Feeding Tubes in Children – Does your child need a feeding tube?

What are feeding tubes?

A feeding tube is a soft, flexible tube used to give fluids, formulas and medicine to children who have trouble eating or drinking. Because feeding tubes send nutrients directly into the stomach or small intestine, they can help protect your child’s airway and decrease the effort of eating. Most importantly, they help maintain your child’s nutrition while they recover from illness or have feeding difficulties.

Types of feeding Tubes

Most parents are familiar with nasogastric tubes or NG tubes. These are commonly put in children through the nostrils into the stomach, or sometimes through the mouth all the way to the stomach when they are called orogastric tubes or OG tubes. Nasogastric or orogastric tubes are only effective for a very short period of time, usually not more than a couple of days to weeks. They’re used to feed formula to a child who can’t get nutrition by mouth. Sometimes, kids get medicine through the tube. Your child’s NG tube may need to be replaced regularly.

For children who require long-term options for feeding, NG tubes or OG tubes are not the best option. They have their complications which include repeated chest infections, requiring regular changes, and they are generally difficult for families to work with in a home environment. For parents with children with NG tubes, days revolve around feedings. Every hour, on the hour, the parents attempt to get a bottle of formula or breastmilk into their little one’s belly. The parents are exhausted, and so are their children. Everyone feels like a failure.

For children with long term challenges with feeding or maintaining their nutrition, a gastrostomy tube or G-tube is a key intervention. G-tubes help these children develop and thrive, while preventing malnutrition and dehydration and they make it possible to keep them on their medication with ease.

How are gastrostomy tubes inserted?

A G-tube is surgically inserted through the abdominal wall and into the stomach. It’s held in place by an internal device called a balloon or bumper. The tube can be used to deliver liquids, purees and medication. These tubes are designed to last for a long time with less discomfort to the child.

This sounds scarier than it is.

Like any surgical intervention, deciding to directly feed a child through a gastrointestinal tube inserted into their stomach is a big decision. For those children who are a good candidate for a G-tube, the benefits of a feeding G-tube far outweigh the risk of not getting any.

Are there benefits for using G-tubes?

There are many benefits of getting a G-tube. Some of those include:

  1. Improved nutrition and hydration: A G-tube provides direct access to the stomach for nutrition, fluids and medication, ensuring children get the nutrition they need.

  2. Reduced risk of aspiration: A G-tube can reduce the risk of food and liquid entering the lungs, a common problem for children with pediatric feeding disorders.

  3. Increased independence: Children with G-tubes can engage in activities they enjoy without the stress of constantly worrying about eating or drinking.

  4. Better sleep: A G-tube can provide continuous nutrition and hydration overnight, leading to better sleep and improved overall health.

  5. Eased caregiver burden: Parents get relief from constantly trying to provide adequate nutrition and hydration.

  6. Improved weight gain and development: Children with a G-tube often see improved weight gain, leading to better overall health.

  7. Comfort: Removing the alternative temporary nasal tube can make it more comfortable for a child to eat. Depending on each child’s medical journey, they may be more likely to eat when they don’t have hardware in their noses.

Still, many parents who consider a G-tube for their children can feel like a failure. The truth is the opposite.

Who Benefits from G-Tubes?

Kids who have one or more of the following conditions might benefit from using a feeding tube:

  • Abnormalities of the mouth, esophagus, stomach or intestines.

  • Sucking and swallowing disorders often related to certain neuromuscular conditions, such as severe cerebral palsy; brain injury, being born prematurely or developmental delays.

  • Poor growth or failure to thrive even after dietary supplements.

  • Extreme difficulty taking medicines by mouth.

  • Significant time and effort involved with feedings.

  • Aspiration (when contents from the mouth or stomach go into the breathing tube or lungs during or following normal feedings).

What to expect during feeding tube placement

Every child’s needs are different. To best work with your child’s unique situation, our team of specialists will teach your family how to use tubes for feeds and medicine. After the surgeons place a feeding tube and the stoma has healed, caring for the tube is fairly simple.

Days before surgery, we schedule preoperative and other appointments, which usually take place the day before surgery. Our goal is to help your family feel as prepared and supported as possible.

We also encourage you to talk about your experiences with other families whose children use feeding tubes. We can help you make these connections.

As always, if you have any questions about feeding tubes, or any topic which relates to children’s surgery, contact our office and we would be glad to assist!

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