Vitamin K can save your newborn’s brain. Get it.

The Pediatric Insider

© 2013 Roy Benaroch, MD

Some topics I enjoy writing about. Some give me no satisfaction whatsoever. Still: I never want to read about another baby going through a completely avoidable catastrophe again. So pay attention, especially those of you about to have a baby, or those of you who might someday have a baby, or those of you who ever talk to couples who are having a baby. Just all of you, pay attention here.

Hemorrhagic disease of the newborn is a real thing. Newborns aren’t born with good stores of Vitamin K, so they can’t make their own clotting factors well. Sometimes—rarely, but it does happen—they develop spontaneous bleeding. It might be from their umbilical cord, or in their gut, or in their brain. If the bleeding isn’t treated quickly, the baby will bleed to death or suffer brain damage.

Hemorrhagic disease of the newborn, you say? You’ve never heard of that? You’ve never heard of it because it’s rare to begin with, about .24-1.7 cases per 1000 live births, and because there is a nearly 100% effective way to prevent it. The AAP has recommended that all babies receive vitamin K shortly after birth since 1961, and multiple studies have confirmed that this is completely safe and just about 100% effective in preventing hemorrhagic disease.

There is no other way to prevent hemorrhagic disease of the newborn. It doesn’t matter how much vitamin K mom has—it doesn’t cross the placenta. It doesn’t matter whether baby nurses—vitamin K is not present in human milk. Commercial formulas do contain vitamin K, but not enough to “fill up the tank” when babies are born.

The best, most effective, and safest way to give vitamin K to a newborn is by injection. Though oral vitamin K is used in some countries, oral vitamin K fails to prevent all hemorrhagic disease, leading to about 1.2-1.8 cases per 100,000 births, versus zero cases after injected vitamin K.

There are no known side effects of vitamin K. There are no downsides to any baby getting this injection, which prevents death and brain damage.

Still, some parents choose to NOT allow their babies to get this injection. Their worry is based on completely unfounded internet hoopla, but that’s the way it is. Random internet stupidity trumps science, pediatricians, and the recommendations of public health agencies worldwide. Apparently it’s becoming trendy to skip the vitamin K injection.

The internet, as usual, exaggerates the freaky and uncomfirmable stories, and fails to tell the boring stories about the millions of babies who do great after receiving good routine care. Parents are tricked into worrying about the wrong things. Instead of protecting their babies, they place them in harms way. That’s a tragedy we all need to fight.

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4 Comments on “Vitamin K can save your newborn’s brain. Get it.”

  1. oldmdgirl Says:

    But, but,but…. THE CHEMICALS!!!

    Thank you for your common sense.

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  2. Rob Lindeman Says:

    Missing from all these discussions is an analysis of HDN prior to 1961. How many babies had cerebral hemorrahges?

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  3. Dr. Roy Says:

    Dr. Lindeman, this review cites incidence of .25-1.7%, which while not common, is certainly not rare: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/112/1/191.abstract

    Not all of those would be cerebral hemorrhage– that figure was for any kind of vitamin K deficient bleeding.

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  4. Dr. Roy Says:

    Update: here is official CDC report of four babies in Tennessee who had hemorrhages after parents refused vitamin K: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6245a4.htm?s_cid=mm6245a4_e

    ALSO I edited original story to replace a broken link.

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