Most toddlers are pint-sized bundles of energy that never seem to stop moving. You are used to your child's extreme moods: the highs that occur after a period of excitement like a birthday party, and the cranky low times when your toddler needs a snack or a nap. Many of these whims and moods can be associated with your tot's blood sugar levels. Children of all ages can experience periods of high and low blood sugar levels. Some of the fluctuations are normal; others might indicate diabetes.
Your toddler's blood sugar levels are measured through a blood test. Tests may be random, taken at a routine well-child checkup or at another time if your pediatrician is concerned about the possibility of diabetes. Random blood tests do not require your toddler to fast; normal results are those that read under 200 mg/dL. A fasting glucose test requires you to take your toddler for a blood draw after an overnight fast, before he has eaten breakfast in the morning. Normal blood sugar levels for a fasting test range between 100 and 125 mg/dL. Readings higher than 125 may indicate that your child has diabetes.
Feeding your toddler healthy meals and snacks on a regular schedule can help regulate the blood sugar fluctuations that, while normal to a degree, can rev your child up or lead to a "crash and burn" situation. Foods high in sugar can give your toddler a boost of energy, along with a spike in glucose levels. The energetic phase ends sometimes abruptly and from the parent's point of view, somewhat catastrophically when your child is exhausted, hungry and irritable. Incorporating whole grains and fiber into your toddler's diet can help keep blood sugar levels more even after eating. Fruits, vegetables, whole grain pastas, rices and breads and lean proteins can help avoid the crash-and-burn syndrome. Toddlers can be picky about their meals; offer a variety of items, including beans, eggs, part-skim cheeses and low-fat, low-sodium lunch meats as options. Limit the amount of candy and potato chips your child eats as well.
Cause for Concern
Your toddler's health may be cause for concern if she exhibits symptoms associated with type 1 diabetes, or if she is overweight, putting her at risk for type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is the case in which your toddler's pancreas stops making insulin. Symptoms include increased thirst, urination and hunger, fatigue, yeast infections, blurred vision and weight loss. Due to your child's young age, she may not be able to articulate some of these symptoms to you and may just appear irritable. The growing trend of obesity in young children is another factor in high blood sugar levels in toddler-aged children. Obesity can change the way your child's body is able to process insulin, which can lead to diabetes.
Diabetes is a life-long challenge. While diabetes is not easy for anyone to handle, the routine care may be overwhelming for both the parents and a toddler who has been diagnosed with the condition. Children are more likely to be diagnosed with the type 1 form, which requires the administration of insulin and routine blood sugar checks throughout the day. You child might not understand why you prick his finger or give him a shot, but as a normal toddler, may try to assert his independence in the matter. Encourage participation in diabetes self-care by letting your toddler choose which finger to prick. Give him a choice of -- previously approved by you -- injection sites for his insulin. Toddlers who have diabetes learn very early on how to follow a healthy diet and care for themselves safely. Controlling diabetes in young children is of utmost importance to avoid complications, including cognitive difficulties, according to the University of San Francisco's Benioff Children's Hospital.
- UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital; Tips for Checking Blood Sugar; April 2011
- MayoClinic.com; Type 1 Diabetes in Children: Tests and Diagnosis; March 2011
- ABC News Health; Obesity Epidemic Spreads to Toddlers; Gigi Stone; August 2008
- Share Care: How Can I Involve My Infant or Toddler in Diabetes Self-Care?
- "Diabetes Forecast"; Teddy's Story; Sarah Howard; January 2011