Why Do Newborns Get Vitamin K
Babies have a lot going on during those first few weeks of life — they’re getting bigger all the time, gaining weight and learning how to eat. They also need special nutrients that were only discovered recently. One nutrient that’s particularly important for newborns is vitamin K. It was only until about 30 years ago that scientists realized this powerful vitamin had been missing from our diets since the Middle Ages.
What does vitamin K do? The short version is it helps your body make proteins called prothrombin inside cells. Prothrombin forms clots on damaged or broken blood vessels so when something gets cut or punctured, blood doesn’t spill everywhere. Without enough vitamin K, babies could end up developing dangerously large blood clots because their body isn’t making enough prothrombin. This condition is called vitamin K deficiency bleeding (VKDB) or neonatal coagulopathy. In extreme cases, these clots can cause severe internal hemorrhaging leading to seizures, coma, blindness and even death. And if you think you might be at risk for having a baby who has VKDB, there are some simple tests you can take to find out.
The good news is that most mothers don’t pass along much of this vital vitamin to their children. But what happens to babies whose moms don’t breastfeed them? How much vitamin K should kids get every day? And why do we sometimes give it to newborns who aren’t supposed to receive any supplements yet? Read on to learn more about the importance of vitamin K and its role in helping keep us healthy.
How Much Vitamin K Should Kids Get Every Day?
When it comes to vitamin K, experts agree that babies under 12 months old shouldn’t receive any supplement at all. Why not? Because once a kid starts eating solid foods, he’ll start producing his own vitamin K. So by then, the amount of vitamin K he needs will be covered naturally. Once kids hit age 1, though, doctors recommend giving them 10 micrograms of vitamin K per day. That translates into two tablespoons of liquid cod liver oil, as well as one milligram of vitamin K1 found in spinach, broccoli, sweet potatoes and other dark green vegetables.
Some people may worry that too much vitamin K can hurt a child’s health. But researchers say that’s not true. A study published in 2007 showed that infants given extra vitamin K didn’t suffer more bruising than others who weren’t given any extra K. What’s more, studies show that taking just a little bit of vitamin K can help reduce the chance of a child developing certain types of cancer later in life.
So far, research hasn’t shown that too much vitamin K causes any harm. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against giving kids over 4 years old any type of vitamin K supplements. Doctors advise parents to talk to their pediatricians before giving their young children supplements containing more than 100 micrograms per day of vitamin K.
For many years, doctors recommended that pregnant women take 500 micrograms of vitamin K daily to prevent birth defects. But that recommendation was based on an older study that turned out to be faulty. A proper review of available data concluded that the original evidence wasn’t strong enough to support such a high dose. Today, doctors instead recommend 400 micrograms of vitamin K3 — the active ingredient in vitamin K — per day during pregnancy. If you’ve already taken the full course of vitamin K, you may still be able to increase your intake. Talk to your doctor about whether you’d benefit from doing anything differently while pregnant.
Newborns often require lots of care and attention after they arrive home from the hospital. To learn more about caring for new arrivals, read “What You Need to Know About Caring For Your Baby.”
If you’ve ever seen a baby being held upside down, you may remember seeing the umbilical cord hanging free. When this happens, oxygen can’t reach the baby’s heart, so it stops beating. Fortunately, this problem is easily fixed by placing the baby back on his stomach. The same goes for breathing difficulties caused by a blockage in the airway. After the baby has been placed back on his belly, someone must hold him upright — otherwise, his head would fall forward again.
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