In 2011, a 33-day-old baby in Australia died from an enormous bleed in her brain due to Vitamin K deficiency. When she was born, her parents declined the recommendation that she receive an injection of the vitamin. Her parents believed the shot was unnecessary and that choice proved fatal for the girl.
A coroner’s report from 2011 outlined the tragic passing of the baby and provided insight into the parent’s decision. According to the report, the mother, we will call Ann, desired a natural birth without medications or interventions. A 20-week anatomy scan indicated the baby was developing normally.
During one of her prenatal visits, the doctor talked with Ann about vaccines and Vitamin K injections. The doctor explained to her that babies need vitamin k to help with blood clotting. If a baby does not receive the injection, they are at risk of developing life-threatening bleeds.
Unswayed by the doctor’s rationale for the shot, Ann submitted a birth plan to the doctors. The birth plan stated that she did not want her daughter to receive any vaccines or vitamins after her birth. Doctors placed the directive in her health record. The record would be used as instructions for hospital staff to use after labor.
Ten days before her due date, she went into labor. Ann’s labor went relatively uneventful and fast. She was able to fulfill her goal of not receiving medication. After less eight hours of labor, she delivered a healthy baby girl we will call Sophia.
One day after her delivery, Ann brought her newborn daughter home. During her first month, she breastfed the baby, and she seemed to be doing well.
However, a month after Sophia’s birth, her mother noticed that she was struggling to eat and lacked energy. The baby started sleeping more than usual. That evening Ann put the baby to bed.
An hour after she fell asleep, the baby woke up and vomited. In the middle of the night, Ann went to check on her daughter to change her diaper. When she went into the room, her daughter was limp and unresponsive. Immediately, the mother called for an ambulance.
Paramedics rushed Sophia to the hospital. Doctors gave her a dose of adrenaline due to a low heart rate and respiratory distress.
With her presentation of a low heart rate and difficulty breathing, doctors believed she had sepsis. She continued to struggle to breathe. Doctors noted her soft spot on her head was firm. Fearing that she had high intracranial pressure, they ventilated the brain to reduce the pressure.
Unable to stabilize her, she was airlifted to a hospital in Brisbane. When Sophia arrived at the Brisbane hospital, she immediately had a CT scan of her brain. The results of the scan were devastating for the parents. Sophia suffered several bleeds within her skull.
One of the bleeds was widespread and had damaged the white and grey matter of her brain. She had hemorrhages behind both eyes, and her pupils were not reactive.
Labs drawn by doctors after her CT scan showed that Sophia’s blood wasn’t clotting. Her clotting factor was the worst a baby could have. Her blood was so thin that she had become prone to bleeding throughout her body.
After receiving the devastating lab results, doctors took an emergency step to stop her bleeding. They gave her plasma and a dose of Vitamin K. By the evening, Sophia’s condition continued to get worse. The pressure inside her brain remained elevated, and her life started to slip away.
Early the next morning, doctors told Ann and her husband there was nothing left to help Sophia. The damage to her brain was too extensive, and they suggested removing her from life support. Heartbroken by the news, the parents agreed, and Sophia died moments later.
Following the death, the doctors requested an autopsy. They suspected that Sophia died from Vitamin K deficiency. However, they wanted confirmation from a medical examiner. Initially, Ann and her husband declined the autopsy. After some persuasion, they eventually agreed to allow the examination.
During the autopsy, the medical examiner found a swollen brain with extensive bleeding inside the skull. Sophia’s lungs had partially collapsed with blood inside. Sophia showed no signs of trauma or injury.
Her official cause of death was subdural and subarachnoid hemorrhages, due to late onset vitamin K deficiency bleeding.After the coroner released the report, an inquest was opened into her death. While the death was tragic, the investigation determined the death was not suspicious.
Even though Sophia suffered a natural death, the inquest determined the death could have been prevented. The coroner said the mother’s refusal of vitamin k caused Sophia’s death.
Ann was very clear during her pregnancy she did not want her daughter to receive a Vitamin K injection after birth. Doctors followed her birth plan.
The coroner wrote,
“Vitamin K is essential for the synthesis of blood clotting factors. Vitamin K deficiency can lead to VKDB. Administration of vitamin K after birth all but eliminates VKDB. This is usually done by an intramuscular injection.
The Australian National Health & Medical Research Council (NH&MRC) recommends that all newborn babies receive vitamin K after birth. This is because babies generally have a low level of vitamin K in their bodies. It is poorly transferred across the placenta; babies have low levels in cord blood and have limited liver reserves.
Human breast milk contains relatively low concentrations of vitamin K (1 – 2mg/L), whereas infant formula milks are supplemented with additional vitamin K to a minimum concentration of 30mg/L. Therefore, infants who are exclusively breast-fed are at risk of developing VKDB, unless supplementary vitamin K is administered.”
When a baby does not receive the injection, they can develop Vitamin K deficiency. Sophia developed late on-set VKD which happens between 8 days to six months after birth. In babies that develop VKD, 30-50% will develop bleeding in their brains. Of those that develop brain bleeds, 30% of them will die.
Ann’s choice to have a natural childbirth with no medications for her and Sophia proved tragic. Without mincing words, the coroner blamed Ann for refusing to the vitamin k injection. Ann put her personal and spiritual beliefs before the safety of her daughter.
Coroner Christine Clements finished her report by saying,
“The administration of vitamin K is a well established and safe prophylaxis known to reduce the risk of VKDB in newborn babies. The administration of this treatment remains within the parental consent.
The baby’s mother had a detailed labour plan and a considered position declining various medications and interventions in the birth process. This included a specific direction not to administer vitamin K to their baby.”
Vitamin K saves lives. Please do not skip this injection after your child is born.
For more information on Vitamin K visit the CDC.
*Katie Joy is a columnist and hosts Without A Crystal Ball on Patheos Non-Religious Channel. She writes articles on parenting, disability advocacy, debunking pseudoscience, atheism, and crimes against women and children.
She co-hosts the YouTube show, “The Smoking Nun,” with Kyle Curtis. The show airs weekly and tackles pseudoscience, current events, and crime stories.
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