A 5 week old baby has been hospitalised in Northern NSW after suffering a brain haemorrhage. This condition, called Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding, is routinely prevented by giving babies a vitamin K injection shortly after birth. The parents of this child reportedly refused this injection.
Why would anyone refuse?
Some media articles are looking towards anti-vaccine groups who have somehow lumped a life-saving vitamin supplement in with (also life-saving) vaccinations. It’s true that Vitamin K prevents a terrible health condition but that doesn’t make it a vaccine.
Anti-vaccine websites are, however, dire in their warnings about Vitamin K. As dire as they are in their warnings about anything that comes from a doctor or pharmacists. And while they might be dire, evidence shows that they are also often incorrect. However, they seem to be having some impact on Vitamin K uptake as well as vaccine rates. A study published in 2014 showed that babies whose parents refused the Vitamin K shot were also 14.6 times more likely to have had no immunisations by the age of 15 months.
Anti-vaxxers are a branch of this growing culture of science-denialism and fear that surrounds healthcare decisions. From Paleo Pete to David ‘Avocado’ Wolfe and more, denying evidence-based medicine seems to be the new black. This terrible case is not the first time I have heard of parents refusing Vitamin K injections with heartbreaking consequences. I can’t help but wonder if it’s part of the flawed idea that “natural equals better and/or safer” that seems to be snowballing in popularity.
Natural isn’t always better.
This is an extension of the appeal to nature fallacies that seem to be taking a firm hold in some parts of society. Natural is not better when it comes to Vitamin K. Before Vitamin K injections at birth became routine, around 15 babies per year would die from such haemorrhages in NSW alone. Babies who do survive brain haemorrhages are at risk of long-term brain damage. Other potential side-effects of vitamin K deficiency include gross motor deficits, developmental problems, organ failure and even death. These are all the possible and 100% natural results of refusing the Vitamin K supplement.
What is Vitamin K?
Vitamin K plays a very important role in helping our blood clot, preventing excessive bleeding. Very little Vitamin K from the mother’s body crosses the placenta during pregnancy as it is metabolised and stored in the liver. As a result, babies are generally born Vitamin K deficient.
Most at-risk of Vitamin K deficiency is the breast-fed infant. Breastmilk does not contain sufficient Vitamin K to protect babies from bleeds. Formula contains added vitamin K but even formula-fed infants are at risk without supplemental vitamin K. The injection they typically receive at birth is enough to see them through to around 6 months of age, when most babies start solid food. An oral alternative is available but it is not believed to be as effective as the injection.
Is it safe?
Vitamin K injections have been used in Australia for decades and found to be safe and effective with no adverse events worse than some soreness at the injection site. With my own pregnancies, my health care provider explained to me what it was for prior to the births and I gave my consent without hesitation. I would be ridiculed in some circles for saying this but I believe that doctors know better than I do when it comes to medical care.
Listen to your doctor.
These days, it can be really hard to distinguish genuinely informative websites from more dubious sources. Don’t even take my word for it. I’m not a doctor. If you read something that alarms you, please, talk to a medical professional before making any decisions.
They have spent years at university, studying things like this. Doctors are obliged to keep up to date as new evidence changes the landscape of medicine. They know the difference between actual scientific research and something you read online.
It’s horrifying to think that people are following the advice of unqualified bloggers and self-proclaimed wellness advocates regarding their own health. It’s doubly frightening to think about the babies and children whose lives are unwittingly being put at risk by their parents.
Who is to blame?
It’s easy to blame the parents of this tiny baby who is fighting for his life. It’s easy to label it “child-abuse” and judge them. But right now, they are facing something no parent ever wants to be confronted with. The potential loss of their precious child. I can’t imagine any scenario in which two loving parents seek such a result. I don’t doubt, even for a second, that they believed that refusing the Vitamin K injection was in the best interests of their child.
Did they believe being “natural” was the superior health choice for their child? Maybe they follow a bunch of bloggers who preach this approach to “wellness”. Perhaps they’ve been frightened by the misinformation on anti-vax websites? And therein lies the danger.
We are all guilty of googling a health condition or symptom but there’s a real issue when doing so is considered “research”.
I don’t really blame these parents.
I certainly acknowledge that they have some responsibility in this horrible situation. But I think the real perpetrators are the groups pushing medical misinformation for their own purposes. The people who talk about medical conspiracy theories and the “evils” of Big Pharma. The anti-science brigade, steeped in cognitive dissonance and always recruiting.
They conveniently ignore the alternative medicine industry that makes billions of dollars every year peddling unproven (or worse- actually studied and disproved) treatments. They urge people to ignore medical advice. Such groups thrive and grow on the fear and anxieties of new parents.
#IBOT @ Capturing Life.