Most expectant Mothers who intend to breastfeed their newborns are aware that giving birth in the hospital runs the risk of having your baby get a bottle of sugar water (aka “baby crack”) by a well intentioned but seriously misguided nurse, perhaps to pacify a fussy baby in order to let Mom sleep.
Another reason a newborn may be given sugar water is for “pain management” when the baby receives the synthetic vitamin K shot, the liver damaging Hep B jab or newborn screening tests involving a heel prick.
Besides the fact that this sugar water contains glucose derived from genetically modified (GMO) corn, giving a baby an artificial nipple before breastfeeding is established is a great threat to the future breastfeeding relationship between Mom and baby.
As a result, clued in Moms are now advised to include a “no sugar water” clause in their birth plans, with doulas and other birthing advocates remaining watchful while Mom is resting or baby is out of the room for whatever reason.
Now, there is a new game in town that is commonly being used to derail breastfeeding after a hospital birth and arbitrarily give GMO laced commercial formula to babies.
This reason is neonatal hypoglycemia or low blood sugar.
I first became aware of this problem when a friend sent me an email about it. She had been made aware of the situation by a doula from New Mexico who said that women who start off breastfeeding in the hospital are being told by the nurses that their babies have low blood sugar and they need to have formula right away. This misguided advice caused a large number of mothers to stop breastfeeding out of concern that neonatal hypoglycemia might cause harm such as brain damage.
So what’s the truth? Do babies ever need formula instead of rich, immunity building colostrum in the hours and days after birth due to blood sugar problems?
The short answer is a resounding NO! Before I thoroughly debunk the egregious practice of using low blood sugar as an excuse to give newborns GMO commercial formula, let’s go over the causes, symptoms and problems associated with the condition.
What Causes Low Blood Sugar in Newborns?
It is true that babies can suffer from hypoglycemia or low blood sugar after birth. Babies are at increased risk for hypoglycemia if any of the following conditions were present:
- The baby was premature, had a serious infection, or needed oxygen right after delivery.
- Mom has gestational diabetes.
- The baby suffers from hypothyroidism or has a rare genetic disorder.
- The baby experienced poor growth in the womb during pregnancy.
- The baby is smaller in size for gestational age.
Symptoms of neonatal hypoglycemia include:
- Bluish-colored or pale skin
- Breathing problems, such as pauses in breathing (apnea), rapid breathing, or a grunting sound
- Irritability or listlessness
- Loose or floppy muscles
- Poor feeding or vomiting
- Problems keeping the baby warm
- Tremors, shakiness, sweating, or seizures
It is important to note that neonatal hypoglycemia may sometimes be present with no symptoms at all.
Is Low Blood Sugar in Newborns Dangerous?
Low blood sugar can indeed be a problem for newborns if severe or persistent as it can affect the baby’s mental function. Rarely, brain damage, heart failure or seizures can occur.
Unfortunately, fear of lawsuits has generated an irrational fear of neonatal hypoglycemia that has resulted in the widespread acceptance by hospital staff that breastfeeding mothers should be separated from their babies with newborns given supplemental formula in the hours and days after birth.
This hyper fear is causing even full term, normal weight babies to be given the painful test for low blood sugar when they don’t need it and many of those to be given formula when it isn’t warranted.
Formula feeding to babies by hospital staff gives new mothers the mistaken and very wrong impression that formula is medicine and good for the baby. It also causes many breastfeeding Moms to lose faith in their ability to properly nourish their children with their own colostrum and milk which interrupts and frequently ends the breastfeeding relationship for good right at the time when baby needs it most!
No Accepted Level for Neonatal Low Blood Sugar
The fact is that there is no generally accepted level that indicates baby has low blood sugar. According to the International Breastfeeding Center, the blood sugar levels required in many hospitals border on absurd with 3.4 mmol/L (60 mg %) routinely considered the lowest acceptable blood sugar.
There is no evidence to back up such a level as the lowest acceptable blood sugar concentration.
In addition, there is no reliable method for accurately measuring blood sugar outside a lab environment. The use of paper strips is not reliable as they tend to underestimate the true value. Truly accurate measures are obtained only by the laboratory which are able to provide a reliable measure of plasma glucose or sugar.
Hospitals Testing for Low Blood Sugar at the Wrong Time
Another problem is that many babies are tested for low blood sugar right after birth and then an hour later with formula being immediately and arbitrarily given if the blood sugar has dropped – even for normal weight, healthy, term babies!
This is totally inappropriate as research has shown that it is normal for the blood sugar in a neonate to drop in the first hour or two after birth! Moreover, a newborn’s blood sugar will naturally rise after the initial drop in the hours after birth – even if the baby is not fed!
Colostrum is Superior to Formula to Treat and Prevent Low Blood Sugar
A little bit of colostrum such as what a newborn would receive from Mom in the first hours after birth maintains blood sugar better than a lot of formula. Babies that are being breastfed have much higher levels of ketone bodies in their blood than formula fed babies or breastfed babies given formula supplements (Pediatrics Vol. 109 No. 3 March 2002, pp. e42). Ketone bodies are highly protective of the baby’s brain.
In addition, babies have been shown to maintain blood sugar better when skin to skin contact with the mother occurs such as would happen with breastfeeding.
If colostrum is superior to formula in maintaining healthy blood sugar levels in a newborn why then are breastfeeding mothers being encouraged by misinformed hospital staff to supplement with GMO laced commercial formula in order to treat an arbitrary condition like neonatal low blood sugar where the required blood sugar concentration is not even scientifically proven as accurate?
Simply criminal isn’t it?
What to Do if Low Blood Sugar Truly is an Issue
Suppose the rare case presents itself where an exclusively breastfed baby truly does have blood sugar levels that are dropping too rapidly or are too low? In those situations, mothers and birth advocates should request that the baby be given banked breastmilk, ideally fed with a Lact-Aid, and not formula. According to the International Breastfeeding Center, every postpartum unit should have banked breastmilk ready and available on site.
The second best option as an alternative to formula is to give the baby an intravenous infusion of glucose rather than formula by mouth.
Whether banked breastmilk or a glucose IV is given, the baby should continue to breastfeed as usual with no interruption!
Be on your guard, breastfeeding Moms as the low blood sugar excuse may be used on you to derail your breastfeeding efforts in the hospital! Make sure appropriate action for dealing with this hospital scenario is clearly outlined in your birth plan. Better yet, skip the hospital and have your baby at home or at a birth center instead and avoid the whole problem from the get go!
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist