Birthing positions, cord blood, circumcision, vitamin K for newborns …
Whether you’re about to become a parent for the first time or already a seasoned pro, you probably feel overwhelmed by the mountain of decisions that await you. Today we’d like to help you sort through one of the decisions — how you want to address vitamin K for your newborn.
In a hospital setting, vitamin K is a routine injection given to newborns shortly after birth, and most women aren’t even aware there is any controversy surrounding the injection. Here’s a neutral look at the purpose of administering vitamin K to newborns, and alternative methods and views.
Why vitamin K for newborns matters
Nearly all newborns are born with low levels of vitamin K in their blood. For many this doesn’t pose a problem, as they slowly ramp us levels of this wonderful blood-clotting vitamin in their systems over their infancy.
But for .25-1.5% of newborns, Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding (VKDB) can cause dangerous hemorrhaging in the first day after birth. The risk drops significantly over time, but for the first six months (until the baby is eating solid foods that foster the intestinal flora that boost vitamin K absorption), levels of vitamin K in newborns are naturally low.
And, as fantastic as breast milk, studies have found that breastfed babies are almost always at risk for VKDB. That’s because breast milk is lower in vitamin K than formula. All of this has led to injectable vitamin K for newborns right after birth. This practice is extremely effective and virtually erases the risk of VKDB.
Are there alternatives to injected vitamin K for newborns?
Some parent and care providers question whether the injection is the safest, most effective, or only method for preventing VKDB.
There are some who feel a poke through baby’s skin is unnecessary trauma at a tender time, or that the accompanying ingredients (meant to aid in absorption and healing of the injection site) and heavy dose of vitamin K are risky to introduce to a newborn’s delicate system.
Some opponents of injectable vitamin K for newborns recommend skipping the shot and introducing extra vitamin K-rich foods and supplements to the mother’s prenatal diet, but there’s evidence that placental transfer of this nutrient isn’t very efficient. Though breast milk is low in the nutrient, a mother’s early milk, colostrum, has more.
Some argue that if a mother’s diet is vitamin K rich, her colostrum will prevent VKDB. But there is evidence the amount of vitamin K in colostrum still isn’t significant enough, and that mature milk is actually a better source (low as it is) because the baby will consume it in greater amounts.
One “happy medium” alternative that both proponents and opponents of the vitamin K injection generally agree on is orally-administered vitamin K. This is a 3-dose regimen that a practitioner or parent administers as drops in the baby’s mouth. When the dosage and schedule are followed carefully, this method is equally as effective as the injectable version.
Be sure to have a conversation with your care provider about how you want to address vitamin K for your baby. The oral version isn’t part of routine hospital care, so you may have to special order it before your birth and have your doctor give you a schedule to administer the two doses following the immediate newborn dose.
The midwives and practitioners at The Retreat support your right to research and decide on the best course of care for your own body and for your baby. And vitamin K administration is an element of routine newborn care that deserves an informed decision. Whatever course you choose, we’re happy to be on your birth team!
This post is part of a series on your options for newborn care. We believe in empowering women to know about the many options and alternatives available to them in the birth process. If you’d like to learn more about newborn care choices, check out our event calendar here.
You might also enjoy these newborn care posts:
Water Birth 101
Why You Should Have Skin to Skin Time with Baby
What Is Delayed Cord Clamping?
Why You Should Wait to Bathe Your Newborn
Info on Infant Circumcision
We look forward to walking alongside you as you work through planning your best birth and newborn care experience. And we’d love to walk alongside you as you tour our beautiful prenatal care and birth suites at The Retreat.