Low blood sugar affects about one in six newborns, and new research suggests it could lead to brain difficulties in childhood.
Babies who experience low blood sugar at or near birth are at least two to three times more likely to face problems with planning, memory, attention, problem-solving and visual-motor coordination by the age of 4.5, New Zealand researchers said.
The low blood sugar (glucose) did not affect general thinking function or IQ, but it did affect problem-solving and other skills known as “executive functioning,” and also eye-hand coordination, the findings showed. These are crucial for many tasks, said study leader Chris McKinlay. He is a neonatologist at the Liggins Institute at the University of Auckland.
“We don’t know fully what this means for learning,” McKinlay said. “We think this may have an effect on educational achievement.”
Low blood sugar in newborns, known as “neonatal hypoglycemia,” is the most common preventable cause of brain damage in infancy. Those at risk of low blood sugar include babies born prematurely, those small or large for their gestational age, and those born to mothers with diabetes.
For these high-risk infants, it is common to do a blood glucose test, using a heel prick. If the level is too low, the child can be treated with a form of sugar to return it to normal levels.