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What Is a Vitamin K Injection?

In many countries, newborns are given vitamin K supplements.
Babies often receive vitamin K injections right after birth.
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  • Written By: Lucinda Reynolds
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 14 October 2014
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A vitamin K injection is a shot that is given to most babies right after birth. These injections are important to help prevent life-threatening vitamin K deficiency bleeding. This condition is rare with approximately one in 10,000 babies effected. If this condition does occur it can sometimes cause brain damage in a newborn or even death.

If there is not enough vitamin K in the body, blood cannot clot. When blood is unable to clot, even the smallest cuts will continue to bleed for a very long time. Bruises may grow quite large even though the injury is very minor. When there is not enough vitamin K, it is possible for uncontrolled bleeding to occur in other parts of the body. This can be dangerous if bleeding occurs in the brain because it will sometimes produce a stroke, which can be fatal.

Vitamin K is not naturally present in the human body. It is manufactured by a bacteria that resides in the gut of older children and adults. A baby's gut is sterile at birth so it cannot produce vitamin K. This vitamin is not passed to the baby during pregnancy because it is unable to cross the placenta. The only way for a newborn to get this much-needed vitamin is to receive it in a vitamin K injection.

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There are some risks associated with the vitamin K injections. In most cases, a vitamin K injection is one of the first things that is done to a baby in the few minutes following birth. This shot is delivered quickly into the large muscle of the baby's upper thigh. Some researchers and health professionals believe this form of trauma so early in a baby's life can have lasting emotional effects. Infection at the injection site is another risk involved with these vitamin K injections for newborns.

Several years ago a couple of studies suggested that vitamin K injections were linked to the development of leukemia (blood cancer) in children. When these studies were made public many parents were concerned about the safety of the vitamin K injections. This triggered more research into the vitamin K injection. It was soon discovered there is no link between leukemia and the vitamin K injection in newborns.

The vitamin K injection has been given to newborns since the 1960s. Millions of newborns have received this injection without adverse effects. Parents can decide not to allow their baby to receive the vitamin K injection. This is a topic they must discuss with their doctor. It is important that parents understand the risks of not allowing their baby to receive this newborn vitamin K injection.

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