Vitamin K is one of several fat-soluble vitamins, which is produced by plants. The highest concentration of Vitamin K is found in green, leafy vegetables. It was first discovered in alfalfa sprouts in work studied by Henrik Dam, a Danish biochemist, and Edward Doisy, an American biochemist at St. Louis University. They shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1943. Their discovery was of great importance because it advanced the understanding of blood coagulation and produced a new lifesaving therapy for bleeding diseases.
Vitamin K is involved in a complex process involving the synthesis of various proteins, which are called factors in medicine. These factors enable the body to form a blood clot — specifically factors 2 ,7, 9 and 10. Babies are born with very little vitamin K stored in their bodies, which is known as a vitamin K deficiency.
Since the early 1960s, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology has recommended all newborns receive an injection of vitamin K at birth. Vitamin K deficiency can result in bleeding in the newborn both after birth and a late onset form that occurs two to 12 weeks after birth, where there can be severe bleeding, which can lead to hospitalization, brain damage, intracranial bleeding and even death.
A frequently asked question is, ‘why not just wait to see if my baby needs it?’ The answer according to the CDC is if you wait “to see if your baby needs a vitamin K shot, it may be too late. Babies can bleed into their intestines or brain to the point that parents can’t see the bleeding to know something is wrong. All newborns have low levels of vitamin K, so they need vitamin K from another source. A vitamin K shot is the best way to ensure all babies have enough vitamin K. Newborns who do not get a vitamin K shot are 81 times more likely to develop severe bleeding than those who get the shot.”
Why would someone not want vitamin K to protect their newborn's well-being? Misinformation.
The vitamin K injection that we presently use has no “preservatives.” The vitamin K for oral use has not been adequately tested and may not be as effective as the single dose given as an intramuscular injection at birth. In addition, oral medications may be vomited or not adequately absorbed by the newborn.
Another area of misinformation was the theory that vitamin K promoted cancer. This has been thoroughly studied in at least 18 different countries by a variety of scientists and found to be totally without merit. In short, there is no connection between vitamin K and cancer.
A cluster of vitamin K deficient bleeding (VKDB) came to light in Nashville, TN, from February to September 2013 in four infants that did not receive vitamin K at birth. All survived, but three had bleeding into their brains and one had gastrointestinal bleeding.
Talk to your obstetrician, family physician or pediatrician if you have questions about the use of vitamin K for your infant. This is a very safe and effective preventive measure that is naturally based and provides protection to your infant.
Brian Conley, MD, FAAP, is a pediatrician at SSM Health Medical Group – Pediatrics, located at 3348 American Ave. in Jefferson City. To make an appointment with Dr. Conley, call 573-761-7210 or schedule online at ssmhealth.com.