Things to Know Before You go (to the Hospital) – Vitamin K

blakeyAs you prepare for the birth of your baby, you are likely to be preparing yourself in many ways for your baby’s arrival. While being prepared may not help you to navigate every possible thing that might happen during and shortly after the birth of your baby, there are a few things that you can think about and plan for ahead of time. One of these things is deciding whether or not to allow your baby to be given a dose of synthetic Vitamin K shortly after birth.

Vitamin K is routinely administered to newborn babies in the United States and many other places. It is most commonly administered in a shot, although an oral dose is available. The practice began around 1944, and although it is still routine practice today, some parents are deciding to opt out.

While it is true that Vitamin K is essential for health, and that babies are born with low levels of this important nutrient, there is disagreement about whether it is necessary to administer an injection of synthetic Vitamin K immediately after birth. By the time a baby is eight days old; his natural level of Vitamin K will be at the appropriate level even if he does not receive any Vitamin K from a shot or oral dose. Vitamin K is essential for blood clotting, and the rationale behind administering t at birth is that it could prevent a condition called Hemorrhagic Disease of the Newborn (HDN), where about 0.25 to 1.7 percent of all newborns develop internal bleeding that can cause serious injury or even death.

Reasons that parents might refuse Vitamin K are that it is painful, the shot contains twenty thousand times the amount of Vitamin K needed to prevent HDN, and preservatives that are contained in the shot can cause reactions in some newborns. The oral dose contains nothing other than Vitamin K, and more importantly, it causes no pain.

Although it is not uncommon for parents to ask that hospital staff refrain from administering either the Vitamin K shot or the oral Vitamin K, please be advised that your request may raise a few eyebrows. For example, when my younger son was born and I told the nurses on duty that my husband and I did not want him to have any Vitamin K, the pediatrician on duty came into the room. She lectured me for what seemed like an eternity and tried to make me feel like I was being irresponsible in refusing the Vitamin K. She even had the audacity to send a social worker in to see me after our conversation, to “check on my mental health”. Seriously. I was and still am deeply offended at the lack of respect that I received during my hospital stay following Blake’s birth, but I digress. The bottom line is that you are in charge of deciding whether your child will receive Vitamin K, as well as a host of other procedures (like circumcision if you’re having a boy) shortly after he or she is born. Educate yourself about your options ahead of time, and find out what the routine procedure is for the place where you plan to give birth so that you can advise the staff on duty if you would like to proceed in a manner that is different from the norm.