Why do babies get a vitamin K shot?
After my baby was born, they wiped her down quickly, then handed her to my wife. My wife held our little girl as we all cried and cried and cried (especially the baby). After a few minutes, they took the baby to check her vitals and assign the Apgar score. During the evaluation, they do two primary things. First, they put a thick goop in her eyes. This is an antibiotic to prevent eye infections. A woman’s nether regions are full of bacteria, some of them scary. Some of the scary bacteria can cause serious eye infections in the baby. Second, they give her a vitamin K injection.
Don’t be surprised
I didn’t know this was going to be done before the baby was born. It was kind of a surprise. I was a little upset that we weren’t told in advance. It was my baby’s first injection (you can read about her second set here). She didn’t like it.
Why Vitamin K?
Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin that is required for synthesis of certain proteins needed for blood coagulation. Uhhh? What the heck does that mean? Basically, the body needs to make some special proteins to allow your blood to clot. Without the proteins, you cannot clot blood, which means you won’t form scabs. Scabs are very important because they help stop bleeding.
So why does you baby need vitamin K? Well, your body does not naturally produce vitamin K, so your baby is born with virtually none in their system. We get vitamin K through bacteria in the small intestine that makes it as a byproduct of operation. We also get small amounts through our diet. Your newborn baby hasn’t had much exposure to bacteria and hasn’t eaten anything yet, so she has almost no K!
This shouldn’t be a big deal, but it can be. If you baby happens to get a cut (circumcision), scratch (finger nails), or hard bump (clumsy mom or nurse) he could bleed for a very long time. This could cause your baby to bleed out and die. Even scarier, it is possible for your baby to have a burst blood vessel in their intestines or brain causing them to bleed out and die.
Is it safe?
The potential to bleed out is terrifying, and can easily be remedied by giving your baby a dose of vitamin K. Some objectors have recently voiced their opinions on the subject. They claim that injecting your baby at birth can cause “psycho-emotional” damage and trauma to your baby. While it is true that birth is a terrifying experience for the newborn, I’m not convinced that giving your baby an injection will do much more harm than the birth experience itself.
I’ve also read a claim on one website that the injection is 20,000 times the required amount of vitamin K. I would imagine this is based on hospital policies and may not be true everywhere. Still, it might be important to ask your doctor prior to delivery.
The third argument I’ve heard is it creates another opportunity for infection. While this is true, most hospitals have very strict infection prevention practices and should not be a major concern in a first world hospital delivery.
That being said, if you still feel that an injection is not good for your baby, it is also possible to receive the vitamin through liquid drops that are fed to the baby. Studies show mixed results for the drops – some show it is equally effective, some show it is not as effective. However, it is a possibly, just make sure to request them well before the delivery so it is on hand when the time comes.
Make sure your baby gets vitamin K one way or the other!