Insulin is a hormone that’s made by the pancreas, which is an organ that helps with digestion. But in children with type 1 diabetes, the body has stopped producing it. That’s why children with type 1 diabetes need to take insulin, whether that’s through injections or an insulin pump.
On this page we will take you through how to give your child insulin injections, as well as giving them the information they’ll need to start injecting themselves.
There’s no right age for your child to start doing their own injections. Some children prefer to do it themselves straight away. Others may want to get used to having injections given to them by an adult, before learning to inject themselves when they feel they’re ready.
Your child needs to make the decision in their own time. When they’re ready, you can help them take on the responsibility themselves.
When they say they’re ready, try to encourage them. You can show them how it’s done using our video, or by reading through these simple instructions with them.
First, you’ll need an insulin pen – A disposable one already has the insulin in it, so it’s ready to use. If you use a reusable pen, you’ll need to put the insulin cartridge in yourself.
Next is your needle – It’s really small and thin because it only needs to go just underneath your skin, not into a vein or a muscle, which means it hurts less.
You also need a needle clipper or a sharps bin – these are for getting rid of your needle safely once you’re done. All of this stuff your parent or guardian can pick up for free on prescription at the doctors or pharmacy.
How to inject insulin
It’s simple to inject insulin. Just follow these six easy steps:
Wash and dry your hands.
Choose where you’re going to inject – You’re looking for fatty tissue, so you could choose your stomach, your thighs or your bum. The most important thing is to choose a different spot each time, at least 1cm or half an inch from where you did it last. If not, you can get these hard lumps that stop your body using the insulin properly.
Priming your pen – This gets rid of the air before you inject. Attach the needle to your pen. Take off both the caps and dial up two units of insulin. Point your pen in the air and press the plunger until insulin comes out the top of the needle.
When you’re ready, make sure the spot is clean and dry, dial your dose and insert the needle at a 90º angle. Press the plunger until the dial goes back to zero.
Count to 10 slowly to give the insulin time to get into your body and then take the needle out.
All that’s left to do now is get rid of your needle using your needle clipper or sharps bin. Once your sharps bin is full, your parents will help you get rid of it.
It’s as easy as that. Like we said earlier, there’s no right or wrong age to start injecting yourself, so don’t feel under pressure to do it.
You’ll 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 their confidence grows, injecting will get easier.
Insulin pens aren’t the only way of taking insulin. Your child may prefer to use an insulin pump.
How to help your child inject insulin
The most important thing is to be as supportive as possible. Here are some tips:
- Don’t pressure your child to do their own injections – wait until they’re ready.
- Don’t do the injections yourself if they want to take responsibility. Encourage them to take control of their diabetes.
- Remember that even when your child does their own injections, they may not want to do them all the time. Offer to do their injections yourself if they want you to.
- Keep an eye on their technique, just in case they get into bad habits.
Make sure they don’t inject into a site that they’ll use straight away for an activity. For example, don’t inject your child’s leg just before they play football. This makes the insulin act quicker and so a hypo more likely.
Some children and teenagers use an insulin pump rather than an insulin pen. The pump gives doses of rapid-acting insulin throughout the day and night. You can also change the dose to provide more insulin if they have something to eat or if their blood sugar level rises too high.
If your child would like to use a pump, ask a healthcare professional. There are guidelines about who can use one, and they will be able to tell you. Some children prefer to inject, as pumps can feel like a burden because it’s attached to them all the time.
How to give insulin 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. Or your baby may be given an insulin pump instead.
If it’s difficult to hold your baby still, hold them securely over your knee and inject into their bottom. Remember that it’s important to change injection sites, even if you find injecting into one place easier than another.
We know this isn’t going to be easy, and we’re here to support you with advice or just someone to talk to. You can chat to other parents of children with diabetes on our forum, call our helpline or get in touch using email. We’re here to help every step of the way.