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When Your Child Needs Tube Feeding (Enteral Nutrition)

If your child is having trouble swallowing food or liquid safely, a feeding tube may be needed. This is a special tube used to put liquid food or medication straight into your child’s stomach or intestine. It may be used if your child can’t take enough food or liquid by mouth for proper growth.

Giving liquid food through a feeding tube

A feeding tube is placed during a surgery in the hospital. Liquid food given through the tube is then digested the same as if it were taken by mouth. You’ll be taught how to use, care for, and clean your child’s feeding tube at home. The tube needs to be replaced every 6 months or as often as recommended by the health care provider.

Types of feeding tubes

Your child will get the type of tube that meets her needs. The two most common tubes are: 

Gastrostomy tube (G-tube). The end of the G-tube is placed through the abdominal wall into your child’s stomach. A port remains outside the child’s body. The G-tube is placed so that liquid food is delivered straight into your child’s stomach.

Image showing the gastrostomy tube

Gastro-jejunum tube (G-J tube). This tube is often used if your child vomits when large amounts of food are in the stomach. Like the G-tube, the G-J tube is placed through the abdominal wall. The end of the G-J tube is put into part of the small intestine called the jejunum. A port remains outside the child’s body. The G-J tube is placed so that liquid food is delivered straight into your child’s small intestine.

Image showing the gastro-jejunum  tube

2 types of tube feedings

There are 2 ways that liquid food or medications can be put through the feeding tube:

  • Continuous feeding, during which liquid food is dripped slowly into the tube using a pump. This is used for children who can’t have very much food at 1 time. This kind of feeding can be done with either a G-tube or G-J tube. You will be taught how to give continuous feeding to your child, if needed.

  • Bolus feeding, during which a meal-sized amount of liquid food can be delivered several times a day. Bolus feeding is only done with a G-tube. You will be taught how to give bolus feeding to your child, if needed.

When to call the doctor

Call the doctor right away if you notice any of the following:

  • Tube feels loose, comes out, or the size of the opening where the tube enters the skin increases

  • Redness, swelling, leakage, sores, or pus around the tube

  • Red, rough tissue around the tube site

  • Blood around the tube, in child’s stool, or in contents of the stomach

  • Tube becomes clogged or blocked and you cannot clear it

  • Vomiting or coughing while feeding

  • Bloating or rigid abdomen (belly feels hard when gently pressed)

  • Diarrhea

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider

  • Shaking chills


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