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Vitamin K for newborn babies

Vitamin K is used by the body to help blood clot and prevent bleeding.

The Department of Health recommends that all babies receive vitamin K with 24 hours following birth.

Why does my baby need vitamin K?

Babies are born with low levels of vitamin K in their bodies.

Without this vitamin, babies can be prone to bleeding as their blood is less likely to clot normally.

In some cases, this can include serious bleeding from the stomach, navel (belly button) or intestine and, more rarely, the brain. This bleeding condition is called vitamin K deficiency bleeding (VKDB).

It's not currently possible to predict which babies are at risk of bleeding, but the chances of developing VKDB can be reduced by giving the baby vitamin K following birth.

Studies suggest that if a baby doesn't receive vitamin K, the risk of them developing VKDB is around 1 in 10,000.

There are three types of VKDB. Vitamin K is given at birth to prevent all three types of VKDB.

Early-onset VKDB

Early-onset VKDB is very rare, and occurs within 24 hours of birth. This type of VKDB is seen in babies whose mothers are taking certain types of drugs, such as warfarin or antibiotics.

Classic-onset VKDB

This usually occurs between days 2 and 7 following birth. In this type of VKDB, bleeding may occur under the skin, in the intestine or from a circumcision wound.

Late-onset VKDB

This can occur between 8 days and 3 months. Some babies with this type of VKDB may have liver disease, which is not prevented by giving vitamin K. The most common sites of bleeding are the skin, intestine and brain.

How can I protect my baby?

We recommend a vitamin K injection into the thigh muscle in the baby's first day following birth. This effectively prevents vitamin K deficiency bleeding (VKDB) in virtually all babies.

If you choose for your baby not to have any form of vitamin K supplement, it's important to discuss your decision with your GP or community midwife. They will advise you on what to do if your baby starts to show any symptoms of VKDB.

Both the injected form and the oral administration (given by mouth) of vitamin K supplement are prepared using products from an animal source (from cattle). No other vitamin K product is currently licensed and available. We are therefore unable to provide an alternative at present.

The vitamin K injection is given as a single dose, which releases the vitamin into the body over several weeks.

Can vitamin K be given orally (by mouth)?

Vitamin K can be given to babies orally as a liquid. However, this is not considered to be as effective as the injection, as it is less likely to be fully absorbed by the body.

As oral vitamin K is also given in over a course of three doses, there is also a risk that the baby may miss one or more of the doses.

If you choose an oral vitamin D supplement for your baby, instead of the injection, it's very important that they receive all doses.

How is oral vitamin K administered?

If you choose the oral vitamin K option for your baby, your midwife will give the initial dose.

You will need to give any further doses to your baby yourself. Your midwife will supply the vitamin K and oral syringe, and tell you how and when to give the doses.

Please record this in your baby's child heath record (red book).

Can vitamin K harm my baby?

We commonly and routinely give vitamin K to newborn babies to prevent vitamin K deficiency bleeding (VKDB), but we want you to be fully informed before making your decision.

A 1992 study suggested that the vitamin K injection was associated with a higher risk of childhood cancer than oral vitamin K or not administering a vitamin K supplement.

Further research has been conducted in several countries since 1992, but this has failed to confirm a link between the vitamin K injection and childhood cancer.

Does breast milk contain vitamin D?

Breast milk contains small amounts of vitamin D, but we recommend a vitamin D supplement to prevent vitamin K deficiency bleeding (VKDB).

What if my baby is born prematurely or is poorly when they're born?

If your baby is born prematurely or is poorly when they're born, we will usually admit them to the Neonatal Unit and give them a vitamin K injection as part of their care.

How do I decline vitamin K?

If you decide that you don't want your baby to receive vitamin K, please speak to your midwife, who will make a clear entry of this in your baby's child health record (red book) and in your maternity notes. They should document that you have received appropriate information for you to make an informed choice.

If you feel like you have not received enough information to make a choice about vitamin K for your baby, or if you have any further questions, please speak to your midwife or a member of the Neonatology team.

Last reviewed: 11 May 2023