Vitamin K

Information for parents-to-be.

Obstetrics and gynaecology

The Department of Health recommends that all babies are given a vitamin K supplement at birth. However the decision is entirely yours about whether your baby receives extra vitamin K and how it is given. We hope the information given in this booklet will help you make your choice.

What is vitamin K?

Vitamin K is a substance that is found naturally in the body. It plays an essential role in the normal process of blood clotting.

Why does my baby need vitamin K?

A newborn baby does not have enough vitamin K and is at risk of bleeding from the nose, mouth or into the brain. This is called Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding (VKDB).

Whilst this is a rare condition affecting 1 in 10,000 babies born at full term, bleeding which may occur in the brain, can cause brain damage or even death.

Giving vitamin K supplements in sufficient amount can eliminate that risk.

Do all babies need supplementary vitamin K?

Yes, all babies may be at risk but certain babies are at a higher risk. These include:

  • Babies of mothers who take anticonvulsants (for epilepsy etc.)
  • Babies born prematurely, before 37 weeks of pregnancy
  • Babies who have had a complication at birth. e.g. forceps delivery
  • Babies with liver disorders
  • Babies who fail to take or find it hard to feed
  • Babies who are ill for other reasons
  • Babies who are exclusively breastfed are more likely to develop VKDB compared to formula fed. This is because manufacturers add vitamin K to formula milk.

Is vitamin K safe to give to babies?

In the early 1990s it was suggested that vitamin K injections might increase the risk of leukaemia in children, however there have been many more reports disproving this. Current well-informed scientific opinion is that there is no risk.

How is vitamin K given?

There are two methods of giving vitamin K to your baby.

  • By injection
  • By mouth

The Department of Obstetricians and Gynaecology and Children and Young people’s services at The Rotherham NHS foundation Trust, Department of Health (DoH), National institute of clinical excellence (NICE) all recommend that all babies should receive a single dose of vitamin K at birth by an injection in their thigh.

You can choose to not give your baby the vitamin K injection at birth, or may prefer a different way of giving vitamin K to your baby. In that case, we recommend your baby is given vitamin K orally (by mouth) at birth.

Disadvantages of giving vitamin K orally

  1. There is evidence that having vitamin K orally is not as effective as by injection.
  2. If you are breastfeeding your baby, to get enough protection from oral vitamin K, 2 further doses will be needed, at age 4 to 7 days and at age 4 weeks. If your baby is bottle fed, no further doses are necessary after the first dose at birth.

If you have any questions or concerns, please speak to your Midwife or contact the Community Midwifery Office on 01709 427253.

Vitamin K - Information for parents-to-be - patient information leaflet
Produced by: N Humphrey, June 2006
Date Revised: December 2007, January 2009, January 2011, May 2013, January 2021, January 2023
Next Revision Due: January 2025. Version: 7.0
©The Rotherham NHS Foundation Trust 2023. All rights reserved.

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  • Page last reviewed: 23 February 2023
  • Next review due: 23 February 2024