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Information for expectant parents on vitamin K for newborns

Vitamin K is recommended for all newborn babies in the UK, to prevent a rare but potentially serious condition called vitamin K deficiency bleeding (VKDB). It is recommended that expectant parents read this information leaflet before their baby is born, so they are fully informed and have the time to make a decision prior to the birth.

February 29, 2024

A team of medical professionals from the UK have produced an information leaflet to help inform parents about giving vitamin K for newborn babies. Parents need this information as vitamin K is recommended for all newborns but parental consent must be obtained before vitamin k can be given. A number of experts in paediatric medicines (listed at the end of this article) have developed this information sheet to help expectant parents understand why vitamin K is recommended, and the potential risks of not giving it.

The full information leaflet is available to read and download here:


Why do newborns need vitamin k?

Our bodies need vitamin K in order to form blood clots and to stop bleeding. We get enough vitamin K from the food we eat but also some vitamin K can be made by the bacteria that live in our gut. Babies are born with very low levels of vitamin K stored in their bodies as it does not easily transfer from the mother’s body and the bacteria that produce vitamin K are not yet present in the newborn’s intestines, so at birth they can be deficient.

What is vitamin K deficiency bleeding?

Vitamin K deficiency bleeding (VKDB) occurs when babies cannot stop bleeding because their blood does not have enough vitamin K to form a clot. The bleeding can occur anywhere on the inside or outside of the body. When the bleeding occurs inside the body, it can be difficult to notice and there may be minimal warning signs.

Is my baby at risk of vitamin K deficiency bleeding?

Babies are at risk of VKDB for up to a year after birth if they do not receive vitamin K. Some babies only experience mild bruising. However, VKBD can cause bleeding from the mouth, tummy button (umbilicus) or back passage. If not treated, babies can be at risk of bleeding in the brain, which can cause permanent brain damage or death.

About 1 in 2,000 babies are at risk of VKBD within a week of birth. About 1 in 11,000 are at risk of getting VKBD later than this and more than half of these babies have bleeding in the brain. The risk of VKBD in babies treated with vitamin K is reduced to very low levels of around 1 in 100,000, meaning that VKDB is almost completely prevented. This is why the treatment is recommended.

Unfortunately, some parents have been deciding not to give their baby vitamin K, after finding comments about a possible connection with cancer when looking for information on the internet. These comments stem from a single small study carried out over 30 years ago which suggested that children who received vitamin K might have an increased risk of blood cancer. However, many more studies around the world have been conducted since then and have found no evidence of any link.

How is vitamin K given and when?

Vitamin K is usually given as an injection into a leg muscle soon after birth. However, some babies may have vitamin K given in the form of mouth drops that the parents administer through multiple doses.

It is recommended that expectant parents read this information leaflet before their baby is born, so they are fully informed and have the time and space to make a decision.

Thank you’s

We would like to thank the following health professionals who gave their time and significant expertise to develop this information leaflet.

  • Lucy Stachow (Neonatal Pharmacist), Alice Kavati (Advanced Neonatal Nurse Practitioner), and Robin Miralles (Neonatal Consultant) from University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust
  • Anne Haddick (Neonatal Consultant), Majella Moohan (Neonatal Pharmacist) and Sarah Berry (Neonatal Consultant) from the Royal Jubilee Maternity Service in Belfast.