Medications and the Newborn

Protection from the Start: The Medications Your Baby Needs in the First 24 Hours

The day has come at last. After nine months of imagining this moment, your baby has just entered this world. As you hold your baby in your arms for the first time, you are probably feeling the instinct to protect your little one. Your health care team wants to protect your baby too – and that’s why they recommend three medications to be administered before you and your baby leave the hospital. Since you’ve thought about everything you put into your body for the last nine months, it is understandable that you’d want to know about these medications too! Here is a quick backgrounder.

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Vitamin K – As adults, we get Vitamin K from our food and the healthy bacteria in our intestines but newborns are naturally born with a Vitamin K deficiency and are less able to utilize that which they do have. This vitamin is essential for clotting blood and stopping bleeding. To protect your new infant, your health care provider will administer a dose of Vitamin K to your baby, most likely through a shot. For help finding a health care provider, please visit

It is safe to delay the Vitamin K shot for thirty minutes to an hour to promote skin-to-skin contact as well as first feedings, and can often be given with the child still in your arms. This medication will protect your baby from Vitamin K deficiency bleeding, formerly known as hemorrhagic disease of newborn, from birth to six months. Babies who are not given Vitamin K at birth are 81 times more likely to suffer from latent Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding in the period from two to six months.

Antibiotic Eye Treatment – During your little one’s descent through the birth canal, he or she can be exposed to bacteria which can infect their eyes, potentially leading to serious complications and even blindness. (This risk is greatest in individuals who are infected with specific sexually transmitted diseases) To minimize this risk, your health care provider will administer an antibiotic or antiseptic to your infant, either in the form of eye drops or an ointment at the same point the Vitamin K shot is delivered. Erythromycin ointment is one common product used to safeguard your baby’s vision. The antibiotic ointment protects your baby’s eyes from a wide range of harmful bacteria that may be present in the birth canal. Since the ointment has no long-term negative side effects, it doesn’t hurt to give baby’s new eyes extra protection.

Hepatitis B Vaccine – Hepatitis B is a life-threatening disease that can cause immediate symptoms or chronic damage to a person’s liver. Some adults may not even know they have Hepatitis B and newborns are especially susceptible to being infected. For that reason, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that newborns receive their first dose within 24 hours of birth. If your infant has other health concerns, or weighs less than 4 pounds, 6 ounces, it may be delayed.

It used to be common practice to delay this vaccination to baby’s first appointment with their pediatrician or even until their one-month check-up. However, new research shows the Hepatitis B vaccine to be considerably more effective when administered earlier. This is particularly important if mother has tested positive for Hepatitis B. After the vaccination series is complete, 98% of healthy infants develop full immunity.

Starting your baby’s vaccinations on time is a great way to take positive action for wellness that extends to your whole community. Sign up for Healthy Futures. Healthy Futures will give you important health reminders including information such as when it is the proper time for your child to get the vaccinations he or she needs.