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Neonatal hypoglycemia: Low blood sugar in newborns

Neonatal hypoglycemia is one of the most common health issues in newborn babies. It is a metabolic disorder characterised by low blood sugar levels. The condition can be potentially dangerous for the infant. It usually occurs during the first hours after birth, and it requires constant monitoring.

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What causes neonatal hypoglycemia?

Normally, a newborn’s blood sugar level is between 30 to 60 mg/dl. Values lower than 30 mg/dl indicate hypoglycemia. There are a few risk factors and causes for low blood sugar levels in newborns.

  • Premature babies usually have lower blood sugar levels
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Mother has diabetes (Type I or II)
  • Low birth weight
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Hypoxia during birth
  • Overproduction of insulin
  • Low glycogen reserve in the liver
  • Birth by C-section
  • Long and difficult labour
  • Stress

 

There are also other congenital health issues that can lead to neonatal hypoglycemia. However, the highest risk factor is mother suffering from diabetes. Around 8-10% of babies develop hypoglycemia during the first few hours after birth. For babies delivered by C-section, the percent is higher: 15%.

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Signs and symptoms of neonatal hypoglycemia

Doctors will monitor the baby carefully during the first hours after birth for any signs of low blood sugar. Since the condition can affect the baby’s brain, it is important to treat it. The most common symptoms include:

  • Convulsions or tremors
  • Muscular weakness
  • Vomiting
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Apnoea or difficulty in breathing
  • Apathy

 

For babies that present one or more risk factors, blood sugar levels will be monitored every few hours.

Prevention and treatment of neonatal hypoglycemia

Recent research shows that hypoglycemia in newborn babies can be prevented by proper feeding practices. Breastfeeding soon after birth helps stabilise the baby’s blood sugar levels, as well as other important body functions. Feeding the baby colostrum is also very important for preventing hypoglycemia.

RELATED: Breastfeeding tips and tricks from NUH

As a standard treatment for this condition, doctors administer glucose by IV. Although this raises the child’s blood sugar levels, it also stimulates the pancreas to produce more insulin. This can lead to a recurrent episode of hypoglycemia.

The best answer to preventing hypoglycemia in infants is to keep them close to the mother. Frequent feeding and having the mother close by helps the baby achieve a normal blood sugar level. Babies that are left alone in nurseries are more at risk of developing hypoglycemia. Stress levels can also be high if a newborn baby is not properly handled by nurses or other caregivers. Having the parents close and ensuring proper breastfeeding practices drastically reduces the risk of many neonatal health problems.

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