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Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding (Hemorrhagic Disease of the Newborn)

What is vitamin K deficiency bleeding?

Vitamin K deficiency bleeding (VKDB) is a bleeding problem that occurs in some newborns during the first few days of life. VKDB was previously called hemorrhagic disease of the newborn.

What causes vitamin K deficiency bleeding?

Babies are normally born with low levels of vitamin K, an essential factor in blood clotting. A deficiency in vitamin K is the main cause of VKDB.

Who is affected by vitamin K deficiency bleeding?

Vitamin K deficiency may result in bleeding in a very small percentage of babies. Babies at risk for developing vitamin K deficiency bleeding (VKDB) include the following:

  • Babies who do not receive preventive vitamin K in an injection at birth

  • Exclusively breastfed babies (breast milk contains less vitamin K than cow's milk formula)

  • Babies whose mothers take anticonvulsants (for seizures) and anticoagulants (for clotting disorders) 

Why is vitamin K deficiency bleeding a concern?

Without the clotting factor, bleeding occurs, and severe bleeding or hemorrhage can result.

What are the symptoms of vitamin K deficiency bleeding?

The following are the most common symptoms of VKDB. However, each baby may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Blood in the baby's bowel movements

  • Blood in the baby's urine

  • Oozing around the umbilical cord

The symptoms of VKDB may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your baby's doctor for a diagnosis.

How is vitamin K deficiency bleeding diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, a diagnosis is based on signs of bleeding and laboratory tests for blood clotting times.

Treatment for vitamin K deficiency bleeding

Specific treatment for VKDB will be determined by your baby's doctor.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends giving every newborn baby an injection of vitamin K after delivery, as well as supplementing feedings with infant formulas that contain vitamin K, to prevent this potentially life-threatening disease.

Blood transfusions may also be needed if bleeding is severe.