Sugar has been painted as a nutritional villain – but is now being dabbed on the inside of newborns’ cheeks to prevent thousands of babies being admitted to intensive care.

The world-first research findings by New Zealand scientists at the Liggins Institute at the University of Auckland have meant babies with low blood sugar levels – which can cause developmental brain damage – are being treated with a dextrose gel rubbed inside their mouths. The simple sugar gel, which costs little more than a dollar, is now being used in hospitals throughout New Zealand and around the world.

A new research trial of more than 2000 newborns (recruiting pregnant mums throughout the country) is taking that discovery a step further – treating “at risk” babies soon after birth. That’s designed to see if that can prevent low blood sugar levels, reducing admissions to intensive care units, avoiding babies being separated from their mothers and interference with breastfeeding.

Up to 15 per cent of newborn babies in New Zealand are affected by low blood sugar (neonatal hypoglycaemia). Babies are most at risk if they are born prematurely, born too small or too large, or have mothers with diabetes.

To read the full article, head to this page on the NZ Herald website.