Infant Vitamin K Deficiency

Infant vitamin K deficiency can cause intracranial hemorrhage (bleeding inside the skull) and can be life-threatening. As many as one in five thousand infants may develop vitamin K deficiency bleeding unless supplemental vitamin K is given.

Why Newborn Infants May be Deficient in Vitamin K

There are three reasons why infants may have low levels of vitamin K. The first reason is that breast milk is normally low in vitamin K. Newborn infants are estimated to receive about ten percent of their recommended daily intake when breastfeeding.

Normal doses of supplementary vitamin K given to the nursing mother do not seem to elevate breast milk levels of vitamin K. The second reason is that the newborn’s intestines may not contain the bacteria that synthesize menaquinone (vitamin K2).

Finally, infants may not have fully developed their vitamin K conservation cycle.
Because of these reasons, newborn infants are routinely given an injection of 1000 mcg of vitamin K1 (phylloquinone).
Some infants receive one to three oral doses of vitamin K instead, which is almost as effective as the single injection. A single injection results in extremely high levels of vitamin K in the blood. An infant’s blood level of vitamin K may go up to 9000 times the normal adult level, tapering off to 100 times the normal adult level after four days. Lower doses of vitamin K are recommended for premature infants.

For mothers who refuse vitamin K injections for their infant, several oral doses of vitamin K are an alternative. If neither is chosen, dietary changes may reduce the possibility of vitamin K deficiency bleeding. While extra vitamin K intake during pregnancy does not increase vitamin K in the unborn child, large amounts of vitamin K intake during breastfeeding can increase the infant’s blood vitamin K levels. The vitamin K deficiency bleeding problems normally occur one to seven weeks after birth.

Mothers would need to eat a cup of broccoli or other vitamin K-rich food and a large green salad coupled with extra supplementation to boost the infant’s vitamin K levels. Careful monitoring of bleeding tendencies in newborns would also be needed by mothers who refuse or who are unable to use either vitamin K injections or oral dosing.

Food Sources of Vitamin K

Green leafy vegetables are the primary source of dietary vitamin K. Certain oils contribute a little vitamin K to the diet, including oils of olive, canola, and soybean. Kale and collards are excellent sources, with just one cup providing about ten times the dietary reference intake (DRI). Spinach and beet greens are also rich sources of vitamin K. These vegetables are also high in other important micronutrients.


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