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Vitamin K: A Choice to Protect Your Baby

Doctor giving infant a shot

By Hansa Bhargava, MD

WebMD Pediatrician and Medical Editor

Having a baby is a wonderful experience, but it can also be overwhelming. One issue that new parents face in the newborn nursery is stress over the tests and injections the baby will receive. Those include a vitamin K shot, hepatitis B vaccine, and tests for metabolic illnesses and others. When you’re exhausted after delivery, it may seem easier to refuse one more injection that your baby is scheduled for — one you may not be sure will help your child.

The majority of tests and injections that a newborn receives are absolutely necessary, though. The vitamin K injection is one of them. It’s essential for clotting factors, the “glue” that stops bleeding, to work. Many babies don’t have enough vitamin K in their bodies to help form the clotting factors, and it may take time to build up these levels. Unfortunately, even breast milk does not have enough vitamin K to help the low levels.

Last year in Tennessee, a number of newborns had bleeding in the brain that required surgery. In all of the cases, the parents had refused the vitamin K shots. Doctors at Vanderbilt University Hospital, where the babies were treated, say some of the children have seizure disorders and may have long-term neurological issues and developmental delays.

In a study published this week, researchers found that parents who had refused the vitamin K shot were also more likely to refuse vaccinations.

As a pediatrician and a mom, I find this very alarming. Vitamin K protects babies from bleeding in the first few months of life. Vaccines protect babies from serious illnesses, such as meningitis and pertussis. Babies who don’t get these shots run the chance of getting seriously sick, or even dying.

I understand the stress you might feel from the seemingly long list of shots and tests that your baby needs. But as a pediatrician, I also know that each is given for a very good reason: to protect our babies from some pretty awful problems.

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