How Do I Give My Child Insulin?
Raising or helping to care for a child with type 1 diabetes can be a big, life-changing responsibility. The child may not be old enough to understand at first, so you are the one in charge of treating this condition. Supervising a child’s diabetes care plan can be a full-time job, but the reward is knowing that your child’s diabetes is as well controlled as it can be. And that you are teaching him or her good diabetes care habits that can last a lifetime.
One of the first things you’ll need to do is learn about the tools you will use to give insulin to your child. Since the only insulin approved for use in patients younger than 18 is injectable insulin, you and your child will probably be using an insulin vial and syringe, pen, or pump.
Many people with diabetes use insulin pens because they are convenient and can deliver a wide range of unit-doses.
Insulin pens are designed for use with specific types of needles that you attach to the end of the pen. Insulin pens are either prefilled with insulin or have changeable cartridges. The dose is selected by turning a dial, and then the plunger/button at the end of the pen is pressed to inject the dose. Always make sure to read the injection instructions that come with the insulin pen.
There are 2 main types of pens:
- Reusable (durable) pens – With this type you need to replace the cartridge when it is empty and all doses have been used or after use is no longer recommended (read the instructions for your specific brand of insulin to learn about its recommended in-use time)
- Prefilled (disposable) pens – This type of pen is supplied with the insulin inside and should be thrown away when it is empty or after it is no longer recommended for use (read the instructions for your specific brand of insulin to learn about its recommended in-use time)
Single-use needles need to be attached before each use of the pen. The needle size will depend on the age and weight of your child. Some insulin pens have half-unit dosing which may be better for more precise dosing in younger children. There are also some pen devices that have a memory function that records the time the last dose was taken—this may be useful if your child is taking his or her medication at school or at a friend’s house.
For further details on how to use and store your child’s insulin pen, please contact your local health care provider who will help explain how to use the insulin pen and help you understand the manufacturer’s injection instructions.
An insulin pump is a small device about the size of a deck of cards. It provides a steady flow of fast-acting insulin continuously throughout the day and night, matched to your child’s needs. It also allows extra insulin to be given at mealtimes or if blood sugar rises too high.
Some children prefer having a pump rather than having to inject several times a day. When children get older, start school, and spend more time away from home, delivering insulin via a pump may be a convenient option.
Most pumps work by storing insulin in a special holder and delivering it via a very thin plastic tube, which is inserted just under the skin, usually in the skin over the abdomen (stomach) area. This needs to be replaced and repositioned every few days, depending on the insulin product you are using. With a pump, you change and deliver doses by simply pressing the correct buttons on the device, which can be quicker and easier than preparing injections. Some of the newer pump devices are not even connected by tubing, but use hand-held wireless controls to release insulin from small plastic holders that attach directly to the skin.
Using a pump can be an effective way of matching the body’s normal production of insulin and may help your child get better control of his or her diabetes with fewer sudden drops in blood sugar.
Insulin pumps can be particularly suitable for very young children, who are more sensitive to insulin and tend to need smaller doses, and for adolescents who can find it difficult to gain good control of their blood sugar. Pumps can provide the precision needed for this type of dosing and can be programmed to deliver as little as one-tenth of a unit (0.1 unit) of insulin per hour. Remember that pumps also have their limitations. Pumps cannot automatically sense the body’s need for insulin. They don’t adjust by themselves. And they still require that blood sugar checks be done throughout the day. If your child’s health care provider decides that a pump is the right choice, you will receive full training on how to help your child use it.
Talk to your health care provider about which option is most appropriate for your child. There are reasons why vial and syringe, insulin pens, and insulin pumps each work well for different people with diabetes.