Background: Neonatal hypoglycemia is common and can cause brain injury. Buccal dextrose gel is effective for treatment of neonatal hypoglycemia, and when used for prevention may reduce the incidence of hypoglycemia in babies at risk, but its clinical utility remains uncertain.
Methods and findings: We conducted a multicenter, double-blinded, placebo-controlled randomized trial in 18 New Zealand and Australian maternity hospitals from January 2015 to May 2019. Babies at risk of neonatal hypoglycemia (maternal diabetes, late preterm, or high or low birthweight) without indications for neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) admission were randomized to 0.5 ml/kg buccal 40% dextrose or placebo gel at 1 hour of age. Primary outcome was NICU admission, with power to detect a 4% absolute reduction. Secondary outcomes included hypoglycemia, NICU admission for hypoglycemia, hyperglycemia, breastfeeding at discharge, formula feeding at 6 weeks, and maternal satisfaction. Families and clinical and study staff were unaware of treatment allocation. A total of 2,149 babies were randomized (48.7% girls). NICU admission occurred for 111/1,070 (10.4%) randomized to dextrose gel and 100/1,063 (9.4%) randomized to placebo (adjusted relative risk [aRR] 1.10; 95% CI 0.86, 1.42; p = 0.44). Babies randomized to dextrose gel were less likely to become hypoglycemic (blood glucose < 2.6 mmol/l) (399/1,070, 37%, versus 448/1,063, 42%; aRR 0.88; 95% CI 0.80, 0.98; p = 0.02) although NICU admission for hypoglycemia was similar between groups (65/1,070, 6.1%, versus 48/1,063, 4.5%; aRR 1.35; 95% CI 0.94, 1.94; p = 0.10). There were no differences between groups in breastfeeding at discharge from hospital (aRR 1.00; 95% CI 0.99, 1.02; p = 0.67), receipt of formula before discharge (aRR 0.99; 95% CI 0.92, 1.08; p = 0.90), and formula feeding at 6 weeks (aRR 1.01; 95% CI 0.93, 1.10; p = 0.81), and there was no hyperglycemia. Most mothers (95%) would recommend the study to friends. No adverse effects, including 2 deaths in each group, were attributable to dextrose gel. Limitations of this study included that most participants (81%) were infants of mothers with diabetes, which may limit generalizability, and a less reliable analyzer was used in 16.5% of glucose measurements.
Conclusions: In this placebo-controlled randomized trial, prophylactic dextrose gel 200 mg/kg did not reduce NICU admission in babies at risk of hypoglycemia but did reduce hypoglycemia. Long-term follow-up is needed to determine the clinical utility of this strategy.