Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Vitamin K - What does it do and does my baby need it?

Parents often ask what Vitamin K does and does their baby need it? 

What does Vitamin K do?
Vitamin K plays a role in blood clotting and occurs naturally in the intestine where it is produced by bacteria.  We also get if from the food we eat, leafy green vegetables, alfalfa, whole grain cereals, cheese and milk.

 Why is it given to babies?
Newborn babies have less Vitamin K than adults although these levels increase during the first weeks of birth.  Why babies should have less Vitamin K is not known, there is speculation that the reason for the low level is to prevent clotting problems during birth (Wickham, 2001).  A newborn baby’s gut will not have the bacteria present to start Vitamin K production until they start to feed.

What is Vitamin K deficiency bleeding?
A small percentage of babies can have low level of Vitamin K in the blood which can lead to a bleeding disorder called Haemorrhagic Disease in the newborn.  Early Vitamin K deficiency bleeding occurs within 48 hours of birth and is rare.  It can be caused by certain medications taken by the mother during pregnancy which interfere with Vitamin K metabolism.   The most common form of Vitamin K deficiency bleeding occurs in the first week of life in healthy infants and caused by insufficient amount of Vitamin K in breast milk or a delay with breast feeding.  Vitamin K deficiency bleeding in the newborn is serious and can cause brain damage due to bleeding into the brain or even death.

What babies are more at risk?
It is not certain what baby will develop vitamin K deficiency bleeding but there are factors where the risk increases, eg., if the mother has had certain types of medication, babies who have problems absorbing food, birth injuries that have caused bruising and babies who are not breastfed from birth or not having sufficient quantities of colostrum.  The evidence suggests that colostrums and hind milk produce the richest source of vitamin. Giving your baby Vitamin K can prevent most cases of Vitamin K deficiency bleeding 

Vitamin K in breastmilk
Ensure that your baby is breastfed soon after birth and let your baby feed when he/she wants for as long as they want. This will ensure that they receive the vitamin K present in the colostrum and in the hind milk.  

How is it given to your baby?
Either by
·         By injection into baby’s thigh of a single dose of Vitamin K.
·         By oral administration of three doses.  1st dose given after birth of your baby.  The 2nd dose is given at approximately one week of age and the 3rd dose is given between 4-6 weeks of age.

Is vitamin K safe?

In the early 1990’s researchers suggested that there was in increased incidence of childhood leukaemia in infants who had received the injection of vitamin K and not from those who had received the oral vitamin K.  However, further studies in Europe found no increase of leukaemia or cancer in infants who received the injection of vitamin K, the UK department of health also found no association between childhood leukaemia or cancer with infants given the Vitamin K injection.  As with any injection there are risks associated.

It is your choice whether to give your baby Vitamin K, if you do decide your baby will be given Vitamin K, you have a choice of either the injection or drops.  Read about the benefits and the risks of Vitamin K with your midwife to help you make an informed decision.

Wickham, S., (2001).  "Vitamin K - an alternative perspective." Aims Journal. 2001.13 (2)

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