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Vitamin K at birth

5-minute read

Key facts

  • Vitamin K helps your baby’s blood to clot.
  • Babies need more vitamin K than they get from their mother during pregnancy or from breast milk.
  • Parents of all newborns are offered a vitamin K injection for their baby soon after birth.
  • This helps prevent babies from becoming vitamin K deficient.
  • Without the injection, they are at risk of developing a condition called Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding (known as VKDB).

What is vitamin K?

Vitamin K is an essential vitamin, and has an important role in maintaining good health by helping blood to clot. Vitamin K helps prevent serious bleeding.

Why is vitamin K important for my baby?

Vitamin K helps your baby’s blood clot and prevents serious bleeding. Babies do not get enough vitamin K naturally from their mother during pregnancy. Breast milk also does not provide babies with enough levels of vitamin K. This can result in vitamin K deficiency in newborns.

If your baby has vitamin K deficiency, they are at risk of developing a disease called Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding, or VKDB. While VKDB is rare, it can be very serious as it can cause babies to bleed excessively and may cause them to bleed into their brain. This condition may result in brain damage and even death.

How is vitamin K given?

Vitamin K is usually given as a single injection in your baby’s leg muscle shortly after birth. If you prefer that your baby does not get an injection, they can have liquid vitamin K drops into their mouth. It is important to note that oral vitamin K drops are not absorbed as well by the body than injected vitamin K, so 3 doses of oral vitamin K are needed. The first dose is given at birth, the second at 3 to 5 days of age and the third when they are 4 weeks old.

Vitamin K injections are preferred over the oral drops for all babies. Some babies aren’t able to have oral vitamin K, such as if the mother was taking certain medications while pregnant, or if your baby is premature, unwell, taking antibiotics or has diarrhoea.

Can all babies have vitamin K?

Yes, all babies can have vitamin K. If your baby is premature or very small, they might need a smaller dose of vitamin K. You can discuss this with your doctor.

How much does vitamin K cost?

Vitamin K injections or drops are free. The cost is covered by the government for all babies born in Australia.

Does vitamin K have any side effects? What should I look out for?

Vitamin K in newborns is not associated with any side effects, and has been given to Australian babies for more than 30 years. Studies have investigated whether there is an association between injected vitamin K and childhood cancers. Doctors and scientists have concluded that vitamin K injections are safe and beneficial for babies, and that there is no link between vitamin K and childhood cancer.

If your baby has not had a vitamin K injection or the full 3-dose course of vitamin K oral drops it is important that you look out for:

  • unexplained bleeding or bruising
  • showing signs of jaundice after they are 3 weeks old

If they show any of these symptoms, see your doctor or midwife immediately.

If your baby has liver problems, they may be at a higher risk of bleeding, even if they have had their recommended dose of vitamin K.

Does my baby need to have vitamin K?

It is your choice whether to give your baby vitamin K or not. However, giving vitamin K to your newborn is an easy way to prevent a very serious disease. Health authorities in Australia and throughout the world recommend giving vitamin K to all newborn babies — even babies who were born prematurely or are sick.

How do I get vitamin K for my baby?

During your pregnancy your doctor or midwife will talk to you about vitamin K, including the pros and cons of giving your baby vitamin K by injection or by mouth. Your doctor or midwife will then note this on your file. Your baby will receive vitamin K soon after birth by a doctor or a midwife, based on your decision.

If you have chosen to give your baby vitamin K by mouth then your baby will need to receive 2 more doses after the dose they receive at birth. The second dose can be given in hospital at the same time as your baby has their newborn screening test, or by your local doctor or healthcare worker. It is important to remember to arrange your baby’s third dose when they are 4 weeks old. This important final dose can also be given by your doctor or health care worker.

If you are having a home birth, be sure to discuss giving your baby vitamin K with your midwife. Homebirth midwives are required to have all essential equipment available for a planned home birth, including vitamin K injections.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: June 2022

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Vitamin K for newborns | NHMRC

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Read more on NHMRC – National Health and Medical Research Council website

Vitamin K and newborn babies - Better Health Channel

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