One of the very first things on a doctor or midwife’s to do list after the birth of your baby is an injection of vitamin K. The purpose of this shot is to assist the newborn with blood clotting capabilities in order to prevent the very rare and slow problem of bleeding into the brain in the weeks after birth (risk in about one in every 10,000 live births).
The shot also is a supposed safeguard in case your car is involved in a car wreck on the way home from the hospital or birthing center with newborn in tow. Even a mild injury to a newborn could be life threatening if blood clotting capability is not adequate.
At first blush, allowing the vitamin K shot seems to be a no brainer. Safety of this precious, helpless little being is of paramount importance and questioning the necessity of this shot seems ludicrous. Since questioning the unquestionable is something I seem to have a knack for, let’s have at it. Is the vitamin K shot really of any value?
Let’s start with the vitamin K used in the shot itself. Is it a natural form of vitamin K such as would be found in leafy greens (K1) or butter (K2)? No, it is a synthetic vitamin K – generic name phytonadione. Synthetic vitamins should be avoided as they can cause imbalances in the body and have unintended consequences. For example, synthetic vitamin A actually causes the type of birth defects that natural vitamin A prevents!
How much synthetic vitamin K is in the shot? Shockingly, the national standard mandated by most states for US hospitals to administer is over 100 times the infant’s RDA of this nutrient. Since studies have linked large doses of vitamin K with childhood cancers and leukemia, this large dose of synthetic K administered within minutes of birth seems questionable at best.
The fact is that medical science still does not know that much about the metabolic fate of vitamin K. Little to no unmetabolized vitamin K shows up in urine or bile. This is disturbing given the fact that vitamin K is a fat soluble vitamin and therefore has the potential to accumulate in body tissues. More disturbing is that the liver of a newborn does not begin to function until 3 or 4 days after birth. As a result, this little being has very limited to no ability to detoxify the large dose of synthetic vitamin K and all other the dangerous ingredients in the injection cocktail including:
- Phenol (carbolic acid – a poisonous substance derived from coal tar)
- Benzyl alcohol (preservative)
- Propylene glycol (better known as antifreeze and a hydraulic in brake fluid)
- Acetic acid (astringent, antimicrobial agent)
- Hydrochloric acid
- Castor oil
The manufacturer’s insert included with the shot includes the following warning, “Severe reactions, including fatalities, have occurred during and immediately after intravenous injection of phytonadione even when precautions have been taken to dilute the vitamin and avoid rapid infusion …”
If that isn’t enough to scare you, Midwifery Digest, Vol 2 #3, September 1992 estimated that the chance of your child developing leukemia from the vitamin K shot is about one in 500! This means that the risk of developing leukemia from the vitamin K shot is much higher than the risk of bleeding on the brain which the vitamin K shot is supposed to prevent!
Does any of this make any sense to you? It makes absolutely no sense to me. How could anyone say that this shot is safe and effective for newborns?
Safe Alternatives to the Synthetic Vitamin K Shot
How about this for an alternative – eat lots of leafy greens in the weeks before your due date (I drank a cup or two of nettle tea every day in the final weeks which is loaded with vitamin K1) to make sure your blood is high in vitamin K and of course, this will transfer to your baby as well. Does vitamin K pass the placenta? It most certainly does as do all the fat soluble vitamins (source).
Another important point is to make sure you breastfeed your child as the probiotics in breastmilk will seed your baby’s digestive tract with the right type of good bacteria which will produce naturally occurring vitamin K immediately after birth.
Skip the shot, eat your greens, and breastfeed. Now, THAT makes some sense.
Update: On October 17, 2013, a case of anaphylactic shock in a newborn from the synthetic vitamin K shot was reported making the possibility of death from this shot a a very real side effect (source).
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist