Tube feeding is a method of getting food into your child’s stomach via a tube if they are having difficulties eating. There are different types of tube feeding.
When tube feeding may help
Your medical team might suggest tube feeding if your child is:
unable to take on enough food to grow and stay healthy
at risk of food or drink going into the airway, also known as aspiration
choking during feeding
experiencing severe reflux
Nasogastric tube feeding (NGT)
NGT feeding involves inserting a flexible, spaghetti-like tube through your child’s nose. It might be slightly uncomfortable to fit but it's not painful. Once the tube is in place, your child can continue to play as normal.
Talk to your medical team about how long your child will need the NGT. Usually this is for a short time. They can cause irritation around your child’s face if used for longer. If a child needs a feeding tube for longer, you might want to consider a gastrostomy tube (PEG).
Gastrostomy tube (PEG) feeding
A PEG tube goes through the wall of the child’s abdomen into the stomach. Most children can start using the tube on the same day. Many families prefer this to a nasogastric tube. The PEG can be under clothes and is unlikely to become dislodged.
Some children need tube feeding because they have severe reflux. In certain cases, the tube passes through the stomach into the jejunum. Because this bypasses the stomach, the feed must be continuous. This means your child will have a constant drip of milk going into their jejunum.
Most children have a special feed for tube feeding. These make sure your child gets the calories and nutrients they need to grow and be healthy. Your doctor or dietician will advise you on what type of milk and how much to give.
Some families choose to put blended food down their child’s tube. It's important you discuss this with your dietician or community nursing team first. This is to avoid damaging the tube or causing infection.
Benefits of tube feeding
Many parents feel upset at the thought of their child not being able to eat ‘normally’. They also worry about how it will affect the child in school or in the wider family.
Choosing tube feeding is a big decision but the benefits for you and your child include:
getting enough food to grow well and stay healthy
removing the fear of gagging or choking
relieving the pressure of missed meals
more time for parents and children to play
family mealtimes can be more pleasant
Some children can have a small amount of food or drink by mouth with a ‘top-up’ of milk via their tube. There may be a few children who must not have anything by mouth. Ask your doctor, dietician or speech and language therapist for advice.