This may be the hardest part of Olive’s story that I will write. The part where I admit that what happened to her was nearly 100% preventable. And yet it happened.
It happened because she didn’t receive her dose of Vitamin K when she was born.
I spent the first few days that she was in the hospital blaming myself. I ran through the situation in my mind, trying to understand why I would say “No” to something that would keep my daughter from being in this much pain. In Olive’s situation, unfortunately, it was largely accidental. That didn’t stop me from feeling guilty, however, and only recently did I accept that although this happened to Olive, it doesn’t have to happen to another person’s baby.
As you may know, Olive was born in a birth center. I loved the experience that I had there and to this day, I hold no hard feelings against the wonderful midwives that were present when she was born. A few weeks before her birth, we went over the routine shots that infants are given in the hospital, and decided whether or not Olive would receive them. For most of these I knew my answer, but since I knew nothing about the Vitamin K shot, I decided to do my research and then decide at the birth what I would do.
When I began hemorrhaging after Olive’s birth, the discussion of the shot was completely forgotten, and she ended up not getting it. After all, things that are deemed to be optional are probably not essential – right?
As it turns out, the Vitamin K shot should not be optional.
Here are the facts (from the CDC’s website):
In 1961, the administration of the Vitamin K shot became standard routine in hospitals throughout the United States. This has been a largely accepted practice until recently, with the increase in parents denying vaccinations for their children. What seems to be misunderstood, however, is that Vitamin K is not a vaccination.
When a baby is born, they have a limited amount of Vitamin K in their system, and while some begin to produce it on their own, others struggle with a severe Vitamin K deficiency. If these babies receive a shot of Vitamin K at birth, this isn’t a problem and they will eventually begin to produce the Vitamin K on their own in order to avoid any deficiency bleeding. In a case like Olive’s, however, the severe lack of Vitamin K results in an inability to clot, which can cause deadly bleeds in a baby’s brain and gastrointestinal system.
In children that receive the Vitamin K shot at birth, the chance of developing this disease is relatively nonexistent. When the shot is not given, however, the risk of having late stage (from 2 weeks to 2 months old) deficiency bleeding is 81 times greater.
The sad thing is that while it is extremely rare, recent years have seen children suffering from VKBD more and more often. Four cases were reported at a hospital in Tennessee in 2013 – one resulted in severe gastrointestinal bleeding and the other three in severe intracranial bleeding. In the hospital where Olive was treated, there was one other recent, which resulted in the child’s death.
The CDC is beginning to believe that VKBD is, in fact, much more likely than we previously believed. It was just avoided by babies receiving the necessary shot at birth.
So, why are people saying no to the Vitamin K shot?
For some, there is the belief that the shot is correlated with an increased likelihood of leukemia. Although there was a study done in 1992 that determined that this was true, subsequent studies have proved that there is no correlation between Vitamin K and any other cancers.
There is also debate about causing pain to a newborn, by giving them a shot shortly after they are born. All I can say for that is this – the pain that Olive endured from the results of her Vitamin K deficiency are so much more than any pain she would have had as a result of a quick shot at birth.
And although it can be argued that the shot is an unnecessary medical intervention, the number of medical interventions that will occur if your child has a brain bleed when they stop clotting are substantially more significant.
What it comes down to is that giving your child a shot of Vitamin K at birth is a small price to pay, especially when the cost of rejecting the shot can be severe brain injury and death.
I can’t change what happened to Olive, but I can try to prevent it from happening to another baby.
Please share Olive’s story. Please tell the mothers you know about the importance of Vitamin K. Please let them know that the risks of rejecting the shot may not be as rare as they think.
Let’s band together to make sure that people are educated about this issue. I know it won’t change everyone’s minds. I do hope, however, that when someone wants to say “No” they will have seen what could happen to their child – and maybe they’ll think twice.