Vitamin K Deficiency

Vitamin K deficiency occurs when a newborn bleeds uncontrollably because they don’t have enough vitamin K in their body. Vitamin K helps your body clot blood. The condition is a medical emergency and can be life-threatening. The best way to prevent vitamin K deficiency is to give your newborn a vitamin K shot.


What is vitamin K?

Vitamin K is an essential nutrient that your body needs. It works to help your blood clot. A clot is a clump of semi-solid blood that your body forms to stop bleeding.

Vitamin K helps with:

  • Wound healing.
  • Creating strong bones.
  • Protecting against heart disease.

You can find vitamin K in leafy green vegetables like:

  • Spinach.
  • Cabbage.
  • Kale.
  • Collard greens.
  • Broccoli.
  • Brussel sprouts.
  • Lettuce.

In addition, your body makes vitamin K out of bacteria within your intestines.


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What is vitamin K deficiency in newborns?

Vitamin K deficiency is a condition that causes newborn babies to bleed uncontrollably because they don’t have enough vitamin K to clot their blood. Newborns don’t receive a lot of vitamin K through the placenta or their liver. Their gut can’t make enough. There are low levels of vitamin K in their formula or breast milk (chest milk). This makes vitamin K deficiency more common in newborns and infants who don’t receive a vitamin K shot. It’s most common among infants up to 6 months of age.

Bleeding caused by vitamin K deficiency can be difficult for a parent or caregiver to see because it usually affects a newborn’s internal organs, including the brain. If bleeding occurs in a newborn’s brain, it can lead to brain damage and is life-threatening.

Other terms for vitamin K deficiency are:

  • Vitamin K deficiency bleeding.
  • Hemorrhagic disease of the newborn.

What are the types of vitamin K deficiency?

There are three types of vitamin K deficiency:

  • Early: It occurs within the first day after your baby is born.
  • Classical: It occurs within the first week of your baby’s life.
  • Late: It occurs within your baby’s first six months of life.

How common is vitamin K deficiency?

Early and classical vitamin K deficiency affects an estimated 1 in 60 to 1 in 250 newborns in the United States. Late vitamin K deficiency is less common and affects an estimated 1 in 14,000 to 1 in 25,000 infants in the U.S.

Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms of vitamin K deficiency?

The main symptom of vitamin K deficiency is uncontrolled bleeding. Other symptoms can be subtle and include:

Bleeding from vitamin K deficiency is a medical emergency and can be life-threatening. If you notice signs or symptoms of uncontrolled bleeding in your newborn, contact their healthcare provider and visit the emergency room immediately.


What causes vitamin K deficiency?

A lack of vitamin K in your baby’s body causes vitamin K deficiency.

Causes of vitamin K deficiency include:

  • Your baby wasn’t able to get enough vitamin K during fetal development.
  • Your baby doesn’t have the bacteria to make vitamin K in their intestines.
  • Exposure in the uterus to medications like phenytoin (Dilantin®) or isoniazid.
  • Liver disease, which can cause vitamin K to be ineffective.
  • Poor absorption of vitamins due to diarrhea, celiac disease or cystic fibrosis.

What are the risk factors for vitamin K deficiency?

Your baby may be more at risk of vitamin K deficiency if:

  • They didn’t receive the vitamin K shot at birth. Infants are 80 times more likely to develop late vitamin K deficiency than infants who do receive a vitamin K shot at birth.
  • They’re exclusively breastfed (chest-fed). Often, a baby doesn’t get enough vitamin K from breast milk.
  • Exposure to medications that can cause vitamin K deficiency as a side effect.

What are the complications of vitamin K deficiency?

Vitamin K deficiency can be life-threatening. If your baby has uncontrolled bleeding, their body is losing too much blood and isn’t able to function without a sufficient amount.

This can lead to:

  • Organ failure.
  • Seizures.
  • Coma.

If your baby has signs or symptoms of uncontrolled bleeding, call 911 or visit the emergency room immediately.

Diagnosis and Tests

How is vitamin K deficiency diagnosed?

A healthcare provider will diagnose vitamin K deficiency by learning more about your baby’s symptoms, medical and birth history and testing their blood.

A prothrombin time test (PT) is a coagulation blood test that helps your baby’s healthcare provider see how your baby’s blood clots.

Management and Treatment

How is vitamin K deficiency treated?

Treatment for vitamin K deficiency in infants is an injection of phytonadione (vitamin K). A healthcare provider will give your newborn this shot into the muscle on their thigh.

Your child may need more than one injection depending on their test results following the first injection.

If your baby has severe symptoms, they may need blood and plasma infusions and surgery.

Is the vitamin K shot safe for babies?

Yes. The vitamin K shot is safe for your baby. Since the 1990s, researchers completed many studies to reassure your pediatrician of its safety profile. Side effects that your baby may experience are mild and may include temporary pain at the injection site and bruising.

When your baby receives a vitamin K shot, their liver stores vitamin K to help their blood clot. The vitamin releases slowly into your baby’s bloodstream over the next few months to give your baby a sufficient amount of vitamin K until they start eating regular food. Babies don’t get enough vitamin K until they move from formula or breast milk (chest milk) to baby food, which is usually between 4 and 6 months of age.

How soon after treatment will my baby feel better?

Your baby may have reduced symptoms within 24 hours after treatment with a vitamin K shot. They may need to stay in a hospital for observation and continued testing to reduce complications and make sure they’re healthy.


Can vitamin K deficiency be prevented?

You can’t prevent all cases of vitamin K deficiency, especially cases caused by an underlying health condition like liver disease. The best way to prevent vitamin K deficiency is to give your child the vitamin K shot. A healthcare provider will administer this shot shortly after birth.

Outlook / Prognosis

What is the outlook for vitamin K deficiency?

Your infant’s outlook for vitamin K deficiency varies based on the severity of their bleeding. The condition is treatable if detected and cared for early. Many children make a full recovery, but complications of vitamin K deficiency can be life-threatening and cause permanent brain damage.

Living With

When should my baby see a healthcare provider?

Visit the emergency room or call 911 (or your local emergency services number) if your child has signs or symptoms of uncontrolled bleeding. The condition is a medical emergency and requires an early diagnosis and treatment for the best outcome and to prevent life-threatening complications.

What questions should I ask my doctor?

  • Did an underlying health condition cause vitamin K deficiency?
  • Does my child need to stay in the hospital after their diagnosis?
  • How can I add vitamin K to my infant’s diet?
  • Will my baby have any long-term complications from this condition?

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Vitamin K deficiency can be a scary diagnosis for a parent or caregiver of a newborn. While the condition is treatable if diagnosed early, it may be life-threatening if left untreated. If you notice signs of uncontrolled bleeding, visit the emergency room immediately. The best way to prevent complications of vitamin K deficiency is to have your baby’s healthcare provider give your child a vitamin K shot shortly after they’re born.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/22/2023.

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