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What is hemorrhagic disease?

Hemorrhagic disease is a bleeding problem that occurs in a baby during the first few days of life. Babies are normally born with low levels of vitamin K, an essential factor in blood clotting. A deficiency in vitamin K is the main cause of hemorrhagic disease in newborn babies.

Who is affected by hemorrhagic disease?

Vitamin K deficiency results in bleeding in less than 2 percent of all babies. Babies at risk for developing hemorrhagic disease are:

  • babies who don't receive preventive vitamin K in an injection at birth
  • exclusively breastfed babies (breast milk contains less vitamin K than cow's milk formula)
  • babies whose mothers have seizure disorders and take anti-convulsant medications

Why is hemorrhagic disease of the newborn a concern?

Without the clotting factor, bleeding occurs, and severe bleeding or hemorrhage can result.

What are the symptoms of hemorrhagic disease?

Symptoms may include:

  • blood in your baby's bowel movements
  • blood in urine
  • oozing around the umbilical cord

How do we diagnose hemorrhagic disease?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, a diagnosis is based on the signs of bleeding and by laboratory tests for blood clotting times.

How Boston Children's Hospital approaches NHD

If your child needs a blood transfusion, she'll be seen by specialists in the Boston Children's Medical/Surgical Intensive Care Unit. Ours is one of the highest-volume pediatric intensive care units in the United States.

In our pediatric intensive care unit, we care for more than 2,000 critically ill children, from newborn to college age, across a spectrum of childhood disease each year. Children and adolescents with all forms of non-malignant blood disorders, including anemias, bleeding problems, blood clots, platelet disorders, and red and white blood cell disorders, are treated through our Pediatric Hematology Service. If necessary, we also offer access to the largest pediatric stem cell transplantation program in New England.

Hemorrhagic Disease of the Newborn | Programs & Services