Blood glucose abnormalities

Glucose (sugar) is the body's most important source of energy. During the foetal stage, sugar was supplied to the baby through the placenta. This supply ends at birth when the umbilical cord is cut. Normally, the baby will have sufficient reserves of sugar in its liver in order for blood glucose levels to stay within a safe range until the mother starts producing breast milk and the baby has learnt to breastfeed.

Blood glucose levels that are too low (hypoglycaemia) may lead to the brain not receiving enough energy, and if blood glucose levels become very low it may produce acute symptoms of listlessness, cramping and, in very rare instances, permanent brain damage.

The risk of hypoglycaemia is greater in premature babies or babies with a low birth weight as they have smaller reserves of sugar. The risk also increases if the energy reserves have been used up, as a result of severe infection or asphyxia. A baby whose mother has diabetes is at risk of hypoglycaemia after birth as it has increased levels of insulin which lowers blood glucose levels.

Hypoglycaemia is treated by supplying nutrients and energy, in simple cases by providing extra food and sugar gel orally. In more complicated cases, particularly if blood glucose levels are not normalised through feeding or if the baby presents symptoms, intravenous glucose is required. Symptoms that last longer than 24 hours can be treated by administering a drug that blocks the effects of insulin, normally only for babies whose mother has insulin-treated diabetes.

Text: Kajsa Bohlin Blennow