A dab of sugar gel rubbed inside a newborn's mouth an hour after birth can lower their risk of developing a common and potentially dangerous condition, according to an Auckland University study.
Oral dextrose gel has been shown to be effective in treating neonatal hypoglycaemia, or low blood sugar levels, once it develops.
The Auckland study is novel in testing the gel as a preventive measure.
One in three babies born in New Zealand is at risk of hypoglycaemia, which left untreated can cause developmental brain damage.
At risk are those born smaller or larger than usual, pre-term babies and babies whose mothers have any form of diabetes.
There are no established methods of preventing hypoglycaemia in such babies other than formula feeding, which can disrupt breastfeeding.
Newborns in the trial were given either a single dextrose dose one hour after birth, or four doses in the first 12 hours.
Of 277 babies who received any dextrose, 41 percent developed hypoglycaemia in the first 48 hours of life, compared with 52 percent of 138 babies who received a placebo gel.
No babies developed high blood sugar and breastfeeding rates were similar across all groups.
Researcher Dr Jane Alsweiler, a senior lecturer and paediatrician, says there is plenty of excitement about the results, which have been published in the journal PLOS Medicine.
"Using dextrose gel to prevent low blood sugars has the potential to stop babies being separated from their mothers in hospital and to improve their long-term development, without any disruption of breastfeeding," she said.
Researchers are undertaking a follow-up study to investigate the effect of oral dextrose gel long-term.