One of the big, quick decisions to be made for a newborn is whether or not to administer the Vitamin K shot. This usually happens immediately after birth, with the cutting of the cord and the bathing and the Hep B and the erythromycin and all the other hubbub that you may not even notice, it happens so quickly. In many states, Vitamin K is required, but parents do technically have the ‘option to refuse’.
Why is Vitamin K given at birth? Vitamin K is essential to help the blood clot. Newborns don’t make it until around day 8 of their lives, so they are at greater risk for internal bleeding from illness or injury during that sensitive first week. In addition, there is a rare but very serious blood clotting disorder (about 1 in 10,000 births) that is prevented by this simple vitamin K shot. In addition, blood clotting is essential if you have a son who is going to be circumcised- making the shot very worthwhile.
Why might you opt out of the Vitamin K shot? Honestly, it may not be all that necessary for your child. It’s only been routine for a little over 20 years, and humanity was just fine without it. If you’ve had a uneventful birth, are planning on nesting at home for the first few weeks, are having a girl (or a boy who won’t be circumcised), and are alright with the risks of the rare blood clotting disorder, you could probably forgo the shot without too much worry.
What are the risks of the shot? This is definitely a different tier of risk than vaccines, which is why it’s honestly been a difficult decision for me to tackle. There aren’t crazy side effects from Vitamin K, but it does put a lot of strain on the liver, as the amount of Vitamin K is a lot for the little body to process. That being said, this increases the babe’s risk for jaundice, which nobody likes but isn’t all that uncommon anyway. In addition, Vitamin K is given as an intramuscular injection, which is effective to deliver a large dose, but isn’t a great way to see all of that Vitamin K absorbed (orally being the most effective), which then results in extra strain on the liver as well.
Anything else to this story? Actually, yes. I have friends who did a lot of research into this subject for their two boys- they wanted to forgo Vitamin K but still circumcise. What they realized is that, in Jewish law, the Lord mandated that boys be circumcised on the eighth day- the same day that the body automatically starts producing it’s own Vitamin K supply. Coincidence? I don’t think so! It’s hard for me to think that babies would be born deficient in something that is necessary for them- I believe in better design than that 🙂
So, what are the options?
-Get the shot. It’s quick and it’ll definitely save you conversations with your care providers, and you can rest easy about risks like injury or brain bleeds. Your babe will likely have some degree of jaundice, so do prepare for that battle if you decide to get the shot. However, your baby may not jaundice at all and that may be the last you hear of it.
-Get the oral supplement. Your care provider may be able to recommend something, or you can try to find one online. This is a good option, as you can control the amount and gradually supplement, but it’s hard to come by. This is a popular option on Europe, but I have been cautioned against it as it is apparently quite bitter, which results in the babe spitting most of it out. Additionally, the intervals it is given in don’t make a ton of sense- it is typically a series of 3, with 2 of the doses coming after infants are producing their own vitamin K at sufficient levels.
-Supplement yourself (via actual supplement or food supplementation) and breastfeed like a champ. There are debates as to whether or not Vitamin K actually crosses the placenta, but if mom eats a Vitamin K rich diet, it will come through in her milk. This is a great breakdown of foods that are rich in Vitamin K: http://www.healthaliciousness.com/articles/food-sources-of-vitamin-k.php
-Refuse the supplement. It’s only about a week before the babe will start producing the Vitamin K themselves, and at that point, your worries can be over. In a typical birth, your need for Vitamin K will likely be very low. If you do have a slightly more complicated birth, homeopathic arnica can be used to reduce bruising and swelling.
Ultimately, this is a decision that is best handled in conjunction with your care provider and knowing the details of your specific birth. Honestly, I am not 100% what we will do for our baby- I am prepared with arnica and eating a good Vitamin K diet, but if her birth is traumatic, I won’t hesitate to supplement if recommended by my midwife.