Diabetes and Your Child: Considering an Insulin Pump

Insulin pump.You’ve been told that your child has diabetes. He or she has to be given a hormone called insulin. Insulin helps to give your child’s cells the energy they need. Insulin is most often given by shot, using a needle and syringe. Most children with diabetes need several shots each day. A device called an insulin pump can also be used to deliver insulin. A pump may help reduce the number of shots your child needs. An insulin pump can also give you more choices about your child’s treatment plan. Many parents and children find that an insulin pump helps improve blood sugar management. But pumps do have some drawbacks. Your child’s healthcare provider can help you decide if an insulin pump is a good choice.

How an insulin pump works

An insulin pump is a small device about the size of a pager or cell phone. Insulin is delivered from the pump to the body through thin plastic tubing. The tubing is attached to a soft, flexible tube called a cannula. The cannula is placed under the skin. The pump can deliver a steady dose of insulin. This is called a basal dose. It acts like the body’s natural release of insulin. The pump can also deliver a single dose either before meals or to correct high blood sugar. This is called a bolus dose. The pump is worn all the time, day and night. It is easily hidden under loose clothing or clipped to a waistband or belt. But it can be disconnected for short periods (for example, while bathing or showering).

Advantages of an insulin pump

Some of the advantages of an insulin pump include:

  • Reduces the number of shots needed (good if child is afraid of needles)

  • Acts more like the body’s natural release of insulin than with shots

  • Allows for both quick and around-the-clock delivery of insulin

  • Gives child more freedom in what or when he or she eats than with shots

  • May lead to fewer extreme highs and lows than with shots

  • May improve child’s A1C number

Disadvantages of an insulin pump

There are also some disadvantages of the pump. These include:

  • May not improve blood sugar numbers.

  • Meal boluses must still be remembered and given.

  • Frequent blood sugar checks are still needed.

  • Close supervision of child is still needed (maybe even more so than with shots).

  • Pump may be visible to others (puts diabetes “out there” for people to see).

  • May be an ongoing expense and may not be covered by health insurance.

  • Needs special training for parent and child.

  • May increase child’s risk of getting infections

  • May increase child's risk of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) if the pump or infusion set malfunctions or if the catheter comes out and insulin is no longer being delivered.  See Understanding the Risk of Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA).

Deciding if your child is ready

An insulin pump can be used with a child of any age, even newborns. To help determine whether a pump is right for your child, consider these things:

  • Older children must be interested in the pump and willing to wear it.

  • Counting carbs will be very important (even more so than with shots).

  • Blood sugar checks may need to be done more often than with shots.

  • Ketones may need to be checked more often than with shots. Your child’s healthcare provider will teach you about checking for ketones.

  • You must work very closely with your child’s school to make sure that your child’s diabetes care is supervised.

  • You’ll need to keep even more careful records of your child’s blood sugar readings.

Understanding the risk of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA)

Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is a serious condition that can happen if your child doesn’t get needed insulin. It can result in a coma and sometimes even death. If the insulin pump stops working, DKA could develop soon after. Monitoring your child’s blood sugar closely is the only way to be sure that he or she is getting needed insulin. Be sure to discuss the risks of DKA with your child’s healthcare provider. And learn what to do if the pump fails for any reason. Always be prepared to give your child an insulin shot right away if needed.


For more information about diabetes, visit these websites:

  • American Diabetes Association www.diabetes.org

  • Children with Diabetes www.childrenwithdiabetes.com

  • Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation www.jdrf.org

  • American Association of Diabetes Educators www.aadenet.org

  • American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists www.aace.com

  • National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse www.diabetes.niddk.nih.gov

NOTE:  This sheet does not give all the information you need to care for your child with diabetes. Ask your child’s healthcare provider for more information.