Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding in the Newborn

What is vitamin K deficiency bleeding in a newborn?

Vitamin K deficiency bleeding is a problem that occurs in some newborn babies. It happens during the first few days and weeks of life. This condition used to be called hemorrhagic disease of the newborn. Vitamin K deficiency bleeding after the first 3 or 4 weeks of life is usually due to problems other than those listed here.

What causes vitamin K deficiency bleeding in a newborn?

Babies are normally born with low levels of vitamin K. Vitamin K is needed for blood to clot. Not having enough vitamin K is the main cause of vitamin deficiency bleeding. If your baby’s blood doesn’t clot, he or she may have severe bleeding or a hemorrhage. This can be life-threatening.

Who is at risk for vitamin K deficiency bleeding in a newborn?

These things may make it more likely for a baby to have this condition:

  • Not getting a vitamin K shot at birth.The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all newborns get a vitamin K shot. This can prevent severe bleeding. 
  • Being breastfed only and not getting a vitamin K shot at birth. Breastmilk has less vitamin K than formula made with cow’s milk. The vitamin K shot will provide what a breastfed baby needs.
  • Being born to a mother who took certain medicines during pregnancy. These include medicines for seizures (anticonvulsants) and medicines for blood clotting problems (anticoagulants).

What are the symptoms of vitamin K deficiency bleeding in a newborn?

Symptoms can occur a bit differently in each child. They can include:

  • Blood in your baby's bowel movements
  • Blood in your baby's urine
  • Oozing around your baby’s umbilical cord
  • Bruising more easily than normal. This may happen around your baby's head and face.
  • Unusual, excessive sleepiness or fussiness. (In severe cases, vitamin K deficiency may cause bleeding in and around the brain.)

The symptoms of this condition may be similar to symptoms of other health issues. Make sure your child sees a healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is vitamin K deficiency bleeding in a newborn diagnosed?

Your child’s healthcare provider will look at his or her health history. The healthcare provider will also check your baby for signs of bleeding. Your baby may need lab tests to measure his or her blood clotting times. The results of these tests can help your child’s healthcare provider make the diagnosis.

How is vitamin K deficiency bleeding in a newborn treated?

Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.

Your baby may need a blood transfusion if he or she has severe bleeding.

What are possible complications of vitamin K deficiency bleeding in a newborn?

Vitamin K deficiency bleeding can lead to life-threatening problems. These include dangerous bleeding that can lead to brain damage or death.

Can vitamin K deficiency bleeding in a newborn be prevented?

This condition can be prevented. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all newborns get a vitamin K shot. Your child will get a shot into his or her upper leg (thigh) muscle. This shot will be given soon after birth. This will prevent dangerous bleeding.

Key points about vitamin K deficiency bleeding in a newborn

  • Vitamin K deficiency bleeding is a problem that occurs in some newborns. It happens during the first few days of life.
  • Babies are normally born with low levels of vitamin K. Not having enough vitamin K is the main cause of this condition.
  • Your child’s healthcare provider will diagnose this condition. This will be based on your child’s signs of bleeding and lab tests for blood clotting times.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all newborns get a vitamin K shot. This can prevent this condition. 
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