When a baby is first born, there are many routine things that are done. For instance, the nurses and doctors will check a range of things on the newborn and give them an APGAR score. This includes things like the baby’s skin color and appearance, their general respiratory breathing, and their response to movement and touch.
In addition to these and other things, the baby will receive an injection with Vitamin K. In the majority of cases, this is done routinely around hospitals throughout the country. Unless there are serious protests from the parents and a request not to have the injection, little bubs gets a jab just a few minutes after birth.
So why does this happen? And what is so important about this injection that it needs to happen almost immediately?
The Vitamin K shot, although somewhat controversial, is highly important in helping the blood to clot. At birth, babies blood doesn’t automatically clot and it is much more fine than it should be. To speed up the clotting process and help the blood become stronger, this shot is given.
Aside from this fact, there are many others things that many expecting mom’s may not know about the Vitamin K shot. Find out more right here!
13 It Is Full Of Soluble Fats
Since the main purpose of this injection is make the blood thicker so that it can clot, it needs to have some fat around it to do its job. Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin. This means that it is full of good fats that the body needs. Remember, not every fat is a bad one!
Vitamin K can be sourced naturally, but the body doesn’t retain it well. Therefore, when babies are born, they basically have next to zero Vitamin K in reserve, hence why the blood is so thin. This boosting injection gives the baby some Vitamin K stores it needs because it can start sourcing Vitamin K naturally. Otherwise, we get 90% of Vitamin K from leafy green vegetables as part of a balanced diet. The other 10% comes from a helpful bacteria called menaquinone that lives in our guts.
12 The First Shot Was Given In 1961
Long before this first shot was given, back in 1894 in fact, a physician in Boston noticed something was up with newborns bleeding out too quickly. Dr Townsend initially called these cases ‘Haemorrhagic Disease of the Newborn.' Later, in 1930, a Danish biochemist figured out a connection between low Vitamin K levels and this excessive bleeding.
Fast forward through decades of research to 1961 and the American Academy of Paediatrics started recommending a Vitamin K injection for all newborns. This started to become the routine practice that we have today. In 1999, the mouthful of the name Haemorrhagic Disease of the Newborn was changed to another mouthful ‘Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding (VKDB)’ as the cause was now officially recognised as a Vitamin K deficiency. Also, this recognises that some babies don’t start bleeding until 4 weeks later, when they are not just newborn.
11 There Are Three Types Of Vitamin K Deficiencies
There is a common misconception that Vitamin K deficiency only ever happens in the case of newborns. Given that the injection is needed right after birth, surely that is the only time the deficiency shows itself, right? Well, not exactly. In fact, there are three types of Vitamin K deficiencies that can present at different times.
The first is VKDB which presents within 24 hours after birth. This is most commonly seen in cases where the mom has been taking drugs such as phenytoin or barbiturates which have limited her Vitamin K intake. The next is classic VKDB which happens between 1 to 7 days and most commonly caused by delayed or insufficient breastfeeding. Finally, there is late VKDB which can occur any time between 3-8 weeks. This is the most rare type.
10 It Is An Intramuscular Shot
This is where a lot of controversy about the Vitamin K shot comes into play. Basically, a big old needle is jabbed right into that little newborn baby’s arm muscle. Ouch! And just minutes after being born, surely that is just being cruel to child.
However, the intramuscular nature of this shot means that it is highly effective. The Vitamin K is shot right into the muscles and gets to work immediately. Sure, the baby is going to feel some pain and scream a little. But has anyone noticed how they are already screaming from the trauma of being born? Some argue that the baby doesn’t feel anything because there are so many other senses being overwhelmed. Others say that they can be traumatised from the pain of the needle. This one is a to-each-their-own opinion.
9 K Means Koagulation
That all important letter which identifies this injection does stand for an important word. The work koagulation is a German one. When something coagulates (the word is more commonly spelt with a C in English), it becomes thicker. Just think about mixing water and cooking flour together. Combined, they coagulate.
So, as you may have realised now, the Vitamin K injection helps the blood to coagulate. This is what Vitamin K does on its own when there is enough of it in the body. Having blood that doesn’t coagulate means that it is more prone to internal bleeding or excessive external bleeding when there is a cut or scrape. With blood, getting the balance right is super important. You don’t want it too thin, you don’t want it too thick, you want just the right amount of coagulation going on.
8 It Reduces The Risk Of VKDB
The whole purpose of this injection is to reduce, almost erase, the risk of Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding (VKDB). The risk of developing VKDB is very real without this injection. About 0.25% to 1.7% of newborns who don’t have the injection after birth will develop or experience VKDB somewhere between birth to 8 weeks.
Before this shot became universally recommended, babies simply had to suffer the consequences of their blood not clotting. This can be severe internal bleeding, excessive external bleeding, or other major problems such as heart problems or long term brain damage. It is a risky gamble to play not getting the injection. Not every baby without will have problems, but it is a risk. Keep in mind, a few seconds jabbing pain for the baby means long term safety and healthy blood.
7 It Counteracts The Deficiency All Babies Are Born With
While babies are born with lots of good stuff and they have done some awesome development over the last 9 months, they aren’t quite perfect. In fact, they are naturally lacking in Vitamin K. This is because during pregnancy, almost none of mom’s Vitamin K reserves pass through the placenta, due to it being metabolised by the liver.
Therefore, babies are born with this deficiency, and in turn a high risk of severe and excess bleeding, either internally or externally. This is why the injection is given almost immediately after birth. It gives the blood a strong chance to coagulate, or thicken, and significantly reduce the risk of Vitamin K deficiency bleeding (VKDB). Although the chances of it occurring are low, it isn't really worth taking the risk when a preventative solution is just one quick jab away.
6 The Amount It Contains Depends On Birth Weight
This injection isn’t a one size fits all things, as many people tend to assume. The baby’s birth weight does have a say in how much Vitamin K is going to be injected. After all, this is about getting the balance of Vitamin K just right so that the blood can thicken to the right amount. Not too thick and not too thin is the aim.
So depending on how heavy or light the baby is, the amount of the injection will between 0.5 to 1 milligram. It sounds like such as a small amount but it has amazing results in a very short amount of time. Remember, the doctors and nurses running the show after delivery are like wizards: they somehow manage to get the baby assessed, weighed, a needle drawn up, and a potentially life saving injection on the go all within five minutes sometimes!
5 Oral Vitamin K Is Less Effective
Many people seek out alternatives to the Vitamin K injection because many believe that the ingredients are harmful to the baby’s underdeveloped immune system. While there are alternatives available for those who really don’t want to let their baby have an injection after birth, many doctors believe they are less effective.
Nonetheless, there is an oral dosage of Vitamin K available if parents decide to go down this pathway. With this, the dosage is given to the baby on a weekly basis. However, it is not as quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, meaning it takes longer to do its job. Another alternative is delaying the clamping of the umbilical cord so that the blood supply isn’t lessened. However, the cord blood is just a great source of iron and doesn’t supply any Vitamin K.
4 Breastfeeding Boosts Vitamin K Too
Breastfeeding is a catch 22 when it comes to Vitamin K. On the one hand, it has the potential to boost the Vitamin K levels for the baby. However, this is only the case if mom has plenty of Vitamin K in her body that is filtering through to the milk.
For whatever reason, the human body isn’t very good at retaining Vitamin K. Therefore, breast milk tends to be quite low in Vitamin K to begin with. Without supplements, there isn’t enough Vitamin K because the hormones producing the milk are essentially counteracting the production of Vitamin K.
So, while breastfeeding can help to enrich the baby with Vitamin K, it isn’t guaranteed. This is why doctors recommend the Vitamin K injection to get the baby’s levels to where they should be, and then continue supplementing this with a breast milk diet rich in leafy green vegetables.
3 It Is Safe, Despite The Horror Stories
There are a lots of trains of thoughts out there that are purely against the Vitamin K shot. This is because many believe that the ingredients in the Vitamin K injection are toxic to the baby. Given how delicate and immature the immune system of the baby is, this is a valid thought to have.
However, generally speaking, the ingredients in Vitamin K are harmless. They may vary based on the manufacturer, but generally the combination of hydrous dextrose, benzyl alcohol, polysorbate are safe and harmless for the baby. There are some cases where the baby has had a negative reaction to the ingredients. However, keep in mind when reading these that there may have been extenuating circumstances, such as other health conditions in extreme cases. More often than not, it is safe for the majority.
2 It Reduced The Rate Of Neonatal Bleeding
In the past, before Vitamin K deficiency was recognised and back before 1894 when Dr Townsend discovered what he called Haemorrhagic Disease of the Newborn in Boston, it was scarily common for babies to be born with a lack of Vitamin K. This deficiency meant that babies suffered extreme and severe bleeding and damage to their health over the long term.
About one in every 100 babies had this deficiency throughout history. In the first few days after birth, about one in every 1,000 had severe brain damage as a result of the bleeding. Since the Vitamin K injections were first given in the US in 1961, the prevalence of Vitamin K deficiency decreased substantially, almost disappearing. In most parts of the developed world, this injection is a routine procedure. There are still some cases where the injection hasn’t been given and the bleeding has occurred.
1 There Are Two Types Of Vitamin K
Like so many other vitamins, there is more than one thing hiding under the umbrella term of a single letter. In the case of Vitamin K, there are two strands of this vitamin that are essential to have in the body. These are sourced from two different things and they are not made naturally in the body.
First, Vitamin K1 is called phylloquinone and it is sourced from leafy green vegetables. Some ideal vegetables to eat during pregnancy to stock up on this include cabbage, cauliflower, kale, avocado, and brussel sprouts. Next, Vitamin K2 is called menaquinone and it is produced in the liver. This is a good bacteria that helps keep the body in balance. However, only 10% of all Vitamin K stores comes from Vitamin K2, so pregnancy really needs to be all about those leafy greens.
Sources: EvidenceBasedBirth.com, MommyPotamus.com, Forbes.com, Health.ucsd.edu