Newborn medicine and tests
Newborn vitamin K
Vitamin K is needed to help the blood clot and to prevent bleeding.
Babies do not get enough vitamin K from their mothers during pregnancy or from breast milk. Newborns can be deﬁcient in vitamin K for the ﬁrst eight days of life.
Without enough vitamin K a baby is at risk of developing a rare disorder called Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding or VKDB, which can cause them to bleed into their brain. This condition can also lead to death.
The recommendation, based on current research, is that babies are given an injection with a single dose of vitamin K within a few hours of birth.
As an alternative to the injection, vitamin K may be given orally. Vitamin K is not absorbed as well using this method and so it is necessary to give the baby three doses over a period of time.
Babies in Australia have been receiving vitamin K for over 30 years without any known problems. The National Health and Medical Research Council in Australia has thoroughly investigated claims, made in some studies, that there may be a link between vitamin K and childhood cancers and found that there is no association.
The hepatitis B virus can lead to chronic liver problems and liver cancers. A newborn baby has a very high risk of getting hepatitis B from their mother, who may or may not know that she is infected. It is spread by infected blood and other body ﬂuids such as saliva.
The recommendation in Australia is that all babies are immunised soon after birth. This is called universal vaccination. The primary reason for universal vaccination is that women may not know they are infected. Some women will not have been screened for the virus and others may have been screened and the virus was not picked up. The other reason for universal vaccination is that a high percentage of people who are found to have hepatitis B are people who are not in the known high-risk category for infection.
You will be offered a hepatitis B vaccine for your baby but to be fully vaccinated, your baby will need further doses up to the age of four. If you are known to be hepatitis B positive your baby will need an immunoglobulin injection while in hospital, this will give your baby added and immediate protection from hepatitis B.
The decision to have your baby immunised rests with you.
Newborn screening test
Some babies are born with rare diseases, which can cause very serious complications. However, if these diseases are found and treated soon after birth, the baby will grow and develop normally. For this reason, a screening test is offered for all newborn babies.
This test screens for:
- congenital hypothyroidism
- cystic fibrosis
- amino acid disorders e.g. Phenylketonuria (PKU)
- fatty acid oxidation disorders
With your permission, a healthcare worker simply draws a few drops of blood by pricking the infant's heel, usually within 48 to 72 hours of birth. Four small spots of blood are collected on a blotting card. That blood is then sent off to the Victorian Clinical Genetics Service (VCGS) who analyse the sample.
Victorian Infant hearing screening Program
The Victorian Infant Hearing Screening Program (VIHSP) screens the hearing of newborn babies in their first weeks of life. Early detection and intervention improve outcomes for babies with hearing loss.
Parents/guardians of babies, identified as requiring audiology, are fully supported through the process of diagnosis and intervention by VIHSP Early Support Services.
- Is only performed with your permission
- is performed by trained hearing screeners
- uses standard technology (Automated Auditory Brainstem Response AABR)
- is usually completed at the mother's bedside while the baby is asleep (in hospital) or at an outpatient appointment
Last Modified: Thursday, 16 February 2023