Children and insulin

Taking insulin is essential for managing Type 1 diabetes in children, whether it’s through injections or a pump. Insulin is a hormone that’s made by the pancreas, but in children with Type 1 diabetes the body has stopped producing it.

 

Insulin injections and insulin pens

A child with Type 1 diabetes will usually inject insulin four (or more) times a day with an insulin pen. Insulin pens are fairly easy to use: Your child will probably find the first few injections a bit uncomfortable or painful, as you’ll both be tense and anxious, but as your confidence grows injecting will become easier.

How to help your child inject insulin

  • Don’t pressure your child to do their own injections – wait until they’re ready.
  • Don’t insist on doing injections yourself if they want to take responsibility.
  • Remember that even when your child does their own injections, they may not want to do them all the time. Be prepared to do their injections yourself if and when they want you to.
  • Don’t assume that your child will always do their injections perfectly as they’ve been taught – keep an eye on their technique.

Insulin injections before sport and other activities

Avoid injecting into an area that your child will use immediately for activity, because this makes the insulin act quicker and makes a hypo more likely. For example, don’t inject your child’s leg just before they play football – instead, inject somewhere like the tummy.

 

What age can my child do their own insulin injections?

There’s no right age for your child to take responsibility for their injections. Some children prefer to do it themselves straightaway; others may want to get used to having injections given to them before injecting themselves. Your child needs to make the decision in their own time. When they’re ready, you can help them take on the responsibility themselves.

Many children gain confidence with injections when around other children with diabetes. Consider attending a Diabetes UK Care Event or an event run by your child’s clinic, where they’ll see other children injecting.

 

How to give injections to babies

It can be scary injecting your baby at first, but it gets easier. Your diabetes team will show you how. Some insulin pens give half units of insulin, which can be helpful when injecting a baby-sized dose. Alternatively, your baby may be given an insulin pump.

If it’s difficult to hold your baby still, hold them securely over your knee and inject into their bottom. Remember, though, that it’s important to rotate injection sites, even if you find injecting into one place easier than another.

 

Insulin pumps

Some children and teenagers use an insulin pump rather than an insulin pen. The pump delivers doses of rapid-acting insulin throughout the day and night, and can be made to provide more insulin if they have something to eat or if their blood sugar level rises too high.

 

Insulin and Children Q&A

What should I do when my child refuses their injections?

Reasoning with a child can be difficult, but make sure you explain that they have no choice about having injections. Let them choose the injection site and spot, who does the injection (if possible) and where they sit. They could choose a favourite book or TV programme to look at while they have the injection. They may also want to help out, for example by lifting the skin or pushing the plunger. It’s reasonable to let your child protest and express their feelings, don’t let it go on too long: ask your diabetes team for advice. Diabetes UK also produces tailored information for children and young people.

How can I stop my child getting bruises from their injections?

If the needle punctures a capillary (small blood vessel), there may be bleeding under the skin that shows as a bruise the next day. There may also be some bleeding straight after you’ve injected. Lightly pressing on the site – with a finger or tissue – after injecting helps avoid bruising and stops any bleeding. If it’s happening a lot, check with your diabetes team about your injection technique.

How can I make my child’s injections hurt less?

Injections are more likely to hurt when the needle enters the skin slowly, so try pushing it through quickly. Holding an ice cube against the skin for a few seconds first can also help.

Can my child use a pump?

In England and Wales, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has published criteria that people should meet in order to use a pump.

How will we know how to use a pump?

You and your child should be given training from your diabetes team when your child starts to use a pump, and you’ll receive ongoing support. You may also be able to get help from the manufacturer.

Why can’t insulin be taken as a tablet?

Insulin is a protein, so if it’s taken by mouth it’s destroyed by the acids in the stomach before it has the chance to work. Insulin has to be injected just under the skin, where it’s absorbed very easily.

Does insulin go off?

Yes, it does. Clear insulin goes cloudy, and cloudy insulin sometimes goes lumpy and sticks to the container. Always check the expiry date and don’t use insulin if it’s past this date.