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ABC’s of Newborns- K is for Vitamin K…

by | Jul 1, 2019 | Labor & Birth, Newborns

In the same way the decision where and how to have birth is 100% your decision, so is nearly every decision regarding your infant once he or she is born.  One of the first decisions you will have to make nearly right after your infant is born is whether or not to go ahead with the standard newborn treatment regimen: Vitamin K injection, Erythromycin eye ointment, and a Hepatitis B vaccine. There will be lots of hard parenting decisions in the future. We make these decisions easy for you by breaking down each of these newborn procedures. 

Vitamin K

Babies are born with Vitamin K deficiency (the vitamin has trouble crossing the placenta and there is very low levels in breastmilk!) which can be potentially dangerous if the baby needs surgery or has blood loss or trauma following birth, as Vitamin K is used by the body to form blood clots and stop bleeding.  When excess bleeding occurs as a result of low Vitamin K levels, it is often referred to as “Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding”, or VKDB.

So, how do I know if my baby needs supplemental Vitamin K? Can’t I just wait until later and see if he or she needs the Vitamin K shot?

Unfortunately, waiting can sometimes be the difference between life and death.  A baby can sometimes look perfectly fine and there can be bleeding in the intestines or brain where you can’t really notice from the outside.  Due to this risk, most doctors recommend a quick Vitamin K shot in the baby’s thigh right after birth to boost Vitamin K levels and blood clotting abilities.

Currently, there are no known adverse effects from the vitamin K injection besides a little injection site irritation. 

Eye Ointment

In the late 1800s, about 10% of babies born in hospitals developed ophthalmia neonatorum, or neonatal conjunctivitis, in the first four months of life.  This is caused by a nasty infection on the layer of thin tissue that covers the inner part of the eyelid and the white of the eye, and led to permanent blindness in roughly 3% of cases.  

It was then discovered that the most common cause of this type of pink eye is chlamydia and gonorrhea.

I’m sure most of the people reading this blog have had pink eye before, and know that it’s no fun at all. While pink eye caused by common bacteria, like staph and strep, it will not cause permanent damage, hospitals generally recommend infants receive a quick dose of erythromycin eye ointment shortly after birth because it can be helpful in preventing pink eye in these cases too.

Risks of this antibiotic ointment includes eye irritation which can potentially interfere with bonding or cause chemical pink eye.

Hepatitis B Vaccine

The last thing doctors and prominent healthcare agencies recommend all babies receive before leaving the hospital is their first dose of the Hepatitis B vaccine.  It is recommended that this vaccine be administered within the first 24 hours after birth to help fight off this potentially fatal disease. Hepatitis B is a viral infection that attacks the liver, and can cause acute and chronic disease. It is spread via bodily fluids, blood, saliva, semen, and can be transmitted when these bodikly fluids come into contact with broken skin around the mouth, genitals or rectum.

You’re probably wondering how a newborn could even contract hepatitis B. It is not only contracted through just sex and needle sharing. While pregnant persons are tested for hepatitis B during their prenatal care, there is always the possibility of false negatives. Most people do not even know they have hepatitis B because symptoms don’t appear until much later. Also, the hepatitis B vaccine is meant to protect them during their preschool years and beyond when they have a greater chance of coming into contact with hepatitis B. 

Parents can choose to decline the immunization altogether or to delay it.

The AAP recommends that all medically stable newborns weighing 4lbs and 6oz or more receive the vaccine within the first 24 hours to maximize the effectiveness in preventing newborn infection.  

As with all decisions regarding your pregnancy, labor, and birthing journey, every decision has benefits and risks.  It is up to you to weigh these benefits and risks and make the decision that is best for you mentally, physically, and emotionally.  Everyone’s situation is different, so just remember that your opinion and perspective on every aspect of pregnancy, labor, birth, postpartum, and your baby is valid and respected.  Always feel free to reach out to your doctor, midwife, or doula for more information regarding this standard newborn regimen so you can make an informed choice that is best for you and baby.


Sam Steel


Miami Beach, FL



We are doulas living in Miami with a love for cafecito, pregnancy and newborns. We are the experts and the moms who have been there sharing our best tips and tricks with a side of inspiration. Our goal? Help you kick ass at this parenting gig.

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