Hypoglycemia in the Newborn: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

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Hypoglycemia in the newborn is a condition in which a newborn’s blood-glucose levels are lower than they should normally be. It is estimated that about every two in 1,000 newborns will experience hypoglycemia, states Children’s Hospital Boston.Glucose in the blood feeds the brain and provides the body with the energy it needs. When the baby is still in the womb, the mother’s placenta supplies him with a sufficient supply of glucose. After a baby is born, his glucose supply comes from food he consumes as well as from his liver.

Why Does it Occur?

A variety of factors may cause a newborn to experience hypoglycemia. Since this condition is the most common newborn metabolic problem it is a concern for all newborns, especially those with the following risk factors:

  • Blood infection
  • Inborn errors of metabolism
  • Lack of oxygen that occurs close to birth
  • Mother has diabetes
  • Premature birth
  • Endocrine disorders, such as hypothyroidism
  • Intrauterine growth restriction
  • Large for gestational age
  • Mother has infection or chorioamnionitis close to the time the baby is born
  • Small for gestational age

Hypoglycemia in newborns may occur if the baby is born with too much insulin in her blood, produces insufficient amounts of glucose and/or glycogen or if her metabolism requires more glucose than her body is able to produce.

The most common causes of this condition are the mother not getting proper nutrition during the pregnancy, cold stress or a mother suffering from diabetes giving birth with too much insulin in her blood. The condition is also caused by severe hemolytic disease, birth asphyxia, liver disease or a variety of congenital metabolic diseases, like congenital hyperinsulinism, or birth defects.

Signs and Symptoms

Hypoglycemia in the newborn may not cause any symptoms. If a newborn does experience symptoms, they may include:

  • Skin is a bluish color
  • Decreased muscle ton
  • Irritability
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Pauses is breathing
  • Rapid breathing
  • Shakiness
  • Tremors
  • Breathing problems
  • Grunting
  • Listlessness
  • Pale skin
  • Poor feeding
  • Issues maintaining body heat
  • Sweating
  • Seizures
  • Lethargy
  • Being jittery


The treatment for hypoglycemia in newborns is based on several factors, including overall health, gestational age and medical history, as well as how well the baby tolerates the medical procedures, therapies and medications. The parents’ preference also plays a role in treatment for this condition, as well as how severe the condition is and the doctors’ expectations for the course of the condition.

Giving the newborn a fast-acting glucose source is a common treatment method. This may include an early feeding of formula or a water/glucose mixture. Intravenous glucose may be necessary for some newborns.

Once the condition is under control. The newborn’s blood-glucose levels will have to be closely monitored to ensure blood-sugar levels remain steady and to prevent hypoglycemia from occurring in the future. If the newborn continues to experience hypoglycemia, medication that will raise their blood sugar or decrease insulin production may be necessary. A genetica condition called congenital hyperinsulinism may require surgery to remove a portion of the pancreas.


MedlinePlus. (2009). Neonatal Hypoglycemia. Retrieved on November 15, 2010 from MedlinePlus: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/007306.htm

Children’s Hospital Boston. (2010). Newborn Hypoglycemia. Retrieved on November 15, 2010 from Children’s Hospital Boston: https://www.childrenshospital.org/az/Site1129/mainpageS1129P0.html