Don't Skip Your Baby's Vitamin K Shot

A pregnant woman thinking about things.
Interview or talk to your pediatrician if you have any concerns about the vitamin K shot. Photo by Nils Hendrik Mueller/Getty Images

Most parents understand and expect that their baby will get a vitamin K shot when they are born and before they leave the hospital.

It helps prevent bleeding from vitamin K deficiency.

Vitamin K for Babies

Newborns have been routinely getting vitamin K shots since at least since 1961.

While it was well known that newborns could suffer from hemorrhagic disease of the newborn (the old name for vitamin K deficiency bleeding) since 1894, it wasn't until later that it was connected to a temporary lack of vitamin K in newborns and younger infants.

This occurs because:

  • vitamin K doesn't pass through the placenta well, so your baby doesn't build up a good supply during pregnancy
  • breast milk is a poor source of vitamin K, even if the breastfeeding mother eats well and takes supplements, so your baby isn't able to quickly build up a good supply after she is born
  • babies have a mostly sterile gut and are not born with the bacteria in their intestines that can make vitamin K
  • some clotting factors need vitamin K to work

Vitamin K deficiency bleeding has never been very common, but before newborns even began to get vitamin K shots, it did affect 1.7 percent with classic onset disease and 7 in 100,000 newborns with late-onset disease.

Since many of these bleeds were fatal, getting a vitamin K shot wasn't controversial. At least not until a 1992 paper suggested that vitamin K shots could be associated with childhood cancer. That soon led some parents to refuse their baby's vitamin K shots for a short time - until the link was refuted.

In 1996, a student called for the "End of the Vitamin K Brouhaha:"

Because hemorrhagic disease of the newborn can be life-threatening but preventable, the studies by von Kries et al and Ansell et al should allay our fears and doubts about the dangers of administering intramuscular vitamin K immediately after birth. It seems that hemorrhagic disease of the newborn can be completely eradicated without the threat of leukemia and childhood cancer as a side effect.

And the vitamin K brouhaha did seem to end.

The Vitamin K Controversy

It came back though.

In addition to parenting groups who subscribe to more holistic and natural methods, there are also some who are against vaccines and vitamin K shots.

This is surprising to many people since those who oppose giving babies vitamin K are often the same folks who push many other types of vitamins - including megadoses of vitamin C, vitamin B12 shots, and extra vitamin D.

Vitamin K Misinformation

So why do some parents skip giving their new baby a vitamin K shot?

It is possible that in doing their research, they have been misled by some of the misinformation about vitamin K that you commonly find on the Internet.

This includes claims that:

  • there is mercury and other toxic ingredients in the vitamin K shots (the truth is that neither mercury or thimerosal nor any other heavy metals are used as a preservative in vitamin K shots and all of the other ingredients are safe too)
  • vitamin K shots cause cancer (the truth is that they don't and an early study that suggested they did was later refuted many times)
  • babies don't need extra vitamin K (the truth is that some do though and it is typically impossible to identify them, except maybe for babies born to mothers taking certain medications - mostly seizure medicine - that put them at extra risk of early vitamin K deficiency bleeding)
  • babies did fine before we started giving them vitamin K shots (the truth is that some died, which is why we started giving vitamin K in the first place)
  • you can just give babies oral vitamin K instead of a vitamin K shot (the truth is that oral vitamin K doesn't work to prevent all cases of late onset vitamin K deficiency, which is also deadly)
  • only boys who get a circumcision need vitamin K (the truth is that we don't know why some infants with vitamin K deficiency bleeding develop bleeding in their brains, as it isn't usually due to any kind of big trauma, so it doesn't have to be something like a circumcision or a fall or whether you delivered vaginally or by C-section, etc. In fact, late onset bleeding can occur up to 12 weeks after a baby is born!)

Just as with vaccine-preventable diseases - and since vitamin K deficiency is now rare - it is easy for parents to be misled by this type of misinformation.

Consequences of Skipping the Vitamin K Shot

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, vitamin K deficiency bleeding "is most effectively prevented by parenteral administration of vitamin K."

While early (birth to two weeks) vitamin K deficiency bleeding can be prevented with either oral vitamin K or a vitamin K shot, late onset (two to 12 weeks) vitamin K deficiency bleeding is best prevented with a vitamin K shot.

Some people didn't get the message though, advising parents to skip the vitamin K shot against all standard medical advice:

  • Dr. Mercola still warns parents about the "jab with a syringe full of vitamin K."
  • Sarah Pope at the Health Home Economist tells parents to "skip that newborn vitamin K shot"
  • 28 percent of parents who delivered at local private birthing centers in Tennessee who had recently declined the vitamin K shot

So what are the consequences of this kind of non-evidence based advice?

They are as much as you would expect when dealing with a potentially life-threatening condition - a rise in vitamin K deficiency bleeding in newborns and infants.

Among the recent cases of early and late vitamin K deficiency bleeding include:

  • seven babies over eight months in 2013 at Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, including three who required surgery to remove clots "out of their head" and who may "have issues with seizure disorders and will have long-term neurological symptoms related to seizures and developmental delays."
  • a three-week-old in Indiana with late onset vitamin K dependent bleeding who was born in a birthing center and whose "parents signed a waiver to forego vaccination and prophylactic therapies," and required an emergency craniotomy to evacuate brain bleeding, prolonged intubation, and difficult to control seizures
  • a six-week-old in Illinois with late onset vitamin K dependent bleeding who never received vitamin K prophylaxis at birth and developed brain bleeding and swelling, seizures, a DVT, and who was hospitalized for 10 days
  • a six-week-old in South Texas with late onset vitamin K dependent bleeding who never received vitamin K prophylaxis at birth and died after developing brain bleeding and seizures
  • an infant in Australia who had not been given a vitamin K shot as per her mother's birth plan and died of late vitamin K deficiency bleeding at 33 days of life
  • infants in Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, and the Netherlands who have suffered from vitamin K deficiency bleeding while receiving oral vitamin K, often because their parents refused a vitamin K shot

Tragically, most parents who refuse vitamin K shots also refuse other potentially life-saving medical interventions, including getting a hepatitis B vaccine and even getting erythromycin eye ointment. And many go on to refuse all childhood vaccines.

On the bright side, the great majority of parents do allow their newborn babies to receive vitamin K when they are born. One study found that only 0.3 percent of parents refused vitamin K.

What to Know About Vitamin K Shots for Babies

The bottom line is that vitamin K shots are a safe way to prevent vitamin K deficiency bleeding.

There is no good reason to skip this shot.

Talk to your pediatrician before you deliver your baby if you are concerned about the vitamin K shot. This is also a good reason to interview a new pediatrician if you don't have one yet.


Adame et al. Closing the Loophole: Midwives and the Administration of Vitamin K in Neonates. Journal of Pediatrics. Volume 154, Issue 5, May 2009, Pages 769–771

American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement. Controversies Concerning Vitamin K and the Newborn. Pediatrics, Jul 2003, 112 (1) 191-192.

Hamrick et al. Reasons for Refusal of Newborn Vitamin K Prophylaxis: Implications for Management and Education. Hospital Pediatrics. 2016. January; 6(1): 15-21.

Rech et al. Prothrombin Complex Concentrate for Intracerebral Hemorrhage Secondary to Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding in a 6-Week-Old Child. Journal of Pediatrics 2015;167:1443-4

Sahni et al. Neonatal Vitamin K Refusal and Nonimmunization. Pediatrics 2014;134:497–503

Schulte et al. Rise in Late Onset Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding in Young Infants Because of Omission or Refusal of Prophylaxis at Birth. Pediatr Neurol 2014; 50: 564-568

Mihatsch et al. Prevention of Vitamin K deficiency bleeding in newborn infants: a position paper by the ESPGHAN Committee on Nutrition. Journal Of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition. 2016 Apr 4. [Epub ahead of print]

Continue Reading