Important: This is intended as general information only. It may not apply to your specific situation. It is not a substitute for medical advice. If you have a question or concern, please raise it with me at your next appointment or contact me sooner if it's urgent.
We all need vitamin K in order for our blood to clot properly. A deficiency of vitamin K causes excessive bleeding and bruising and can even cause severe bleeding such as bleeding into the brain (resulting in a stroke). We don’t make our own vitamin K – it is made for us by the bacteria in our gut.
Babies are born with very little vitamin K. The pregnant body gets most things right but, for some reason, not much vitamin K crosses the placenta and it is not present in significant amounts in breast milk. It takes newborn babies several months to build up bacteria in their gut to make vitamin K for them.
For this reason, newborn babies are at risk of a bleeding disorder called Vitamin K Deficient Bleeding (VKDB - also known as haemorrhagic disease of the newborn). Without treatment, VKDB is estimated to occur in approximately 1% of newborn babies. It can be serious disease resulting in brain damage or, rarely, death.
By giving newborn babies a dose of vitamin K, this disease can be virtually eliminated. It has been recommended as a routine intervention in Australia and many other countries for several decades now and has been found to be both safe and effective. It is given as an injection into the baby’s thigh within a couple of hours of birth. A single injection will provide enough vitamin K to help the baby’s blood clot for several months, by which time he or she will have developed enough gut bacteria to make an ongoing supply.
It is possible to give vitamin K orally as drops. Several doses are required over the first few weeks of life. However, this does not work as well or as quickly as an injection. For this reason, an injection is recommended.