Vitamin K Shots for Newborns: Everything You Need to Know

babyThe moments following childbirth are meant to be peaceful, serene, and a time to bond with baby. Most of us have visions of cradling our tiny, wet newborns, skin-to-skin, getting to know one another after not seeing each other for nine whole months. But that's not always the case. Depending on where one gives birth, baby can often be swooped out of mama's arms in a hectic and most unserene way in order to be weighed, prodded, and administered a vitamin K shot.

Many people don't give much thought to vitamin K shots before giving birth, as, typically, it's not something anyone is "warned" of, and it's standard hospital protocol. But what exactly is this shot? And is it really necessary?


Some, most actually, babies are born with a vitamin K deficiency, and in some cases, it can lead to an extremely rare but serious bleeding disorder called Hemorrhagic Disease of the Newborn (HDN). Internal bleeding occurs in the brain and other organs, and it can lead to serious injury or even death. The incidence is between .25 and 1.7 percent, but it's still standard practice to administer the shot as a preventative measure -- regardless of whether or not risk factors are present. Babies who are at an increased risk for this disease are those with preterm delivery; low birth weight; a forceps or vacuum extraction delivery; c-section delivery; extremely fast or extremely long labor, particularly during the pushing phase; mother’s use of antibiotics, anticoagulants, anticonvulsants, and some other drugs during pregnancy; and undetected liver disease.

Seems important, yes. But in most cases, these issues aren't present -- so, do babies need a vitamin K shot then? In short, no. But it may not be that cut and dried.

I talked to my wonderful and amazing doula, London King of Push Love Doula, who is a wealth of knowledge on vitamin K shots, and she highly advises parents to figure out what they want for their baby in terms of the shot beforehand. "I strongly urge my clients to tackle these questions and decisions BEFORE the birth," King said. "If none of this has been brought up beforehand and refusal of standard protocol of procedures is questioned, I can assure you Children's Services will be called to 'help' convince you of your initial parenting skills. NOT a way to peacefully greet your baby in the loving serene manner you imagined." In other words, get your ducks in a row, Mamas, because merely saying 'no' probably won't suffice.  

King also mentioned that the vitamin K shot is synthetic and completely different from naturally occurring vitamin K we produce in our bodies through dark leafy greens and such. "It's also mixed with preservatives that are questionable. My argument is that the shot is not processed by our bodies to work the way it should. It goes into the tissues when it should be going to the gut. Some believe that the vitamin K shot could be a factor of the increased instances of jaundice too."

So, what to do if you feel like a vitamin K shot is what's best for your baby? King suggests considering the oral dosage instead. "Of course, if there is trauma at birth, prolonged labor, super fast labor, prolonged pushing with severe head moulding, vacuum or forceps delivery, or a c-section, then the shot is probably the best way to go according to most OBs. But a good alternative is the oral dosage of vitamin K over a period of weeks following birth." Seems like a good medium. Would you want to get a painful shot the moment you're getting used to things like lights, hunger, and gravity?

The main thing King stresses is making your decision about the shot before going into labor, as the moments following childbirth should be as calm and pleasant as possible. "I can't stress enough that all this should be discussed prior to your child's birth. My main concern is that all this gets squared away so that all parties are in agreement before baby comes out. I don't want this to overshadow the bonding with your sweet new babe."

Who can argue with that?

Did you opt out of a vitamin K shot?

Image via SCA Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget/Flickr

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