Low Cortisol in Babies

Most parents do everything they can to protect the health and well-being of their baby. Some babies experience situations though, that may affect hormone levels in the body, leading to illness. Cortisol, a type of steroid produced by the body, may be manufactured in low levels for a baby, leading to severe symptoms that require treatment. Low cortisol levels in a baby can occur for different reasons.


Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands, which are found on top of the kidneys. Cortisol is a type of corticosteroid, and is responsible for regulating blood pressure and blood sugar in the body. Cortisol also helps the body respond to stressful situations. It is at its highest level in the body the first thing in the morning and slowly decreases throughout the day, according to research at the University of California-Berkeley. Cortisol levels are measured by a blood test, and the normal levels for a newborn infant are between one and 24 micrograms per deciliter.


One potential cause of low cortisol levels in babies is the result of chronically stressful situations. A study by the University of California at Berkeley found that infants and children who lived in stressful conditions, such as those with a depressed parent or those living in poverty, had low levels of cortisol. Cortisol levels may also decrease in an infant because of illness or injury, says cigna.com.


Hypopituitarism is a condition where there is low function of the pituitary gland. This gland produces hormones that stimulate the adrenal glands to produce cortisol. Hypopituitarism can result in low levels of growth hormone, which slows the growth of body cells. Babies may be a normal weight and size at birth, but over time, begin to grow more and more slowly until they are smaller in weight and stature than other babies of the same age. They may also have low levels of sodium in the bloodstream, and male infants may have small genital structure, according to Northern New Mexico College.

Addison's Disease

Addison’s disease is a condition found in people of all ages and can be the result of low cortisol levels. According to Merck, approximately 70 percent of people with Addison’s disease have adrenal insufficiency due to an autoimmune response of the body attacking the adrenal glands. In babies, Addison’s disease can present with skin pigmentation; weight loss; poor feeding; hypoglycemia; and low blood pressure. An infant who develops Addison’s disease may not react well to stressful events, which can complicate recovery after an illness or surgery.


Treatment of low cortisol levels depends on the particular cause, but typically involves the use of steroids. Infants with Addison’s disease are treated with doses of hydrocortisone, which they must take for the rest of their lives. Hypopituitarism may be treated by growth hormone replacement therapy until a baby grows up into a normal height and weight for his age, Northern New Mexico Collge says. Other treatments also focus on caring for symptoms associated with low cortisol. Blood sugar fluctuations may need to be monitored and treated with insulin, and blood pressure issues may need medications for regulation.