ST. LOUIS — Maternity care providers nationwide are on high alert for life-threatening vitamin K deficiencies in newborns, at the same time they are seeing more parents refusing a routine preventive injection.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report last month about four babies in Nashville, Tenn., who hemorrhaged after their parents refused vitamin K injections at birth. The babies were diagnosed with life-threatening vitamin K deficiency bleeding between February and September. Three had bleeding in the brain and one had gastrointestinal bleeding. They survived, but the infants with brain hemorrhages could have long-term neurological problems.
“Not giving vitamin K at birth is an emerging trend that can have devastating outcomes for infants and their families,” CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden stated in the report. “Ensuring that every newborn receives a vitamin K injection at birth is critical to protect infants.”
The vitamin is necessary for normal blood clotting, but because vitamin K does not transfer well across the placenta, most babies are born with low levels. The deficiency can lead to a rare, sudden bleeding disorder up to 6 months of age.
The CDC investigation found that parents refused the injection for several reasons, including a concern about an increased risk for cancer from the injection, an impression that it was unnecessary and a desire to minimize exposure to “toxins.” A 1992 study associated vitamin K and childhood leukemia, but the findings have been debunked by subsequent studies.
Over the past year, at least one or two parents a week have questioned the injection, said providers at the St. Louis area’s two busiest birthing hospitals, Mercy Hospital St. Louis and Missouri Baptist Medical Center. Those two hospitals tend to have the most parents seeking natural births, and parents seeking to avoid the risks of medical interventions during labor and delivery are often the ones questioning the shot.