informed choice to decline vitamin K in the form of injection or oral drops. Write this into your birth plan or let the midwife who looks after you during labour and birth know your wishes.
Studies have shown that some babies are more likely to develop VKDB than others, so you may want to take the following into consideration when deciding whether to give your baby vitamin K:
Which babies are more at risk of VKDB?
- If you are taking certain medications for example epilepsy or blood thinners- check with your doctor if you are on any medications and whether they may affect you.
- If your baby is born before 34 weeks, research shows that premature babies clotting systems are sometimes not as well developed.
- If you have an assisted birth, such as a forceps or a ventouse, as this can cause trauma such as bruising to your baby’s head.
- If you are breastfeeding, as analysis shows there are low levels of vitamin K in breast milk.
- If your baby is circumcised or needs treatment for a tongue-tie, as there is potential for bleeding during these procedures.
The Department of Health recommend that the optimal time for a baby to have vitamin K is within the first 24 hours after their birth.
Deciding whether your baby should have Vitamin K is a decision for you to make during pregnancy. You can ask your midwife for more information regarding this subject or do some further reading yourself.