Explainer: What is the vitamin K injection, and why do newborns need it?

A five-week-old baby had a brain haemorrhage following his parents’ decision to decline a vitamin K injection, The Daily Telegraph reported on Sunday.

The baby is now in a serious condition and, if he survives, will most likely be severely disabled, according to Telegraph journalist Jane Hansen.

The baby, from northern New South Wales, is said to be caught up in the growing anti-vaccination movement happening in Australia.

“It’s difficult to see how the anti-vaxers have got hold of vitamin K as their latest bit of science to reject but it is wilfully negligent to deny your child a perfectly safe, potentially life-saving treatment,” Australian Medical Association (AMA) president, Dr Michael Gannon, told Mamamia.

“This poor little baby, if it survives, there’s a very good chance it will have cerebral palsy,” he added.

The obstetrician says the vitamin K shot can prevent “disasters” but some parents are refusing it because they have been given false advice that it might be dangerous.

“This is just a very safe, simple, cheap, effective form of science. It prevents a devastating condition. If you as a parent get it wrong, your child has a stroke, your child can die or can be damaged for ever,” Dr Gannon told Mamamia.

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Would you take the risk? Image via iStock.

Vitamin K explained

The injection is a treatment to prevent a condition called hemorrhagic disease, which causes bleeding problems in newborns.

Vitamin K is needed for blood clotting and the injection is given to babies because they don't yet have enough vitamin K in their bodies to make the relevant blood clotting factors.

"I have seen a baby die of vitamin K deficiency and it's just an absolute tragedy. It is utterly ridiculous that someone would decline this kind of treatment," says Dr Gannon.

"The vitamin K we give babies is chemically identical [to what] they'll develop the capacity to make as they mature.

"The ability to absorb vitamin K, turn it into its active form and make for clotting factors relies on gut bacteria and that's why newborn babies don't have the maturity because they don't have gut bacteria to do it."

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The treatment is offered orally or via injection, but some parents are put off by a jab in the first hours of a newborn's life.

"The oral vitamin K is better than none at all but because the babies don't have the gut maturity to absorb it properly. That's why we recommend it's administered as an intramuscular injection," Dr Gannon said.

"Doctors are never threatened by people asking for information about why we recommend treatment, at the same time, there's no controversy here. This is just one of the things you should say yes to and move on," he added.

The Department of Health say states and territories offer vitamin K as part of routine child and maternal health care.

"There is no proven risk to using it," says Dr Gannon.

"It is a naturally occurring vitamin."

For more information visit the National Health and Medical Research Council's information for parents - here

 

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