Vitamin K Deficiency In Newborns

This year in Tennessee and other places around the country, doctors are seeing seriously ill infants with hemorrhagic disease of the newborn.  This is a life-threatening bleeding disorder that is caused by vitamin K deficiency in newborns.

All these cases occurred in infants whose parents refused to allow their babies to receive a vitamin K injection immediately after birth.

I am shocked that in this day and age babies are being exposed to the risk of a potentially fatal disease that is 100% preventable.  Since 1961 doctors and hospitals have been giving a single injection of vitamin K when babies are born.  This completely eliminated cases of hemorrhagic disease of the newborn.

Granted, this disease is rare even in babies who do not receive the injection.  Estimates are 2.5-17 cases per 1000 births.  However, if it is YOUR baby suffering lifelong disability due to a problem that is completely preventable I think even this small risk is too big.

Why do babies get vitamin K deficiency?  Although vitamin K (which is a fat soluble vitamin) does pass through the placenta, newborns don’t have very significant body stores of vitamin K.  After birth, the supply of vitamin K coming from Mom stops abruptly, and there is not enough in breastmilk or formula to meet their needs.

Human beings get vitamin K from their diet (in leafy green veggies like kale and spinach, as well as Brussels sprouts and tomatoes) and from beneficial bacteria in the intestine.  Newborn babies have NO bacteria in their intestine – and it takes some time for the bacteria to build up.  They rapidly can become severely vitamin K deficient.

Anybody out there know someone who takes Coumadin (warfarin), a blood thinner used to treat heart problems or blood clots?  Coumadin acts by blocking the activity of vitamin K to help make clotting factors in the bloodstream.  When babies get deficient in vitamin K, it’s like they’re taking Coumadin and getting blood that is thinner and thinner.

As a public service measure, neonatal vitamin K injection is a rousing success.  It completely eliminates hemorrhagic disease of the newborn.  I went to the Internet and looked up some of the objections natural-parenting advocates have to the injection.  After all, SOMETHING has to be responsible for the recent trend to refuse something as benign as a vitamin shot.  Here are some of the objections I found:

  • The dose is too high:  Granted, the dose is pretty high.  However, vitamin K is nontoxic and a one-time shot needs to be high in order to tide the baby over until the bacteria seed the intestine and begin making vitamin K.  Hemorrhagic disease in the newborn can be seen as late as 12 weeks of age.
  • Shots are painful:  Yes, needles hurt.  I give shots all the time.  They are not a fate worse than death, though, and those that think an injection soon after birth will cause irreparable lifelong psychic injury to their child are fooling themselves.
  • Oral vitamin K is just as good:  Actually, it’s not.  Hemorrhagic disease of the newborn is still seen in the Netherlands, where oral rather than injected vitamin K is the standard of care.

Vitamin K injections are safe.  They work.  They save babies from death and lifelong disability.  If you know someone who is expecting, please pass this article along and encourage them to discuss this issue with their obstetrician.  You may save your friend unimaginable heartbreak.

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