Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition that affects millions of people worldwide, including young children.
When a toddler is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, parents may feel overwhelmed and unsure of how to manage their child’s health. It’s a lot to handle, but with the right information and support, parents can help their child thrive with type 1 diabetes.
In this post, we will discuss what parents of toddlers with type 1 diabetes need to know to effectively manage their child’s diabetes, including managing blood sugar levels, administering insulin, and navigating daily life with this condition.
What is Type 1 Diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes is a disease in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Insulin is a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar levels by allowing body cells to turn glucose (sugar) into energy.
Without enough insulin, glucose builds up in the bloodstream and can lead to high blood sugar levels, which over time can cause damage to the body.
Treatment for type 1 diabetes typically involves insulin therapy, blood sugar monitoring, healthy eating, and regular exercise.
What do Parents Need to Learn?
Since the condition is common in children, parents play a crucial role in its management.
As a parent new to type 1 diabetes, here are the most important things you need to learn so you can manage your child’s diabetes effectively.
1. Measuring Blood Glucose Levels
In diabetes management, regular monitoring of blood glucose levels is crucial. These levels must be kept at a healthy range to avoid complications like hyperglycemia (blood glucose is too high) and hypoglycemia (blood glucose is too low).
A goal for your child’s average blood glucose level is to keep it between 70 to 150 mg/dL (easier said than done!). There are a lot of factors that can cause glucose levels to stray from this range including food, exercise, and insulin, which we’ll look at in a minute.
To make sure the levels are in range, it’s important to measure your child’s glucose levels frequently throughout the day, especially after meals and before bedtime.
There are two ways in which you can do that: The fingerprick test and a Continuous Glucose Monitor.
The fingerprick test is the more familiar way of monitoring blood glucose levels. The test involves pricking the fingertip with a tiny lancelet to get a small blood sample carefully dropped on a test strip. The test strip is then inserted into the blood glucose meter and the device measures the blood glucose and displays the reading on the screen.
As easy, common, and effective as this test is, know that it may be uncomfortable and inconvenient, considering you’ll need to prick your child’s finger several times a day.
Continuous Glucose Monitors (CGMs)
A CGM, as the name states, is a device that continuously measures blood glucose levels. This device attaches to the body and automatically measures blood sugar through a sensor placed just beneath the skin. It then sends blood glucose readings to a smartphone.
The advantages of this technology are straightforward. The main benefit is that it takes away the need for regular pricking. It also allows real-time and remote access to your child’s blood glucose levels, even at night.
Also, it provides you with glucose reading trends over time which is very useful information for your child’s doctor. By using a CGM, you’ll be able to get a better feel for how exercise, food, stress, and other factors affect your child’s glucose levels.
Many CGMs nowadays are approved for use in very young children so they can be a great addition to your child’s diabetes management.
2. Insulin Therapy
As mentioned earlier, kids with type 1 diabetes require regular insulin therapy to assist them in regulating their blood sugar and managing the condition.
Insulin is often administered as basal insulin or an insulin bolus intended to correct a spike in blood sugar quickly. Let’s look at this more carefully:
- Basal Insulin: Basal insulin is long-acting and provides a steady release of insulin throughout the day to help control blood sugar levels between meals and overnight. It’s typically taken once or twice a day, and its main function is to provide a baseline level of insulin to prevent high blood sugar levels.
- Bolus Insulin: Bolus insulin is a short-acting insulin that’s taken with meals to help regulate blood sugar spikes that occur after eating or otherwise. The dosage of bolus is typically based on the amount of carbohydrates your child is eating. It’s important to get your child to eat the appropriate amount of carbs after a bolus dose, which can be tricky with toddlers, but here are some tips on how to deal with meals, if you need them.
Insulin administration is done through insulin injections or an insulin pump system.
As the name suggests, insulin injections involve using a syringe or pen to administer insulin.
Insulin injections can be administered at different body parts like the arms, abdomen, thigh, or buttocks.
This is the standard method of insulin delivery but, as they are injections, it can be hard for young kids to deal with, especially because they need to be administered several times a day.
With this insulin delivery method, there may also be a higher risk of hypoglycemia, especially if the timing or dosing interval is not optimal.
An insulin pump is a computerized device attached to the skin that automates continuous insulin administration throughout the day and at nighttime. With the pump, insulin is subcutaneously passed into your child’s body.
Generally, insulin pumps are a more convenient and flexible option for delivering insulin shots, especially for children, but they do require your child to wear a device on them, and they’re not exactly small.
Just like CGMs, there are a lot of insulin pumps on the market that can be used by toddlers, it’s just a matter of checking with your doctor and insurance provider to see which pumps are an option.
3. Eating Healthy
Food can heavily affect blood glucose levels, as we’ve seen. Maintaining a healthy and consistent diet is essential for a child with diabetes, especially given that they are on insulin therapy. Failure to eat regularly while taking insulin poses a risk of hypoglycemia, which is something you’ll want to avoid as much as possible.
Talk to the doctor about what a healthy diet means for a child with diabetes and try to make sure your kid maintains a regular, balanced diet.
Working with a dietitian, too, can help you create a sustainable meal plan that suits your child’s dietary needs.
You may want to start logging every single one of your child’s meals from now on. This allows you not only to keep track of what’s been eaten for insulin calculations, but also helps you be more aware of how certain foods affect your child’s glucose levels as well.
4. Sports & Exercise
Exercise is also important for diabetes management, but it also affects blood glucose levels. When exercising, the body burns glucose faster, lowering the overall blood sugar levels. Your toddler may still be too young to be thinking of exercise and sports and how that’ll affect them in the future.
But if you’re curious, there’s no sport a child with diabetes can’t play, as long as they properly prepare for the activity. Having said that, the best sports for children with diabetes include tennis, swimming, running, basketball, yoga, soccer, gymnastics, and others.
Tips for Managing Type 1 Diabetes in Toddlers
Here are some tips to help you, as you try to care for your child in the best way possible.
Lean On Your Child’s Doctor for Support
Your child’s doctor will play a very important role in your and your child’s life from now on, so don’t be afraid to go to them with questions, or concerns, or to ask for help. This is especially important right after diagnosis, as you try to understand the complexities of this condition.
Make sure you:
- Schedule frequent appointments (your doctor will advise you on this frequency).
- Be transparent with the doctor regarding the treatment plan.
- Ask for help to devise an effective diabetes management plan, including diet management, how often you need to monitor your child’s blood glucose levels, the best sports for your kid, and how to deal with emergencies.
Find Support in Forums for Parents of Kids with Diabetes
Supporting a child with type 1 diabetes may be very challenging, especially at first. Connecting with parents of kids in similar situations may help ease your stress and get you the support you need to be able to support your child.
Forums like TuDiabetes Forum may make you feel less isolated and more hopeful as you read through other parents’ experiences. Here’s a list of 10 support forums for parents of kids with diabetes, if you’re interested in checking it out.
Get Your Child’s Teacher Involved
You’ll need to contact your child’s teacher and/or school and inform them that your child needs extra care moving forward. Teachers, too, are caregivers, so they will hopefully understand and be open to assisting in your kid’s therapy.
First, inform the teacher of your child’s diabetes diagnosis, and explain how they can help. For example, provide information such as spotting any sign of low blood sugar levels and how often your child needs to refuel and remain hydrated even after exercising or playing with friends.
In addition, you may need to show the teacher how to administer insulin shots, especially if your child is using insulin injections or in case of an emergency.
Make Use of Diabetes Management Apps
As you learn to log meals, exercise, and other data, diabetes management apps will be your best friend.
Gluroo is a great diabetes management app for parents. It lets you log all relevant data (meals, exercise, open insulin vials, insulin pump attachment sites), integrates with insulin pumps and CGMs for remote data monitoring, and allows you to create your own “GluCrew” of caretakers inside the app so that everyone involved in taking care of your child (parents, teachers, grandparents, etc) can have access to your child’s BGL data in real-time, wherever they’re located.
When our founder created Gluroo after his son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, he had one goal: to make the life of parents of kids with diabetes simpler. We hope Gluroo helps you too, as much as it’s helped his family and so many other people.
You can download Gluroo today for free.
Educate Your Child and Get Them Involved When Possible
Your toddler may still be too young but, in due time, try educating your child about their condition, letting them know the importance of taking care of themselves.
Slowly teach them about insulin doses, measuring their glucose levels, and all the devices involved in managing their condition.
You probably never thought you’d be in this situation, having to deal with type 1 diabetes, especially while your child is still so young.
But as scary as it is, with proper help and support from you and everyone involved, your child can grow up happy, and hopefully, in control of their condition.
Just keep in mind how important your child’s doctor will be moving forward, and how helpful it may be for you to surround yourself with support from other parents in similar situations who may help you get the tools you need to take care of your child in the best way possible.