Terms Explained: what’s Vitamin K?

Vitamin K is a nutrient that helps your blood clot and helps your body absorb calcium (which makes your bones stronger, preventing fractures). It’s called Vitamin K after its German name, Koagulationsvitamin.

If you’ve heard about Vitamin K before, it may have been in relation to newborns. It’s important to note that adults also need Vitamin K, and we can get it from things like green tea or green vegetables such as asparagus or spinach.

But, newborns aren’t sipping tea or preparing a nice salad just yet. So how do they get Vitamin K?

Vitamin K does cross the placenta and pass into human milk, but not in high enough quantities to jump start a baby’s clotting ability. So while feeding a baby human milk can help increase supply of Vitamin K in their bodies, human milk alone isn’t enough to prevent some of the terrible outcomes that can occur when a baby’s body doesn’t have enough Vitamin K – particularly VKDB.

VKDB stands for Vitamin K deficiency bleeding. It’s a bleeding problem, where basically a baby starts bleeding and cannot stop, that can occur in babies under six month old (as they don’t have enough Vitamin K stores to help with clotting). This condition can be fatal.

However, it is also very preventable. One intramuscular shot of Vitamin K, typically given within 6 hours of birth, gives nearly all babies all the Vitamin K they need to clot properly if they do bleed. And research hasn’t found any notable side effects for babies who get the shot. So, as you might imagine, it’s become standard for providers to offer parents a Vitamin K shot for their newborns. Some providers also offer oral preparations for newborns, but these are less common in the U.S.

For more information about why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the Vitamin K shot so strongly, read their statement here.

Also, here’s an overview of the current research on Vitamin K and newborns, and here’s an interview on the topic with the person whose organization produced that overview.

Got a question about vitamin K or any of the other standard newborn procedures? Comment below!

Photo by KOBU Agency on Unsplash

Additional Sources:

Info on Vitamin K

Info on Vitamin K in human milk

Info on VKDB

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