Vitamin K is A-Okay

the science behind the booster shot that can make a world of difference
vitamin k newborn
© Can Stock Photo Inc. / Anke

As a parent, it can be hard to watch your brand new little one, fresh from the womb, get poked and prodded before there’s even a chance to meet them! It’s a lot to go through (for both of you!), but the discomfort is quickly forgotten as they cuddle up next to your warm skin. One of those “pokes”, the vitamin K shot, has been getting more attention lately, as some parents are opting to forego this necessary newborn supplement.

Vitamin K is essential for the blood’s ability to clot, preventing hemorrhaging and other blood-related disorders. While we are born with blood clotting factors (proteins), they must be activated by vitamin K, of which the body produces too little on its own, requiring outside supplementation. Enter the vitamin K shot. Typically administered in the first six hours of life, this single injection’s purpose is to boost baby’s vitamin K levels and activate coagulation from day one.

What is Vitamin K Good For?

Some parents may question the necessity for the injection as, yes, babies will eventually begin to build their vitamin K levels as food is introduced. The trouble is that bleeding disorders can often be silent, and by the time they are discovered, severe damage can already have been done. Without a vitamin K injection at birth, newborns are eighty-one times more likely to suffer from severe bleeding than those who do not get the shot. Vitamin K deficiency bleeding (VKDB), a disorder that causes severe internal or external bleeding that cannot be stopped, can develop at any point between birth and six months of age, leading to brain damage and the death of one in five diagnosed babies.1

There has been some further debate among parents about whether or not to administer the injection due to the presence of “toxins,” namely polysorbate 80 and propylene glycol, both of which have been deemed safe by the FDA. Additionally, there is concern over a 1990 study that showed a possible link between the vitamin K injection and an increased risk for leukemia—at time of writing, twelve subsequent studies have shown no connection between the injection and leukemia.

Some may also advocate a watch-and-wait practice with regards to vitamin K. However, it’s important to keep in mind that since the body does not produce enough vitamin K on its own, nor does vitamin K efficiently cross the placenta during pregnancy, nor is it found in adequate levels in breastmilk, healthy vitamin K levels may not be reached until foods are introduced, which may not be until six months of age! It is worth noting that there are no reported cases of VKBD in formula-fed babies, as formula is typically fortified with vitamin K.

Some parents may decide to opt for an oral dose of vitamin K instead of an injection. While the risks would be lower than no treatment at all, vitamin K delivered orally is far less effectively absorbed than the shot, and must be given repeatedly at specific times over the first few weeks of life. Late VKDB (appearing within three to eight weeks of age) has been shown to increase in countries that routinely administer oral K versus intramuscular injection. If you choose to go this route, consult with your healthcare provider on the appropriate dosing protocol, which is essential for the program to work to its maximum potential.

A little needle prick is an uncomfortable-but-quickly-forgotten experience for your tiny baby and you! Ensuring your new bundle of joy has enough vitamin K is a simple way of preventing a very serious condition so you can get on with the hard and wonderful business of parenting.

You may also enjoy: Vitamin K2 for Bone and Heart HealthBaby's First Green Smoothie Recipe, and Your First Visit to a Naturopathic Pediatrician

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