What Are the Causes of Neonatal Hypoglycemia?
Newborn and Baby Data Verified

Neonatal Hypoglycemia - Causes, Risk Factors, Symptoms, Treatment, and Complications

Published on Jul 22, 2022 and last reviewed on Jan 18, 2023   -  4 min read


Neonatal hypoglycemia is a condition with low blood sugars in newborn babies. Read below to learn about the causes, diagnosis, and treatment of the condition.

Neonatal Hypoglycemia - Causes, Risk Factors, Symptoms, Treatment, and Complications


Glucose is an essential energy source for all the cells in the body. The brain depends entirely on glucose for its energy and functioning, unlike other organs that can survive by using proteins and fats in the absence of glucose. Insulin is a hormone released by the pancreas that helps maintain normal blood glucose levels in the body. An imbalance in insulin levels causes high or low blood sugars. Before birth, babies receive glucose from the mother through the placenta. After delivery, the source of glucose for the babies is through mother's milk and formula. A small amount of glucose is also produced in the baby's liver.

Hypoglycemia is a life-threatening condition and requires immediate attention. Neonatal hypoglycemia is a condition that occurs in newborn babies when their blood sugar levels become low that may persist for a few days after birth. 1 to 3 babies in every 1000 births show symptoms of neonatal hypoglycemia.

What Are the Causes of Neonatal Hypoglycemia?

A baby's blood glucose levels can fall due to the following reasons:

  • The baby does not produce enough glucose.

  • There is an increase in insulin levels in the body.

  • The baby is not able to take enough glucose from feeding.

  • A baby's body uses more glucose than the amount it is receiving.

Neonatal hypoglycemia is caused due to conditions like:

  1. Malnutrition of the mother during pregnancy.

  2. Poorly controlled gestational diabetes in the mother.

  3. Non-compatible blood types of the baby and mother.

  4. Congenital hormonal imbalances or metabolic disorders present at birth.

  5. Congenital disabilities.

  6. Tumor of the pancreas that releases more insulin into the baby's blood and stools.

  7. Perinatal asphyxia is when the newborn has oxygen deprivation and an inability to start spontaneous respiration.

  8. Infection.

  9. Liver disease.

What Are the Risk Factors for Neonatal Hypoglycemia?

Babies are at an increased risk for neonatal hypoglycemia if they have one or more risk factors mentioned below:

  • Babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes.

  • Babies who have restricted growth.

  • Preterm babies with low birth weight.

  • Babies that are small or large for their gestational age.

  • Babies who are born under stressful conditions.

  • Mothers who have been treated with medicines like Terbutaline for conditions like cough or asthma.

  • Babies who required oxygen therapy right after birth.

What Are the Symptoms of Neonatal Hypoglycemia?

Newborn babies may not show any symptoms of low blood sugars. Therefore, the healthcare workers check the blood glucose levels to see if the baby has any risk factors. However, some symptoms that the doctor can notice include:

  • Pale skin with a bluish tint.

  • Irritable baby.

  • Breathing problems like rapid or slow breathing or a grunting sound during breathing.

  • Low body temperature.

  • Poor muscle tone causes loose muscles.

  • Lack of interest in feeding.

  • Lack of movement.

  • Sweating, tremors, and shakiness.

How Is Neonatal Hypoglycemia Diagnosed in a Newborn?

Testing for low blood sugars is mandatory if the newborn has any risk factors. The nurses do a simple blood test to determine the blood glucose levels using a heel stick. Sugars need to be monitored regularly until the sugar levels stabilize to average values for 12 to 24 hours.

Other possible diagnostic tests include screening tests to detect metabolic disorders.

How Is Neonatal Hypoglycemia Treated?

Treatment aims to restore the blood sugars to a standard value. During treatment, the baby's gestational age, overall health, and risk factors are considered. Low blood sugars are corrected by giving extra breastmilk or formula feeds at regular intervals. In some cases, the baby may require an intravenous (IV) infusion of a solution of water and glucose if the baby cannot take feeds through the mouth. Monitoring the sugar levels at regular intervals is done, and the treatment may need to be continued for the initial few hours to weeks. Infants with low birth weight, infection, or born early might need therapy for more extended periods.

The doctor may prescribe specific medicines in rare cases where hypoglycemia does not subside with initial treatment. In addition, in very rare cases, the baby may require surgery to remove a part of the pancreas (that helps decrease the amount of insulin secreted).

What Are the Complications of Neonatal Hypoglycemia?

Hypoglycemia that occurs for more extended periods can damage the brain affecting the baby's mental development. In rare cases, seizures and heart failure can occur.

What Are the Measures to Prevent Neonatal Hypoglycemia?

The mother can take specific measures to help prevent hypoglycemia in newborns. Mothers with gestational diabetes have to work together with the healthcare worker during pregnancy to keep their sugar levels within the range. In addition, newborns have to be monitored to check their sugar levels.

When Should a Doctor Be Consulted?

Doctor consultation is required once the signs of low blood sugars are noted. Then, frequent feeds or a solution of water and glucose can be fed to the child on the doctor's advice.

What Are the Steps to Be Followed for Subsequent Hospital Visits?

The following tips help parents in a smooth follow-up visit to the hospital with the babies:

  1. Be clear about the reason for the visit.

  2. Write down the questions you wish to ask the doctor.

  3. Note down any new medicines or treatments advised for the child at the visit.

  4. Write down the further instructions that the doctor suggests for the baby.

  5. Know the use of any new medicines prescribed and any side effects associated with them.

  6. Enquire about alternate treatment plans for the child.

  7. Know why a diagnostic test is advised, and what do the results of the tests mean.

  8. Know what to expect if the baby or child rejects the prescribed medicine.

  9. Note down the date, time, and purpose of visit for follow-up appointments.


Neonatal hypoglycemia is an alarming condition that needs to be diagnosed promptly, and treatment has to be started immediately. Proper care and regular monitoring help to bring hypoglycemia under control very soon. Mothers diagnosed with gestational diabetes should have regular check-ups with the doctor and dietician. A healthy lifestyle, nutritious food rich in fiber, and regular exercise can help keep the sugar levels at normal in mothers. Babies born with low sugar levels and without symptoms tend to respond well to treatment and recover fast.

Last reviewed at:
18 Jan 2023  -  4 min read




Comprehensive Medical Second Opinion.Submit your Case

Related Questions & Answers

Why do I have lightheadedness and pain behind the eyes?

Query: Hi doctor, From time to time, I get a weird lightheaded sensation. I feel such a weird sensation while reading, looking at my cell phone, watching television, or driving at night. For a moment, I feel as though I may pass out. But, I do not pass out, and it goes away quickly. Sometimes it happens a...  Read Full »

I have Hashimoto's disease. But why am I hypoglycemic when my insulin levels are normal?

Query: Hello doctor, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto's thyroid disease approximately four months ago after my second pregnancy. I started taking Levothyroxine tablets. Due to weight gain, I took a GTT on Monday. My insulin was within the normal range. However, I was hypoglycemic during the first two hours. ...  Read Full »

My mother's sugar levels have been low since taking medications for diabetes. Why?

Query: Hello doctor, My mother was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Her first blood sugar test report was at 437 mg/dL. Now, after three months, the fasting level is 86 mg/dL. Last month fasting was 105 mg/dL and post-prandial was 120 mg/dL. She is taking half a tablet of Glimepiride 2 mg and Metformin 1000...  Read Full »

Popular Articles Most Popular Articles

Do you have a question on Hypoglycemia or ?

Ask a Doctor Online

* guaranteed answer within 4 hours.

Disclaimer: No content published on this website is intended to be a substitute for professional medical diagnosis, advice or treatment by a trained physician. Seek advice from your physician or other qualified healthcare providers with questions you may have regarding your symptoms and medical condition for a complete medical diagnosis. Do not delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice because of something you have read on this website. Read our Editorial Process to know how we create content for health articles and queries.