Doula Chats: But What About the Vitamin K?

September 1, 2022

After your baby is born, there are three what I call "baby interventions" that all parents need to consider beforehand and decide if they want them. The Hep B Vaccine, Eye Ointment, and Vitamin K shot.

As I began my research on these interventions, it was clear to me early on that Hep B, and the eye ointment weren't necessary for my babies or my clients babies. Both were really only necessary for babies who are at risk of contracting Gonorrhea or Chlamydia from their mother (eye ointment), or some kind of STD (Hep B). On top of that, eye ointment hinders mother-child bonding and, aesthetically speaking, make for poor photos of baby.

But what about the Vitamin K? If it's just a vitamin, it shouldn't hurt, right?

Every family needs to do their own research to decide if getting the vitamin K shot or oral drops aligns with their beliefs, but let me tell you a few reasons why some parents decide to get it, and why some parents don't.

Why some parents do:

• The Vitamin K shot has been routinely given to newborns since 1961. Statistics in Europe show that of the babies who did NOT receive Vitamin K at birth, 4.4 to 7.2 infants out of 100,000 were diagnosed with Late VKDB (Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding - bleeding that does not clot because there is not enough Vitamin K in their blood to sufficiently clot). These babies then have a mortality rate of 20% with 50% of these babies having intracranial haemorrhage. Study linked here.

• Of those babies who received the Vitamin K shot, anywhere from 0 to 0.4 out of 100,000 babies were diagnosed with late VKDB, most countries reporting rates of 0 or close to 0. Link

• While Early and Classic VKDB can be caught earlier on and are linked to mothers who take drugs that are linked to inhibiting Vitamin K and delayed or insufficient feeding (link), Late VKDB is more difficult to recognize and is just an additional thing for parents to worry about on top of becoming new parents.

• Late VKDB can be deadly and parents decide that the risk of getting the shot is better than the risk of not.

Why some parents do not:

• VKDB is very rare.

• Along with the Vitamin K, there is also Aluminum, Benzyl alcohol, propylene glycol, and other ingredients that parents do not want in their newborn's bodies.

• Benzyl alcohol can make newborns sleepy, leading them to miss feedings, as well as result in decreased respiratory effort, decreased heart rate, and decreased oxygen saturation. 

• It is also of concern to them that the Vitamin K shot comes with a black box label. Although the label instructs those administering the shot to give it subcutaneously (under the skin), many administrators give it intramuscularly. The blackbox label associates severe reactions, including fatalities, to intramuscular and intravenous administration.

• Back in 1961, women delivered babies in hospitals where they were strapped down on their backs, left to labor, then the doctor came in after some time to perform an episiotomy, then use forceps or a vacuum to extract the babies. This causes parents to wonder if maybe that was the reason for the high mortality rates from Late VKDB.

• Some parents wonder why newborns are considered Vitamin K deficient if every newborn is born with less levels than adults. Perhaps there is a reason?

• Stem cells travel more easily through Vitamin K deficient blood, allowing newborn's bodies to heal those damaged areas on their own. Vitamin K causes the blood to coagulate too quickly, slowing the stem cells. Also, immediate cord clamping does not allow for all of the stem cells available to newborns to enter their bodies.

• Although a small amount of Vitamin K comes from mother's breastmilk, it comes in a very highly absorbable form.

My opinion:

Unfortunately, there aren't many studies to argue contrary to getting the Vitamin K shot. Some argue that this is due to a lack of funding to pay for the research because those interested in possibly finding something contrary aren't big pharmaceutical companies. I think this is possible, but I also think it's hard for anyone to want to research because the numbers arguing for the shot and preventing Vitamin K deficiency are clear. If you choose to get the shot, your baby is almost certainly going to avoid having Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding.

However, it doesn't make sense to me that all babies would be born Vitamin K deficient, and I wonder if there were less interventions, especially forceps and vacuum extraction, if there would be less need for it. It's expected that being squeezed through the birth canal would result in some trauma in the head/brain, which is why the placenta is stocked with plenty of STEM cells to repair damages - another reason we should delay cord clamping. If the blood is thickened with artificial Vitamin K (along with all the other preservative ingredients), it may slow the flow of STEM cells to the injured areas. 

I don't know what the right answer is for you or your family. I do believe there are situations where a Vitamin K shot would be a wise decision - when forceps and vacuums are involved, for instance - but I'm not convinced that it is always necessary. You'll have to decide what feels right.


*Susan Joy is a Doula and Birth Documenter serving the families of Mesa, Gilbert, Chandler, Scottsdale, Queen Creek, San Tan, and other cities in the East Valley. The information presented here is not medical advice. All medical decisions should be made after discussion with your medical provider.*

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