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  • Writer's pictureOklahoma Alliance For Healthy Families

Three things to expect that you weren't expecting: information about the vitamin K shot, hepatitis B

By Dr. Sarah Palm

The amount and variety of information during pregnancy can be overwhelming. Protecting your baby from day one, though, is your top priority. The Vitamin K shot, Hepatitis B vaccine and preventative antibiotic eye treatments are available to help you protect your baby from day one. Ask your doctor about what to expect after birth, including which treatments will be offered so you can make an informed decision.

The American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends all three for newborns almost immediately after birth. See the CDC's immunization schedule for children here.

Why do newborns need these interventions?

The Hepatitis B vaccine, the Vitamin K shot and the eye ointment are considered standard care to help protect your newborn from getting sick in the first months of life. Your newborn’s immune system (germ fighters) are also new and so these interventions are lifesaving. Prevention is always preferred over treatment, especially of serious issues that may not be easily detected in young infants. Helping your baby get the best start begins with choosing these interventions at birth.

Why is the vitamin K shot necessary?

Vitamin K actually comes from the German word “koagulation,” the process by which blood clots that we know of as coagulation.

According to the CDC, all babies are born with a deficiency in vitamin K, and they cannot easily make more. Vitamin K does not cross the placenta and only small amounts are in breastmilk or formula; about 90% of the vitamin K adults consume comes from leafy green vegetables. There is no dietary option that offers sufficient vitamin K for newborns.

Your newborn is at risk of internal bleeding because of vitamin K deficiency, which can cause motor skill delays and even death. Giving the vitamin K shot at birth ensures that all babies are protected. The CDC reports that “newborns who do not get a vitamin K shot are 81 times more likely to develop severe bleeding than those who get the shot.”

Get answers to frequently asked questions about the vitamin K shot here.

Why is the Hepatitis B vaccine necessary?

The Hepatitis B shot helps prevent babies from getting sick with the Hepatitis B virus, which can unknowingly be passed from mother to baby at birth. It also reduces the spread of the virus which is important as it is estimated that there are 250 million carriers worldwide who can be asymptomatic, so they may spread it to others before the illness is detected.

While many people recover from Hepatitis B without lifelong effects, others die from the virus or develop life-long liver damage. Cancer is also associated with Hepatitis B even after recovery. There is no cure for Hepatitis B and newborns who get sick cannot fight the virus on their own. The vaccine is a 3 shot series and will be given at the 2 month and 6 month well-child visits to ensure full protection. If the baby’s first dose is not received at birth, it alters the vaccine schedule and leaves the child vulnerable to the virus for a longer period of time.

Why is antibiotic eye ointment necessary?

Antibiotic eye ointment is usually applied topically to your newborn’s eyes in the first hour after birth. Babies may be exposed to E.coli, bacteria and even sexually transmitted infections (STIs) as they pass through the birth canal. Contact with chlamydia and gonorrhea can cause blindness.

While conjunctivitis (pink eye) in older children is often resolved with just antibiotic drops after symptoms are noticed, newborns may require IV treatment. Going too long with pink eye can also cause blindness. Damage to the surface of the eye (cornea) is often already done before it is detected in newborns, so antibiotic ointment helps prevent that from the start.

If you have questions about your newborn’s treatment while you are in recovery, talk with your doctor or ask questions about routine care during your hospital tour. Pediatricians also offer prenatal visits before baby is born if you want to meet baby’s doctor before they arrive.

A healthy start is the very first gift you can give your baby. Protecting your newborn from day one can help prevent issues throughout his or her life.

About Dr. Sarah Palm

Dr. Sarah Palm is a Board-Certified Pediatrician and has been in practice at Just Kids Pediatrics since 2014. She is passionate about serving kids from birth and onward. She loves partnering with families to help keep their children healthy and safe.


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