Vitamin K for Expecting and New Parents

Vitamin K for Expecting and New Parents

For expecting and new parents, the conversation about Vitamin K administration to newborns can be overwhelming. As a midwife and mother, I have encountered and gone through many levels of understanding the choices involved with administration of Vitamin K to newborns, and believed misconceptions about the risks of Vitamin K for newborns in the past. Many of these misconceptions persist in on-line communities and in the natural birth world. Many families have heard inaccurate information in past pregnancies, and may not receive new or current information as care providers learn more.
Briefly: Vitamin K works in the body to help produce clotting factors, the part of our blood that helps prevent uncontrolled bleeding. Babies are born with very low levels of Vitamin K, because it does not cross the placenta well, and because we make vitamin K in our GI tracts from food. Newborns have both fewer bacteria in their guts to help create vitamin K from their food, and (for breastfed babies) food that is not high in Vitamin K. In rare cases, babies can develop a disease call Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding (VKDB) in the hours and weeks after birth. This disease causes uncontrolled bleeding, oftentimes in the brain,and often without sufficient warning to prevent long-term consequences. For that reason, newborns are routinely given supplemental Vitamin K in the form of an injection, or as oral drops, after the birth. In best practice, parents are given information about Vitamin K supplementation before the birth of their baby, so that they can make a decision about what type of Vitamin K they wish to have their newborn receive, or to refuse all supplements.

Rebecca Dekker’s article on “Evidence Based Birth” gives a clear and concise presentation of the risks, benefits and myths surrounding intramuscular injection, oral administration, and no administration of Vitamin K. She explains VKDB and includes how often it happens, from time periods where Vitamin K was not administered to newborns, to current rates including differences between injectible and oral Vitamin K. I would recommend this article to any parent struggling to understand the why they may choose to administer Vitamin K to their baby, what we know about what works, and what the risks and benefits of each choice are.

AnnMarie Rian Wanzeck CPM, LM

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