Is it Necessary for My Newborn to Receive a Vitamin K Shot and Erythromycin Eye Ointment?

If you intend on giving birth in the US, one of your first healthcare decisions regarding your newborn should come shortly after she arrives. A vitamin K shot and antibiotic eye ointment such as Erythromycin–known as standard of care–should be given within hours as per medical provider for all newborns as part of routine’standard of care.

Newborn medications will likely play a prominent role in any birth plan you create, from vitamin K and erythromycin choices to breastfeed options or requests for delayed cord clamping.

As an L&D and postpartum nurse for nearly 10 years, my focus has always been educating patients and their families so they can make evidence-based and confident healthcare decisions for themselves and their baby.

Here’s everything you should know about giving newborns their vitamin K shot and eye ointment with erythromycin at birth.

What role does vitamin K have in human medicine? Vitamin K is an essential fat-soluble clotting vitamin found in green leafy vegetables and produced in our gut flora, both contributing to blood clotting processes when bleeding occurs. When blood clots occur, your body triggers what’s known as ‘clotting cascade’ which involves proteins and enzymes creating proteins necessary for blood clot formation – without it you risk bleeding to death!

Related Topic: Should My Baby Receive Vitamin Supplements? A Dietitian Provides Her Opinions

Why Are Newborn Infants Given Vitamin K Supplements? Shortly after being born in hospital, most newborn infants receive an intramuscular injection of Vitamin K administered as an injected in their thigh area; this does not constitute vaccination but instead provides them with an increase of Vitamin K doses; this has been standard medical practice since 1961.

Only small amounts of vitamin K is transferred through gestation from mother’s placenta to an emerging fetus; breast milk also contains only minimal levels, placing exclusively breastfed infants at increased risk for deficiency. With limited vitamin stores and supply, newborns are at great risk for vitamin K deficiency bleeding (VKDB); preterm infants especially are susceptible to this complication because their livers and blood systems have yet to fully develop.

Without vitamin K, an infant’s body cannot clot properly and stop bleeding, leading to Vitamin K-Deficiency Birthmark (VKDB), typically between 24 hours and six months postbirth and manifested through symptoms ranging from bruised extremities or intracranial hemorrhaging in 30-60%of cases.

Studies show that vitamin K preventative injections produce significant results against both classic (two to one week after exposure to harmful UV radiation) and late-onset VKDB (1 week to six months later), making this injection one way you can prevent potentially preventable diseases in your baby.

Are There Alternatives To Vitamin K Injections? Recently, vitamin K injections have come under increasing scrutiny due to disputes concerning them among parents as they continue to reject these procedures for various reasons. Are There Solutions Besides A Vitamin K Shot

At present, in the U.S. there are no FDA-approved oral vitamin K regimens specifically tailored for infants.

Some European countries provide approved oral vitamin K drops as an alternative. Three dosages may be given between birth and three months to provide maximum protection; studies have failed to demonstrate whether oral vitamin K injections offer more long-term protection; however, oral Vitamin K has shown to decrease classic VKDB risks significantly more efficiently.

No parent wishes for their newborn child to experience pain immediately following birth from vitamin K injections administered postpartum, yet it’s vitally important that we understand their purpose at birth. If any questions arise or if there are concerns raised regarding vitamin K injections at birth, be sure to speak to both your birth care provider or pediatrician immediately.

Related Article: Here Are My Five Fave Prenatal Vitamin Supplements (Review by nutritionist).

Ophthalmia neonatorum (ON) is eye conjunctivitis–commonly referred to as pink eye–that occurs within four weeks after birth and affects infants as early as four days old.

There can be several causes of infections during labor. Gonorrhea stands out as being particularly harmful during birthing; untreated cases have up to 50% transmission rates between mother and infant and have even caused corneal scarring and blindness in some instances. Gonococcal ON (GON) infections also pose risks as untreated cases can pass from mother to newborn during delivery.

Why does Erythromycin Eye Ointment Need to be Given at Birth? Erythromycin eye ointment can help protect babies at risk for GON by providing preventative therapy at birth. When applied, its creamy consistency covers the conjunctiva–an outer covering of white part of eye–leaving their infant eyes looking “goopy”, until its been fully absorbed. No side effects have yet been noted from taking Erythromycin Ointment at Birth.

As with vitamin K injections, this preventive medication should be given routinely during pregnanacy. Since not all pregnant people receive prenatal care, gonorrhea infections may remain undetected until symptoms emerge later; when this happens they can quickly have devastating results for an unprotected infant.

Related: Nutritionist’s guide on what are the best prenatal foods from early days through third trimester

Are there alternatives to Erythromycin Eye Ointment?
Unfortunately, at this time there are no evidence-based or FDA-approved alternatives to Erythromycin Eye Ointment that exist.

Notably, the standards of care that have been implemented have virtually eliminated GON.

As part of standard prenatal care, all pregnant people should be tested and treated for gonorrhea as part of prenatal care. If someone comes into Labor & Delivery without results of previous testings they will also be tested and possibly treated if needed; otherwise if testing reveals no active STD then any risk to an infant becomes moot.

Babies born through cesarean section without prior dilation of their waters face minimal risks of infection.

Are You Uncomfortable Giving Your Baby Eye Ointment? Ask nursing staff to wait on administering eye ointment until after Infant Bonding – This practice is common among mother- and baby-friendly hospitals where skin-to-skin contact, breastfeeding and respecting the golden hour are valued highly.

Note from Motherly: Vitamin K Shot and Newborn Eye Ointment
Preventative treatments like vitamin K injections and erythromycin eye ointment have long been considered standard of care in medicine, with evidence pointing toward their benefits outweighing any risks involved with taking preventative steps like these. If any parent feels uncertain or uncomfortable with them as part of caretaking responsibilities for their newborn’s wellbeing. It’s essential that parents communicate this concern directly to providers as everyone invested is the welfare of your infant’s future wellbeing together!