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A feeding tube is a medical device that helps provide nutrition support (enteral nutrition) for patients who are not able to swallow or who can’t get all the nutrients they need from food.
The most common feeding tubes include nasogastric tubes (NG tubes) and gastrostomy tubes (G-tubes). But there are several types of feeding tubes based on how and where they are placed in the digestive system.
Your child might need a feeding tube if they:
Tube feeding, or enteral nutrition, provides nutrition in liquid or formula form through a tube placed into the stomach or intestine. Some medicines may also be given through the feeding tube.
There are generally two ways feeding tubes are placed:
The type of feeding tube your child has depends on how the tube is placed (through the nose or abdomen) and where the tube ends in the digestive system (stomach or intestine).
Nasal tubes include:
An NG tube is inserted through the nose and down the throat into the stomach. ND and NJ tubes end in the small intestine.
Nasal feeding tubes are generally used when tube feeding is needed for a relatively short time. The tube extends out from one nostril and is secured to the skin using medical tape. They have several advantages including lower risk of infection and ease of placement.
But the tube must be taped to the face. This may bother some children. Other children may have problems with nasal tubes because of irritation of the skin and mucous membranes due to chemotherapy or other treatments.
Some feeding tubes are placed through a surgery to make a small opening in the wall of the abdomen.
Surgically placed feeding tubes include:
Surgically placed tubes (G-tube, J-tube, GJ-tube) are used for a longer time or if a child is not able to have a nasal tube. The opening on the abdomen where the tube is placed is called a stoma. On the outside of the body, patients have a long tube or a “button” or low-profile tube. Once healed, the stoma should not be painful. Children should be able to do most regular activities.
The type of feeding tube that is best for your child depends on several factors. Your doctor will consider:
A feeding tube can be used for short- or long-term nutrition support. Many children can eat food by mouth with a feeding tube in place. If infection or other problem occurs, the tube can be removed and replaced as needed.
Before your child gets a feeding tube, your care team will discuss the risk and benefits of a feeding tube and help you know what to expect.
Problems after getting a feeding tube may include:
Most problems can be prevented by following instructions for care and feeding. Be sure to keep your child from touching or pulling on the tube. Take good care of the skin around the tube site to prevent irritation or infection.
A nurse or patient educator will go over feeding tube care and instructions. Keep a list of questions and write down information to make it easier to remember.
Most children adapt well to having a feeding tube. It is important to help your child understand that tube feeding is not a punishment. Sometimes a patient is simply not able to get enough nutrition by mouth. This is no one’s fault. Feeding tubes can help children be healthier and feel better.
Reviewed: August 2022