Hypoglycemia in the Newborn

Hypoglycemia means low blood glucose (sugar). It's a condition in which the amount of blood glucose in the blood is lower than normal.

Approximately two out of 1,000 newborn babies have low blood glucose.  During pregnancy, glucose is passed to the baby from the mother through the placenta.  Some of the glucose is stored in the placenta, and later in the baby's liver, heart and muscles.  These stores of glucose are important for supplying the baby's brain with energy during delivery and for nutrition after the baby is born. 

Babies who are more likely to develop hypoglycemia include:

  • Babies born to mothers with diabetes
  • Babies born too early or too small

Many different conditions are associated with hypoglycemia in the newborn, including:

  • Poor nutrition of the mother during pregnancy
  • Inadequate feeding intake 
  • Blood types of the mother and baby are not compatible
  • Birth defects, endocrine disorders and metabolic diseases present at birth
  • Poor intake of oxygen during birth (birth asphyxia)
  • Exposure to the cold (cold stress)
  • Liver disease

The brain depends on blood glucose as its main source of energy. The brain will not function normally if there is not enough glucose. Blood glucose that is very low may result in seizures and serious brain injury.

Symptoms of hypoglycemia may not be obvious in newborns. Each baby may experience symptoms differently. The most common symptoms include:

  • Restlessness
  • Blue skin coloring (cyanosis)
  • Stopping breathing (apnea)
  • Low body temperature (hypothermia)
  • Poor body tone
  • Poor feeding
  • Sluggishness (lethargy)
  • Seizures

The symptoms of hypoglycemia may look like other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your baby's provider if you notice these changes in your child.

A simple blood test for blood glucose levels can diagnose hypoglycemia. Generally, a baby with low blood glucose levels will need treatment.

Specific treatment for hypoglycemia will be determined by your baby's provider 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 fast-acting source of glucose by mouth or intravenously (IV). The baby's blood glucose levels should be closely monitored after treatment by your provider to see if the hypoglycemia occurs again.

After baby has been diagnosed with hypoglycemia, your provider will help you determine the treatment to prevent another low blood glucose.  You will be instructed on signs and symptoms of low blood glucose in your child.  You will also be instructed when to call your provider or 911.   

Last Updated 07/2015