5 Best Ways To Manage Type 1 Diabetes in Children

Do you have a child with type 1 diabetes? Many of the parents in our practice do, and they’ve told us that although this chronic disease sometimes seems overwhelming, they’ve been able to manage it by following a structured, regular treatment plan.

Joan DiMartino-Nardi, MD

To help other parents, we’d like to offer these guidelines from our years of experience here at Westchester Health Pediatrics. Managing your child’s diabetes is a lifelong commitment of blood sugar monitoring, insulin therapy, healthy eating and regular exercise. And as your child grows and changes, his/her diabetes treatment plan will change, too.

5 important ways to manage your child’s type 1 diabetes

  1. Monitoring blood sugar

Depending on what type of insulin therapy your child needs, you will probably be instructed to check and record your child’s blood sugar at least 4 times a day (maybe more often). This requires frequent finger sticks. This frequent testing is the only way to make sure your child’s blood sugar level remains within his/her target range, determined by your pediatrician. You can keep a log of the blood glucose readings or your child’s doctor can download them from the measuring meter.

  1. Insulin and other medications

Anyone (children and adults) who has type 1 diabetes needs insulin treatment. Because their stomach enzymes interfere with insulin taken by mouth, insulin taken by mouth is not effective at lowering blood sugar. However, these types of injectable insulin work well:

  • Rapid-acting insulin. Starts working within 5-15 minutes and peaks about an hour after injection.
  • Short-acting insulin. Starts working about 30 minutes after injection and generally peaks in 2-4 hours.
  • Long-acting insulin. Has almost no peak time and may provide coverage for as long as 20-26 hours.
  • Intermediate-acting insulin. Starts working 30 minutes-1 hour after injected and peaks in 4-6 hours. This type of insulin is similar in effectiveness to long-acting types of insulin but may be more likely to cause low blood sugar and allows less flexibility with mealtimes, as well as in the amount of carbohydrates your child can eat.

Depending on your child’s age and needs, his/her doctor may prescribe a mixture of insulin types to use throughout the day and night.

  1. Insulin delivery options

Often insulin is injected with a syringe with a fine needle or an insulin pen (resembles a writing pen). An insulin pump is another option, worn on the outside of the body. In most cases, a tube connects the reservoir of insulin to a catheter inserted under the skin of the abdomen. A wireless pump that uses small pods filled with insulin is a third option, automatically dispensing specific amounts of insulin automatically.

  1. Healthy eating

A healthy diabetic diet includes lean meat and dairy choices that are low in fat. Carbohydrates should be limited to those that are high in fiber and intake should be consistent. It is important to work with a registered dietician familiar with diabetes to ensure that your child is getting adequate nutritional intake with an emphasis on the different glycemic effects of various carbohydrates.

  1. Physical activity

All children need regular aerobic exercise and children with type 1 diabetes are no exception. Encourage your child to get regular physical activity, whether it’s soccer, swimming, dance, horseback riding or any of the other numerous choices. An important thing to remember, though, is that physical activity usually lowers blood sugar and can affect your child’s blood sugar levels for up to 12 hours after exercise. If your child begins a new activity, check his/her blood sugar more often than usual until you are familiar with how your child’s body reacts to the new level of exertion. You might need to adjust your child’s meal plan or insulin doses to compensate for the increased activity.

Diabetes doesn’t have to limit your child

Even though type 1 diabetes is a lifelong condition that requires constant monitoring, kids with diabetes can do everything other kids can do. It can take some effort initially to keep blood sugar levels within a healthy range but trust is, it gets easier with practice. Even if you make a mistake, once you learn how to recognize your child’s reactions when his/her levels are too low or too high, you’ll know how to fix it.

Come see us, we’re here to help

At Westchester Health Pediatrics, we’re here for you. Please come in and talk with us about any concerns or questions you may have about managing your child’s type 1 diabetes. We have years of experience and lots of advice and guidance to offer. Feel free to contact us, and we look forward to meeting you and your child.

By Joan DiMartino-Nardi, MD, an endocrinology specialist with Westchester Health Pediatrics, member of Northwell Health Physician Partners