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Vitamin K Deficiency Can Cause Newborn Babies To Bleed Uncontrollably: Here's Why And How To Prevent It

Bleeding issues in babies can be a tell-tale sign of vitamin K deficiency. Our expert explains why it occurs and how it can be prevented.

Tenzin Chodon
Written by: Tenzin ChodonUpdated at: Aug 29, 2023 17:34 IST
Vitamin K Deficiency Can Cause Newborn Babies To Bleed Uncontrollably: Here's Why And How To Prevent It

Onlymyhealth Tamil

The sight of blood can throw you off, more so if the bleeding occurs in babies. One of the conditions that can lead to it is vitamin K deficiency. Vitamin K is an essential nutrient that comes in two forms namely phylloquinone, found in leafy veggies, and menaquinones, found in animal and fermented foods. The body needs this vitamin to form clots and stop bleeding. 

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), babies have very little vitamin K in their bodies, especially at birth because only a small amount gets transferred to them through the placenta from their mothers. This makes them prone to vitamin K deficiency and bleeding issues. Dr Samudrala Bharathi, Chief of Lab Services, Hitech Diagnostics Center, Chennai, sheds light on the same and explains the connection. 

Also Read: The Vitamin That Can Reduce Your Risk Of Prostate Cancer: How To Get Optimum Levels

What Is Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding (VKDB)?

VKDB occurs when infants cannot stop bleeding because they do not have enough vitamin K in their bodies to help form blood clots. The CDC suggests a baby with VKDB can bleed into his or her intestines, or into the brain, which can lead to brain damage and even death. 

The first case of VKDB in newborns was reported by Charles Townsend in 1894, with 50 neonates with a bleeding disorder occurring 2–3 days after birth. It was then termed as haemorrhagic disease of the newborn and now is referred to as VKDB. 

“The current day incidence of classic VKDB is estimated to be 0.25-1.7%,” says Dr Bharathi, adding, “Vitamin K-Dependent Clotting Factors Deficiency (VKCFD) is extremely rare with less than 30 cases worldwide and affects males and females equally.”

Why Is VKDB Prevalent Among Babies

According to Dr Bharathi, babies do not receive an adequate amount of vitamin K through the placenta and are born with low to undetectable concentrations of the nutrient and its subtypes. These are required for clotting factors, development of bone and to reduce cardiovascular abnormalities. 

The CDC explains the good bacteria that produce vitamin K are not yet present in the newborn’s intestines and breast milk does not contain enough vitamin K, failing to provide infants with the necessary levels needed. 

Risk Factors Of VKDB In Babies

Without proper measures, all infants are prone to VKDB. Therefore, it is important to know what puts one at a greater risk:

  • Newborn/infants who do not receive a vitamin K shot at birth
  • Newborn/infants whose mothers used certain medications, like isoniazid or medicines to treat seizures; these drugs interfere with utilisation of vitamin K
  • Newborn/infants born with liver disease; often they cannot use the vitamin K from their body stores
  • Newborn/infants who have diarrhoea, celiac disease, or cystic fibrosis often have trouble absorbing vitamins, including vitamin K, from the foods they eat

The Good News

According to the CDC, VKDB in babies is preventable. All that is needed is a vitamin K shot into a muscle in the thigh.  

“One shot given just after birth will protect your baby from VKDB.  In order to provide for immediate bonding and contact between the newborn and mother, giving the vitamin K shot can be delayed up to 6 hours after birth,” the US health body shares. 


Vitamin K deficiency can impact adults and children alike. In adults, it can lead to symptoms, such as bleeding into the skin, bruising, bloody urine or tarry stools, and more. VKDB in babies however is a serious problem that can be prevented with a vitamin K shot. Ensure that your baby gets this vaccine in time and keep a check on any bleeding issues in them.