If you've been told that your newborn baby has hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) or is at risk of developing this condition, you should also know that there are ways that breastfeeding can help
Low blood sugar occurs when the body's demand for glucose (a simple sugar) is greater than its
supply. Infants get glucose from the lactose (milk sugar) that is in milk and colostrum. Some
infants have greater difficulty maintaining an adequate blood sugar than others. While an
occasional dip in blood sugar is harmless, prolonged periods of low blood sugar can damage the
central nervous system.
Babies at risk for developing hypoglycemia include: preterm or post-term babies, infants of
diabetic mothers, babies of mothers who were given a large dose of glucose solution
intravenously during labor, infants who are either small or large for gestational age, and infants
who experience respiratory distress, breathing difficulties, or who are the product of a
Babies at risk for hypoglycemia need to breastfeed frequently. Here's how breastfeeding can
- Focus your energy on encouraging your baby to nurse well and often. Small, frequent,
high protein, high calorie meals of colostrum are much better for your baby than the bottles
of sugar water offered by hospital staff. See "Latch-on basics" and
"Waking the sleepy baby" for tips on getting newborns to breastfeed
- Keeping baby from wasting energy will help keep blood sugar at appropriate levels.
Frequent breastfeeding has an energy-sparing effect. Babies use less energy at the breast than
they do crying or taking milk from a bottle. Offer the breast often, for comfort as well as
- If supplements are medically indicated in your baby's first days of life, use infant
formula rather than glucose and water, which can cause baby's blood sugar to go up too
fast and then suddenly drop. Recent studies indicate that if newborns do need supplements
because of hypoglycemia or jaundice, they should be given formula rather than glucose and
- If supplements are given, avoid using artificial nipples which can cause
nipple confusion. "Alternatives to bottles" include feeding by cup,
syringe, or eyedropper, or finger-feeding.
- A newborn of an insulin-dependent diabetic mother, especially if premature, will often need
a day or so of intravenous glucose solution and/or bottles of formula to stabilize his blood
sugar until mother is able to produce sufficient milk. These supplements should be given in
addition to, not instead of, frequent breastfeeding.
If you're reading this during pregnancy, know that you can lessen your baby's chances of having
problems with hypoglycemia by what you do before and during the birth:
- Take good medical and nutritional care of yourself during pregnancy.
- If you have diabetes, try to maintain stable control during pregnancy.
- Unless medically necessary, avoid high doses of intravenous glucose sugar solution during
labor. High maternal blood sugar triggers insulin production in the baby, which can result in
a plunge in blood sugar in mother and baby soon after birth.
- Do whatever you can to lessen your baby's stress during labor and delivery. Newborn stress
can deplete baby's glucose stores.