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What is hypoglycemia?

Hypoglycemia is a condition in which the amount of blood glucose (sugar) is lower than normal. Babies who are more likely to develop hypoglycemia include the following:

  • Babies born to diabetic mothers may develop hypoglycemia after delivery when the source of glucose (the mother's blood) is gone and the baby's insulin production uses up the existing glucose.
  • Small for gestational age or growth-restricted babies may have too few glycogen stores.
  • Premature babies, especially those with low birthweights, often have limited glycogen stores or an immature liver function.

The brain depends on blood glucose as its main source of fuel. Too little glucose can impair the brain's ability to function. Severe or prolonged hypoglycemia may result in seizures and serious brain injury.

What are the symptoms of hypoglycemia?

Symptoms of hypoglycemia may not be obvious in newborn babies. The following are the most common symptoms of hypoglycemia. However, each baby may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • jitteriness
  • cyanosis (blue coloring)
  • apnea (stopping breathing)
  • hypothermia (low body temperature)
  • poor body tone
  • poor feeding
  • lethargy
  • seizures

The symptoms may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your baby's physician for a diagnosis.

How is hypoglycemia diagnosed?

A simple blood test for blood glucose levels can diagnose hypoglycemia. Blood may be drawn from a heelstick, with a needle from the baby's arm, or through an umbilical catheter (a tube placed in the baby's umbilical cord).

Treatment for hypoglycemia:

Specific treatment for hypoglycemia will be determined by your baby's physician based on:

  • your baby's gestational age, overall health, and medical history
  • extent of the disease
  • your baby's tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the disease
  • your opinion or preference

Treatment includes giving the baby a rapid acting source of glucose. This may be as simple as giving a glucose/water mixture or formula as an early feeding. Or, the baby may need glucose given intravenously. The baby's blood glucose levels are closely monitored after treatment to see if the hypoglycemia occurs again.

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