At birth, your baby will receive two needles with parental consent. One being a Vitamin K injection and the other being a Hepatitis B vaccine. The thought of your little bub having two needles in one go just after being born can be heart-wrenching, so we would like you to understand why they are so crucial for your baby’s well-being and your peace of mind.
Vitamin K injection
Let’s start with a quick introduction about what vitamin K is. In adults, we get vitamin K from two sources: our diet (primarily from green leafy vegetables) and from vitamin K producing bacteria in the gut. Vitamin K is important because it plays a role in blood clotting. Without it, we lose the ability to clot, which is a vital process to protect us when we bleed.
Unfortunately, newborns don’t have the ability to produce vitamin K in their gut, which means that all infants have a relative vitamin K deficiency at birth. This is a problem, because it can cause a condition called Vitamin K deficiency bleeding (VKDB). In some instances of this, because of their inability to form clots and stop bleeding, it can cause bleeding in the brain. Unfortunately, this can be so severe that it can eventually lead to brain damage or even death. It is only at the age of six months that babies are able to make enough vitamin K for themselves.
So, what can we do to prevent this? Since the early 1970s, newborns in Australia have been receiving vitamin K at birth. This is sufficient enough to give newborns the ability to clot and prevent VKDB. This can be done in two ways: through an injection or orally. Injection is the most common and most reliable way of delivering vitamin K. The oral form is given in three doses, and it is not as effective as the injection. The National Health and Medical Research Council recommends all newborns receive vitamin K at birth.
Over the last 40 years, there have been no significant adverse effects to receiving vitamin K injections. It was thought by some people that vitamin K was a risk factor for childhood cancer, but this has since been thoroughly disproven. In addition, it is important to understand that the vitamin K injection is not a vaccine; it’s simply giving babies the ability to protect themselves against bleeding.
Hepatitis B vaccine
Hepatitis B is a contagious viral illness that affects the liver. The younger the age a person is when they are infected, the higher their chances of long term liver damage. These include irreversible liver scarring and liver cancer.
The Hepatitis B vaccine has been around since the early 1980s and the at-birth dose of the vaccine has been part of the National Immunisation Program since 2000. For complete protection against Hepatitis B, children require 3 additional doses at 2, 4 and 6 months of age.
While less than 2% of the Australian population are infected with Hepatitis B, this still means around 200 000 people in Australia are infected. Vertical transmission (the transmission of hepatitis B from an infected mother to her child around the time of birth) is the main way infants contract the infection. Additionally, infants and young children can get infected if they come in contact with bodily fluids of an infected person. This could be sexual or non-sexual contact, through open sores and wounds.
Universal vaccination will protect children and the rest of the community by keeping the rates of hepatitis B low in Australia. It is thus a misconception that only children who are at high risk of contracting hepatitis B should have the vaccination.
Vitamin K and hepatitis B injections give babies the best chance to grow up and live healthy and happy lives. If you have any further questions or concerns that have not been addressed in this article, please do not hesitate to ask your doctor or midwife.