Babies bleed into brains: the result of refusing newborn vitamin K

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Bitter grief is often an unselfish motivator:

Consider organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, started by parents who suffered the ultimate loss, to ensure that other parents would not have to endure the death of a child. Consider the various laws named after children who were abducted and murdered, championed by parents who wanted to make sure that no other family’s life would be shattered by crushing grief…

Where is the organization to ensure that no other mother has to endure the preventable death of a child at homebirth or because the mother refused recommended obstetric or newborn care guidelines?

The risk is not merely double or triple, but 81x higher for babies who don’t receive the vitamin K injection.

There is no such organization.

Why? Because the mothers who have a child who was injured or died as a result of homebirth or of refusal of routine interventions often collude with the providers who encouraged them.

Thankfully, that is not the case for Stefani Leavitt. She has unselfishly shared the story of the terrifying result of failing to give the recommended Vitamin K injection to her newborn daughter.

You can read the entire story across three blog posts:

The First 24 Hours
Getting Out of the Woods
Why It Happened: The Truth About Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding

Leavitt has the inner strength to be brutally honest, even with herself:

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.

What happened to Olive?

It all started on Valentine’s Day.

Olive had struggled to eat the night before, so she and I had been up all night…

When we woke up [from a nap], Olive could barely open her eyes – the only word I could think of was “lethargic,” and since that never coincides with anything good, I immediately called the doctor… The doctor told us to go to the ER immediately …

At the hospital:

By this point, Olive was breathing and her heart was beating, but she was otherwise non-responsive…

The pediatric intensivist, Dr. M., came and asked me if we had given our daughter a Vitamin K shot at birth, and I just stared at him and said I had no idea. He said they needed to bring her in for a CT scan, but every time they tried to place an IV (which she needed before she went for the scan), the vein would blow. She was bleeding from every spot that she had gotten poked that night, including the LP point on her spine.

Finally they were able to perform the head CT.

The next thing I knew I was sitting in a room with Eric and our Bishop from church, and seeing the doctor wheel in a computer with pictures on the screen… Just by looking, you could tell it wasn’t good. Where the left side of her brain was supposed to be, there was a huge (16 mm, to be exact) mass of blood, pushing her entire brain off center.

Dr. M. explain that a clot had developed which was placing immense pressure on Olive’s brain. Not only that, but there was bleeding on the back of the right side of her brain as well. The water pockets that are within the brain were completely destroyed, and the tissue on the left side of the brain looked mostly damaged. He said that the lack of Vitamin K in Olive’s system resulted in her body’s inability to clot. Anything as small as putting her down in her bed could have caused this bleed. Since she couldn’t clot, the bleeding didn’t stop. There had been one other case of this that the doctor had seen – I asked what had happened then, and was told that the baby hadn’t lived.

The treatment? Correcting her clotting deficiency with Vitamin K and brain surgery to remove the blood clot.

After the brain surgery:

I walked into the hospital room to find Olive hooked up to a plethora of machines, with even more wires running from her. She had a gauze turban around her swollen head, and a breathing tube running from her throat. As hard as it was to see her like that, I was full of so much gratitude that she was alive and I was comforted by the sudden knowledge I had that she was going to be okay – I just didn’t know how.

The surgery had been successful:

Where there was once a huge mass of blood, her brain had moved back into place. The neurologist who spoke with us, Dr. R., explained that there had been a significant stroke on the left side of her brain, but it was on the surface, rather than in the central gray matter. On the right side, there was a pocket of blood in the cerebellum, but this was expected to absorb into the brain. Overall, Dr. R. said that he felt “cautiously optimistic.” ..

The next days were marked by milestones, which all seemed like little miracles.

Towards the end of the third day, Olive was taken off of sedation and opened her eyes for the first time in days.

From the blog C'est Si Bon

From the blog C’est Si Bon

Olive continued to improve.

From the blog C'est Si Bon.

From the blog C’est Si Bon.

Overall, Olive’s progress has been remarkable.

Olive is nothing short of a miracle. After seeing her condition the first night and seeing her now, only two weeks later, I am still in a state of disbelief. Countless doctors and nurses told me what amazing progress she was making. She took to nursing again like a champ. She is moving both sides of her body, with very little difference in strength. And since her surgery, we have all been able to see her beautiful smile.

There will still be struggles from here, I’m sure. We are uncertain of what Olive’s future will bring, or what challenges this brain injury will cause. But despite all of that, I am so grateful for the blessing that she has been to our life thus far …

But none of this had to happen at all. Stefani writes:

… [T]he Vitamin K shot should not be optional.

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.

Stefani speaks from experience:

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.

Kudos to Stefani for turning her family’s pain into vital advice for other families. She will never know how many lives she may have saved.

  • mabelcruet

    What worries me are the comments like “We’re planning a baby,, and I’ve been reading and researching everything I can and I’ve never heard of this….” Just what are these people “researching”? “How babies are made” suitable for 3-5 year olds? Vitamin K is discussed widely, on the NHS health website for example, and the publicly available Royal College of Obstetricians patient advice leaflets and the Royal College of Midwives advice leaflets, and the National childbirth trust-I’m sure other countries have similar educational sites. It’s not like this is a hidden esoteric secret.

    • rational thinker

      I think most of their “research” comes from mommy blogs and places like facebook. They think this counts as research. I think some of these cases may simply be a privilege thing. If poor people can easily get it then they don’t want it, and sadly its the baby that pays for it.

      • Cristina B

        A friend of mine had a midwife and the midwife told them to read a ton of natural birth books (think Ina May Gaskin) and called it research.

    • Who?

      ‘Research’ must be one of the most abused words in the english language.

      Back in the day you had to get on your hind legs and go to the library to research. While I’m enthusiastic about the availability of information, some of the side effects are not good.

    • Anna

      Dr Sara Wickham, Dr Rachel Reed are two loved sources of “research” by the crunchy set. Both are very smart women that do a great job of protecting themselves legally while skimming over the ‘small chance’ of something going wrong. Both the registered homebirth midwives I had told me baby would get enough vit K through breastmilk. Saying all that our health system gives you in your initial package you get at around 20weeks a Vit K consent form and surprisingly a non consent form (so it must be common enough that they want parents to sign off and indemnify the hospitals).

  • Anna

    It shits me that there are trained registered midwives and academics that at least, dont recommend Vit K and at worst, actively discourage it and they are untouchable. Sara Wickham is one. Most Australian hb midwives tell women they dont need vit k because it is in breastmilk. It will take a death at the very least before anything is done but pretty sure we’ve already had one in Byron shire and nothing changed.

    • MaineJen

      A CNM, at least, should be recommending it. They have received high level training and they know better. With a CPM: who knows?

  • The Bofa on the Sofa

    What I find most mind-boggling about the VIt K rejection is that the people who do it are often the same types who take a bunch of vitamin supplements.

    Here is actually a legitimate vitamin supplement, and they refuse it.

    • mabelcruet

      I think it’s because they work from a very simple algorithm: if its swallowed, it’s a vitamin, and if its injected, it’s a vaccine. And there are probably vitamin K conspiracy theorists who believe its labelled as a vitamin as a subterfuge to secretly vaccinate babies against their parents wishes.

      • EmbraceYourInnerCrone

        You are probably right. They also seem to have the idea that “nature” would not cause a baby to be born without enough of the vitamin necessary to help blood clot (or make breastmilk with a lack of enough Iron and Vitamin D)

        They refuse to believe that babies died or suffered permanent damage from lack of these things for centuries until it was learned how to combat these problems.

  • PeggySue

    What a horrifying story. Poor Mom, and poor baby. I so hope she’ll be OK. “Can’t clot” is a very very very serious situation, it takes almost nothing to trigger bleeding, as the article notes.