Hemorrhagic Disease Of The Newborn – Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Written by Rakhee M • 
Image: IStock


Vitamins are essential for a baby’s growth. And, even lesser known ones like Vitamin K, are rather important to boost your newborn’s health as well. What if your child doesn’t have an adequate quantity of vitamin K? Well, don’t worry. Because MomJunction has put together some relevant information about Vitamin K deficiencies and how they can affect your baby’s health. Read on and learn more about Hemorrhagic disease of the newborn below.

What Is Hemorrhagic Disease Of The Newborn?

Hemorrhagic disease of the newborn is a bleeding problem that affects newborns soon after their birth. It is also known as a deficiency of Vitamin K or VKDB.

This disease does not let blood clot properly. The failure to clot blood leads to excessive bleeding, and in severe cases, hemorrhaging as well. The bleeding can occur inside or outside the body. Internal bleeding often occurs in the intestines or in the brain. Bleeding in the brain can cause brain damage and even be fatal [1].

About Vitamin K:

Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin, and isn’t easily stored in the human body. It depletes easily and can be obtained through diet. It helps coagulate or clot blood. But, the body also needs it for cell growth and bone metabolism [2].

[ Read: Is Vitamin K Important For Babies ]

Causes Of Hemorrhagic Disease Of The Newborn:

Vitamin K deficiency in newborns is the leading cause of the disease. Without sufficient vitamin K, blood can have diminished clotting abilities. Newborns typically have low levels of vitamin K. Therefore, most newborn babies have a chance of developing Hemorrhagic Disease [3].

Newborns- Why Vitamin K Levels Are Low?

  • The movement of vitamin K through the placenta is difficult. It means that a developing baby does not receive sufficient vitamin K. This makes stocking vitamin K difficult, and vitamin K levels in newborns are quite low.
  • Breast milk contains low levels of vitamin K, which are insufficient to increase the levels of this essential vitamin in the body of the newborn babies.
  • Good gut bacteria in human bodies produce vitamin K. But this is not present in the body of the newborns.

There are three categories of Hemorrhagic Disease of the Newborn. The cause for each is different:

  • Early onset Hemorrhagic Disease of the Newborn (or early VKDB) is a rare condition, and occurs within a day of birth. It can also occur within the first hour of the birth. Maternal use of blood thinners like Warfarin and antiseizure drugs while expecting is a cause of early VKDB.
  • Classic onset condition (classic VKDB) can occur anywhere between day one and day seven of the baby’s birth. It mostly affects infants who exclusively feed on breast milk and don’t receive vitamin K shots.
  • Late onset Hemorrhagic Disease of the Newborn (late VKDB) can occur between week two and week twelve. It is prevalent in infants who have not received the shot for vitamin K.

There are some risk factors that increase the risks of Hemorrhagic Disease In Newborn:

  • Newborns who aren’t administered vitamin K shots can develop .
  • Maternal use of antiseizure or anticoagulant drugs (blood thinners) can cause Hemorrhagic Disease in infants.
  • Infants who suffer from the disorders such as diarrhea, cystic fibrosis and celiac disease can develop Hemorrhagic Disease. These conditions interfere with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin K. Liver diseases like alpha1-antitrypsin deficiency or hepatitis makes it difficult for babies to use the vitamin K stored in their body.


Here are some common VKDB symptoms.

  • Presence of blood in the urine
  • Blood in stools

[ Read: Blood In Baby’s Stool & Diaper ]

  • Bleeding in the navel area
  • Bleeding in the mucus membranes
  • Site of needle stick in the body (due to injections, IV fluids, etc.)

[ Read: Nose Bleeding In Babies ]

  • Bruising
  • Bleeding in penis in case of circumcision
  • Visible lumps on the head
  • Pale skin, pale gums
  • Irritability, excessive sleepiness
  • Blood in vomit, excessive vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Yellowing of the eyes (3 weeks after of birth) [4]


The diagnosis occurs through prothrombin time (blood clotting time). The test measures the time it takes for a person’s blood to clot [5]. A vitamin K injection is given to the newborn, and the timing of the blood clot noted to confirm the diagnosis. If vitamin K shot shortens the prothrombin time after 30 minutes or stops the bleeding, the diagnosis is confirmed. MRI or ultrasounds may be used to check for internal bleeding [6].


If the doctor has diagnosed your baby, he or she will receive vitamin K shot (1 mg or depending on your baby’s needs) immediately. This will increase the blood’s clotting ability within 2-3 hours. Your baby may receive oral supplements of vitamin K instead of shots [7]. This is determined by your baby’s doctor. The oral dose will depend on your baby’s needs as her doctor sees fit. For babies with severe bleeding, a blood transfusion may be necessary [8].

About The Vitamin K Shot:

Vitamin K shot is safe for babies.

  • One of the ingredients in the vitamin K shot is benzyl alcohol. There have been concerns about the use of benzyl alcohol for infants. But studies indicate that such low amount of benzyl alcohol as present in vitamin K shots doesn’t cause babies any harm. Talk to your baby’s doctor if you have any concerns about the safety of vitamin K shots for your baby [9].
  • You may wonder if vitamin K shot is necessary for your newborn. You may also want to know if you can supplement your diet (and hence your breast milk) with foods rich in vitamin K. Would this be enough to prevent the disease? You must know that even if you supplement your diet with vitamin K, the amount present in your breast milk is not sufficient to protect your baby from Hemorrhagic Disease. The only reason this disease is now rare is because the American Academy of Pediatrics issued new guidelines in 1961 about vitamin K shots for newborns and this is being followed in most countries around the world.

Preventing Hemorrhagic Disease Of The Newborn:

It is easy to prevent this disease in babies. Every newborn needs a vitamin K shot after birth. With just one shot, your baby can receive protection from Hemorrhagic Disease. Of course, depending upon your baby’s health or diseases presented at birth, the doctor may give more vitamin K shots to your infant, if needed.

If you are pregnant and take antiseizure drugs or blood thinners, talk to your doctor about measures you can take to protect your newborn from Hemorrhagic Disease. Your doctor may also prescribe you vitamin K injections.

During your pregnancy, did you know about vitamin K shots for newborns?

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