This Shot May Just Save Your Newborn’s Life

When we found out we were having a boy, there was no question he’d be circumcised. We are Jewish. We descend from 5,000-odd years’ worth of men who’ve gone under the knife and survived in the name of Judaism. But, unlike previous generations, we had the option to choose whether or not to circumcise our newborn son in the hospital on the second day of his birth, versus on the 8th day in our family living room in accordance with tradition.

My mother, a nurse, was quick to advise against a second day circumcision. “He won’t be able to clot as well,” she recalled, “that’s why we always wait until the 8th day.” I did a little research and found out that she was right:

In 1935, professor H. Dam proposed the name “vitamin K” for the factor in foods that helped prevent hemorrhaging in baby chicks. We now know vitamin K is responsible for the production (by the liver) of the element known as prothrombin. If vitamin K is deficient, there will be a prothrombin deficiency and hemorrhaging may occur. Oddly, it is only on the fifth through the seventh days of the newborn male’s life that vitamin K (produced by bacteria in the intestinal tract) is present in adequate quantities. Vitamin K, coupled with prothrombin, causes blood coagulation, which is important in any surgical procedure.

Thanks to this discovery, modern medical science provides a solution for parents who choose to circumcise their sons outside of Jewish tradition: The Vitamin K shot. A standard shot administered to newborns at birth, the Vitamin K shot prevents more than the risk of excessive bleeding during an early surgical procedure, such as a circumcision. Vitamin K prevents internal hemorrhaging in infants as well.

Unfortunately, ill-advised parents are starting to reject the Vitamin K shot for their newborns, some with deadly results:

American health authorities do not track Vitamin K refusals. But in recent years, anecdotal reports from hospitals and the CDC have described clusters of several babies who had brain bleeds and whose parents had declined the Vitamin K shot.

Dr. Robert Sidonio Jr., now of Emory University, helped document such a cluster in Nashville in 2013: five babies with brain bleeds over six months. It turned out, he said, that while traditionally over 99 percent of babies receive Vitamin K shots, more than 3 percent of Nashville parents were declining the shots — and in nearby communities with private birthing centers, nearly 30 percent were declining.

Not only did we have our son circumcised on the 8th day (yes, in my living room) we also accepted the Vitamin K shot without hesitation at birth. Unfortunately, like many vaccines, the Vitamin K shot has become “a victim of its own success”. So few professionals have witnessed the effects of Vitamin K deficiency in newborns that their doubt casts a shadow on the parents’ decision-making process. As a result, babies who do not receive the Vitamin K shot are at an increased risk of neurological damage or death due to neurological bleeds that go undetected until it is too late.