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Key messages

  • Most infants who are hypoglycaemic are asymptomatic.
  • Infants at risk for hypoglycaemia need screening in the immediate postnatal period.
  • Reagent stick screening of blood glucose concentrations is not accurate at low levels.
  • The gold standard is a true blood glucose (TBG).
  • Infants at low risk for hypoglycaemia should have their screening performed on the postnatal ward to keep mother and baby together.
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    In June 2023, we commenced a project to review and update the Maternity and Neonatal eHandbook guidelines with a view to completion in 2024. Please be aware that pending this review, some of the current guidelines may be out of date. In the meantime, we recommend that you also refer to more contemporaneous evidence.


    Hypoglycaemia: Although there is a lack of consensus on a definition of neonatal hypoglycaemia, it is recommended that clinical practice be guided by operational thresholds (ie glucose levels at which clinical interventions should be considered).

    True blood glucose (TBG): Blood glucose measurement from laboratory or blood gas analyser such as I-stat

    Blood glucose level (BGL): Blood glucose level from bedside glucometer

    Operational thresholds

    Postnatal ward:

    • Infant with risk factors for hypoglycaemia but no clinical signs: BGL < 2.0 mmol/L
    • Infant with clinical signs of hypoglycaemia: BGL < 2.6 mmol/L


    • All infants: TBG < 2.6 mmol/L

    Most asymptomatic infants with hypoglycaemia can be initially fed an increased volume of milk and only if hypoglycaemia persists should an IV glucose infusion be started.

    Infants at low risk for hypoglycaemia should have their screening performed on the postnatal ward to keep mother and baby together.

    Reagent stick screening of blood glucose concentrations is not accurate at low levels. Without a good evidence base for patient management, operational thresholds can be used to guide clinical practice.

    Management of hypoglycaemia is complicated by:

    • an inherent inaccuracy of reagent sticks
    • being mostly asymptomatic or having symptoms that are non-specific
    • a lack of evidence from randomised clinical trials with long-term outcome data.

    Clinical signs of hypoglycaemia

    The majority of infants with hypoglycaemia are asymptomatic.

    Infants with the following clinical features should have their blood glucose checked.

    CNS excitation:

    CNS depression:

    Infants at risk for hypoglycaemia should also have their blood glucose checked on arrival in the special care nursery (SCN) or in the postnatal ward (PNW) if at low risk.

    Risk factors for neonatal hypoglycaemia

    PrematurityInfants of diabetic mothers
    Intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) Rhesus isoimmunisation
    Perinatal asphyxiaPersistent hyperinsulinaemia hypoglycaemia of infancy (PHHI)
    HypothermiaIslet cell hyperplasia
    RDSBeckwith-Wiedemann syndrome
    SepsisPancreatic tumour

    Investigation of hypoglycaemia

    Follow these guidelines when investigating neonatal hypoglycaemia:

    • Reagent sticks used for screening may overestimate the occurrence of hypoglycaemia.
    • Confirm suspected hypoglycaemia with true blood glucose estimation on at least one occasion and this should be processed urgently.
    • The infant of an insulin requiring diabetic mother and those admitted to intensive or special care nursery should have screening performed promptly after arrival in the nursery.
    • Screening should be performed in the postnatal ward if the infant is at low risk (for example, normosomic infant of non-insulin requiring diabetic mother or the mildly growth restricted term infant with birth weight > 2 kg).
    • Premature infants who can be fed early after birth (appropriate for gestational age infants > 34 weeks gestation) will generally only require screening before the first two three-hourly feeds.

    Congenital adrenal hyperplasia

    Issues to note for infants with congenital adrenal hyperplasia:

    • Infants with CAH which may be associated with ambiguous genitalia can present with hypoglycaemia.
    • Failure to investigate and promptly treat these cases of ambiguous genitalia can be disastrous.


    Infants with a steady supply of glucose and intact counter regulatory hormonal pathways should remain normoglycaemic when receiving 4-8 mg/kg/min of glucose.

    If an infant requires > 10 mg/kg/min of IV glucose to maintain normoglycaemia then hyperinsulinism is suspected. This requires further investigation to confirm diagnosis. The following blood tests should be collected when the true blood glucose is < 2.0 mmol/L:

    • glucose
    • insulin
    • growth hormone
    • cortisol
    • free fatty acids. 

    Urine should be tested for ketones.

    A helpful calculation for mg/kg/min of IV glucose

    A helpful calculation for mg/kg/min of IV glucose is to convert the % dextrose/10 x mL/kg/day x 0.07 to obtain mg/kg/min.

    For example

    • 10 per cent dextrose at 60 mL/kg/day will give 4.2 mg/kg/min (10/10 x 60 x 0.07)
    • 12.5 per cent dextrose at 100 mL/kg/day will give 8.75 mg/kg/min (12.5/10 x 100 x 0.07).

    Screening for hypoglycaemia

    Postnatal ward (PNW) management

    Special care nursery (SCN) management

    Prevention of hypoglycaemia

    The following strategies will assist prevention of hypoglycaemia:

    • mothers of at risk infants may be advised regarding antenatal expression of breast milk
    • promote early prolonged skin to skin contact and breastfeeding
    • prevent hypothermia
    • if able to take enteral feeds commence by one to two hours of age
    • feed frequently either two-hourly or three-hourly if risk is low
    • use expressed breast milk or full strength formula at 60 mL/kg initially, increasing to 90 mL/kg by 24 hours according to tolerance
    • if the infant is nil by mouth then commence IV 10 per cent glucose at 60-90 mL/kg/24 hours (4-6 mg/kg/min of glucose)
    • if fluid restriction is required increase the concentration of glucose in the infusion.

    Management of hypoglycaemia

    Oral feeds

    If a hypoglycaemic infant is able to tolerate enteral feeding, this should be given.

    Buccal glucose gel (glucose 15TM)


    Glucose is a simple monosaccharide, which is a source of energy for the body. The glucose gel is used to increase blood glucose levels for the treatment of neonatal hypoglycaemia.


    Oral gel, 15 g glucose in 37.5 g (d-glucose/dextrose USP 40%)


    Buccal: 0.5 mL/kg
    Postnatal ward: Maximum 6 doses in first 48 hours (refer PNW flow chart)


    • Dry inside of baby's mouth.
    • Twist tip of tube off and squeeze contents into measuring cup to withdraw dose. Tube may be used by same baby until discharged or contents expire (if prior to discharge).
    • Label tube with baby's identification sticker.
    • Measure required dose of glucose gel with dispenser.
    • Apply small amounts gel at a time to buccal mucosa and massage gently with a clean, gloved finger.
    • Do not put gel to back of mouth.
    • Document administration on the medication chart. Two doses may be initiated in the 'once only medicines' by a registered nurse/midwife thereafter ordered by a medical officer (up to six doses in first 48 hours after birth) or ordered as per hospital policy.
    • Continue to monitor BGL as per appropriate flow chart.

    Side effects

    • Gagging
    • Vomiting
    • Hyperglycaemia


    • Hypersensitivity to gel

    IV glucose

    Follow these guidelines if the infant is unable to tolerate enteral feeds or if there is no response to the feed:

    • Give an IV bolus of 200-300 mg/kg glucose (2-3 mL/kg of 10% glucose).
    • This is followed by a continuous IV infusion of 10 per cent glucose at 60-80 mL/kg/day (4.2-5.6 mg/kg/min glucose) to prevent rebound hypoglycaemia.
    • If fluid restriction is necessary, give more concentrated glucose solution.
    • IV infusion of solutions with > 12.5 per cent glucose are best given through an umbilical venous catheter or  central line in order to avoid complications. (However, inability to gain such access should not preclude using such higher concentrations of glucose.)
    • Once the blood glucose normalises, enteral feeds can be reintroduced and the infusion weaned off.
    • If the infusion is no longer required, the otherwise well infant could have their blood glucose measurements taken in the postnatal ward if it is otherwise safe to do so.

    Prescriptions for IV glucose
    Prescription to make up a 50 mL solution of various glucose infusions are listed below:

    12.5% 46.5 mL 3.5 mL
    15.0% 44.0 mL 6.0 mL
    17.5% 40.5 mL 9.5 mL
    20.0% 37.5 mL 12.5 mL


    Guidelines for neonatal management with glucagon:

    • In infants with adequate glycogen stores (eg. hyperinsulinaemic states) whose hypoglycaemia persists in spite of an IV infusion, administer an IM stat injection of glucagon 0.03 to 0.1 mg/kg. This may be repeated after 6-12 hours. Some infants of diabetic mothers may require up to 0.3 mg/kg to a maximum dose of 1 mg (total dose, not per kg).
    • If hypoglycaemia recurs or persists despite IV infusion of 12.5% glucose at 120ml/kg/d (10.5mg/kg/min glucose), an IV glucagon infusion should be considered (1-20 micrograms/kg/hr) while arrangements are made to transfer the infant to a Tertiary centre for continued treatment.

    Other treatments

    Other treatments to consider for neonatal hypoglycaemia include:

    • Corticosteroids (for example, hydrocortisone, 5-10 mg/kg/24hours IM/IV) are used rarely in severe hypoglycaemia to raise blood glucose levels.

    Treat the cause

    The cause of hypoglycaemia (for example, hypothermia, sepsis) must also be treated.

    When to refer

    There should be a discussion with PIPER if an infant is requiring more than 100 mL/kg/day of > 12.5 per cent glucose (8.75 mg/kg/min).

    See the glucose delivery calculator

    More information

    • Williams AF. Neonatal Hypoglycaemia: Clinical and legal aspects Seminars in Fetal & Neonatal Medicine 2005; 10: 363-368
    • Koh THHG, Aynsley-Green A, Tarbit M, Eyre JA. Neural dysfunction during hypoglycaemia. Arch Dis Child 1988;63:1353-1358.
    • Lucas A, Morley R, Cole TJ. Adverse neurodevelopmental outcome of moderate neonatal hypoglycaemia. Br Med J 1988;297:1304-1308.
    • Boardman, J.P., Wusthoff, C.J. & Cowan, F.M., Hypoglycaemia and neonatal Brain Injury. Arch Dis Child 2013;98:2-6
    • Queensland Clinical Guidelines: Newborn hypoglycaemia at updated August 2013
    • The Women’s Hospital Clinical Practice Guidelines: Hypoglycaemia: Infant Management at updated October 2013
    • Royal Children’s Hospital Clinical Practice Guideline(Nursing): Neonatal Hypoglycaemia at updated December 2012

    Other reading

    • Hawdon JM, Aynsley-Green A. Metabolic disease. In: Rennie JM, Roberton NRC (eds). Textbook of Neonatology, 3rd edition. Churchill Livingstone, London, 1999, pg. 939-956.
    • Cornblath M. Hypoglycaemia. In: Proceedings of Special Ross Conference, Hot Topics in Neonatology, Washington DC, 2000.
    • Harris DL, Weston PJ, Signal M, Chase G, Harding JE. Dextrose gel for neonatal hypoglycaemia (the Sugar Babies Study): a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Lancet 2013;382(9910):2077-83. Epub 2013 Sep 25

    Get in touch

    Clinical Guidance Team
    Safer Care Victoria

    Version history

    First published: March 2016
    Review by: March 2019

    Uncontrolled when downloaded
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