Vitamin K is an essential nutrient that helps blood clotting. Newborns and infants are deficient in this vitamin from birth, which is why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a Vitamin K supplemental shot the first day of a baby’s life.
Most of us consume Vitamin K from our daily diet and some is synthesized by good bacteria in the gut. Green leafy vegetables including spinach, kale, broccoli, swiss chard and mustard greens have the highest concentration of Vitamin K. At birth, babies have very low levels of Vitamin K, even when their mothers ate a wholesome, nutrient-rich diet during pregnancy. Only small amounts of Vitamin K can be absorbed and stored in utero, plus babies have not developed any bacteria in their gut to help form their own Vitamin K stash. Even breast milk does not contain enough Vitamin K to help keep babies safe.
Critically low levels of Vitamin K can lead to Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding or VKDB. Vitamin K is vital to the body to make blood clot and prevent excessive bleeding. Babies who are deficient in Vitamin K may have internal organ bleeds, often in the intestines, that are hard to detect. Since they lack Vitamin K, their blood does not clot properly and the bleed continues, sometimes entering the brain. VKDB can lead to major health complications for babies and even death. Risk of VKDB is highest up to six months of age. At that point babies begin eating solid foods and are able to absorb and maintain their own Vitamin K efficiently.
The Vitamin K supplemental shot is usually administered in the hospital within six hours after birth. Mothers who want to hold and nurse their babies right away are able to do so. When their babies are taken to be cleaned and weighed, nurses can then give the shot. While some parents fear the trauma of receiving a shot within hours after birth, the AAP and the CDC support the benefits that far outweigh the risks.
Unlike vaccines, the Vitamin K supplemental shot is simply a dose of the Vitamin given via an injection. It is less effective if given orally. Babies who do not receive the Vitamin K shot are at 81 times the risk of VKDB than if they receive the supplement as recommended. And this is nothing new: the AAP has recommended Vitamin K supplemental shots since the 1960s.
If you have questions about Vitamin K, discuss them with your pediatrician or OBGYN before you give birth so you are prepared to sign the waiver to have the shot administered in the hospital when it will be most effective and convenient.
Sources: Bundoo and CDC