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Vitamin K at Birth: To Inject or Not - The Numbers

Written by Linda Folden Palmer, D.C.   
Friday, 27 June 2008 11:17
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Vitamin K at Birth: To Inject or Not
The Numbers
Editor's Note
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The Numbers

Extracting data from available literature reveals that there are 1.5 extra cases of leukemia per 100,000 children due to vitamin K injections, and 1.8 more permanent injuries or deaths per 100,000 due to brain bleeding without injections. Adding the risk of infection or damage from the injections, including a local skin disease called "scleroderma" that is seen rarely with K injections,7 and even adding the possibility of healthy survival from leukemia, the scales remain tipped toward breastfed infants receiving a prophylactic vitamin K supplementation. However, there are better options than the .5 or 1 milligram injections typically given to newborns.

A Better Solution

The breastfed infant can be supplemented with several low oral doses (possibly 200 micrograms per week for 5 weeks, totaling 1 milligram, even more gradual introduction may be better). Alternatively, the nursing mother can take vitamin K supplements daily or twice weekly for 10 weeks. Supplementation of the pregnant mother does not alter fetal levels but supplementation of the nursing mother does increase breastmilk and infant levels.

Either of these provides a much safer rate of vitamin K supplementation. Maternal supplementation of 2.5 mg per day, recommended by one author, provides a higher level of vitamin K through breast milk than does formula,9 and may be much more than necessary.

Formula provides 10 times the U.S. recommended daily allowance," and this RDA is about 2 times the level in unsupplemented human milk. One milligram per day for 10 weeks for mother provides a cumulative extra 1 milligram to her infant over the important period and seems reasonable. Neither mother nor infant require supplementation if the infant is injected at birth.10

The Bottom Line

There is no overwhelming reason to discontinue this routine prophylactic injection for breastfed infants. Providing information about alternatives to allow informed parents to refuse would be reasonable. These parents may then decide to provide some gradual supplementation, or, for an entirely healthy term infant, they may simply provide diligent watchfulness for any signs of jaundice (yellowing of eyes or skin) or easy bleeding.

There appears to be no harm in supplementing this vitamin in a gradual manner however. Currently, injections are provided to infants intended for formula feeding as well, although there appears to be no need as formula provides good gradual supplementation. Discontinuing routine injections for this group alone could reduce cases of leukemia.

One more curious look at childhood leukemia is the finding that when any nation lowers its rate of infant deaths, their rate of childhood leukemia increases.11 Vitamin K injections may be responsible for some part of this number, but other factors are surely involved, about which we can only speculate.

References:

1. L.G. Israels et al., "The riddle of vitamin K1 deficit in the newborn," Semin Perinatol 21, no. 1 (Feb 1997): 90-6.

2. P. Reverdiau-Moalic et al., "Evolution of blood coagulation activators and inhibitors in the healthy human fetus," Blood (France) 88, no. 3 (Aug 1996): 900-6.

3. A.H. Sutor et al., "Late form of vitamin K deficiency bleeding in Germany," Klin Padiatr (Germany) 207, no. 3 (May-Jun 1995): 89-97.

4. L. Parker et al., "Neonatal vitamin K administration and childhood cancer in the north of England: retrospective case-control study," BMJ (England) 316, no. 7126 (Jan 1998): 189-93.

5. S.J. Passmore et al., "Case-control studies of relation between childhood cancer and neonatal vitamin K administration," BMJ (England) 316, no. 7126 (Jan 1998): 178-84.

6. E. Roman et al., "Vitamin K and childhood cancer: analysis of individual patient data from six case-control studies," Br J Cancer (England) 86, no. 1 (Jan 2002): 63-9.

7. M. Andrew, "The relevance of developmental hemostasis to hemorrhagic disorders of newborns," Semin Perinatol 21, no. 1 (Feb 1997): 70-85.

8. E. Bourrat et al., "[Scleroderma-like patch on the thigh in infants after vitamin K injection at birth: six observations]," Ann Dermatol Venereol (France) 123, no. 10 (1996): 634-8.

9. A.H. Sutor, "Vitamin K deficiency bleeding in infants and children," Semin Thromb Hemost (Germany) 21, no. 3 (1995): 317-29.

10. S. Bolisetty, "Vitamin K in preterm breast milk with maternal supplementation," Acta Paediatr (Australia) 87, no. 9 (Sep 1998): 960-2.

11. K. Hogenbirk et al., "The effect of formula versus breast feeding and exogenous vitamin K1 supplementation on circulating levels of vitamin K1 and vitamin K-dependent clotting factors in newborns," Eur J Pediatr 152, no. 1 (Jan 1993): 72-4.

12. A. Stewart, "Etiology of childhood leukemia: a possible alternative to the Greaves hypothesis," Leuk Res (England) 14, nos. 11-12 (1990): 937-9.