Newborn hypoglycemia, or neonatal hypoglycemia, is a medical name for the condition of low blood sugar in newborns. A certain level of sugar, in a form known as glucose, is needed in the blood for the body to use as fuel, so low levels can lead to problems. Signs of newborn hypoglycemia can vary and a baby may not show any symptoms at all, or may appear generally floppy, sleepy and lacking in appetite. In more extreme cases, a baby might shake, turn blue, stop breathing or vomit. The baby's body temperature might drop and, if the brain does not receive enough glucose, seizures leading to possible brain damage could occur.
Blood glucose levels fall during the first three hours following birth, and then begin to increase. In the womb, glucose from the mother passes through the placenta to the baby, where it is stored inside the baby's liver, muscles and heart. During and after birth, glucose is released from these stores, providing nourishment. The many possible causes of newborn hypoglycemia all prevent this process from occurring normally.
A baby born prematurely, or one which is small or underdeveloped, may not have enough glucose stores, while a baby which does not begin to feed soon enough may quickly use up existing stores. Both of these situations may lead to newborn hypoglycemia. In babies of diabetic mothers, an excess of the hormone insulin can lead to a drop in blood glucose levels. Breathing difficulties during delivery can use up glucose, and diseases present at birth or environmental stresses such as extreme temperatures, can also lead to hypoglycemia.
Some of the signs of hypoglycemia in the newborn arise from hormones such as adrenaline, produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress. These include trembling, sweating, vomiting, paleness and a rapid heartbeat. Other signs of newborn hypoglycemia are due to an inadequate supply of glucose to the brain and nervous system. When this occurs, the symptoms of hypoglycemia may include breathing difficulties, blue skin color, low body temperature, slow heart rate and seizures. The baby may appear limp and listless, may not be interested in feeding, and in extreme cases heart failure or coma may occur.
Treatment of newborn hypoglycemia varies according to the severity of the disorder and first involves attending to any potentially fatal conditions. Blood glucose levels need to be corrected as soon as possible. If the baby is able to feed, this may be achieved by giving the newborn a drink containing sugar. For newborns who are unable to take fluids by mouth, glucose liquid is given into a vein.