Is a Feeding Tube?
A feeding tube,
also known as a gavage tube, is used to give nutrition to infants who cannot
eat on their own. The feeding tube is normally used in a hospital, but it can
also be used in a home to feed infants. The tube can also be used to give
medication to an infant.
The feeding tube can be inserted and then removed for each
feeding. Alternately it can be an indwelling feeding tube, which means it
remains in the infant for multiple feedings. The feeding tube can be used to
administer both breast milk and formula.
Does an Infant Need a Feeding Tube?
A feeding tube is used for infants who do not have the strength
or muscle coordination to breastfeed or drink from a bottle. There are other
reasons why an infant might need a feeding tube, including:
- lack of weight gain or irregular weight gain
- absence or weak sucking ability or swallowing
- abdominal or gastrointestinal defects
- respiratory distress
- problems with electrolyte imbalances or
Happens During Insertion?
During the procedure, your doctor will measure the length from
your baby’s nose or mouth to their stomach. Your doctor will then cut the tube
so it is just the right length for your infant. Then, they will rinse the tip
of the tube with sterile water to sterilize and lubricate it. Next, they will
insert the tube very carefully into your infant’s mouth or nose.
After it is placed, your doctor will check the tube for correct
placement by inserting a small amount of sterile water or formula into the tube
and listening for the contents to enter the stomach, indicating that it has
been placed correctly. When the tube is inserted, it is taped to the nose or
mouth so it stays in place. If your infant has sensitive skin or a skin
condition, your doctor may use a pectin barrier, or paste, to make sure the
skin doesn’t tear when the tape is removed. In order to confirm proper
placement, your physician may order an X-ray of your child’s abdomen to ensure
that the tube is in the stomach.
After the tube is firmly in place, the infant is given formula,
breast milk, or medicine by injection with a syringe or though an infusion
pump. You can hold your baby while the liquid moves slowly through the feeding
After the feeding is complete, your doctor will either cap off
the tube or remove it. You should make sure your infant remains upright or
inclined to prevent the feeding from being regurgitated.
There Any Risks?
There are very few risks associated with feeding tube use.
However, it can be uncomfortable for the infant, no matter how gently it is
inserted. If your child begins to cry or show signs of discomfort, try using a
pacifier with sucrose (sugar) to provide relief.
Other side effects include:
- slight nasal bleeding
- nasal congestion
- nasal infection
If you are feeding your baby through a feeding tube at home, it
is important to watch for signs of tube misplacement. Sometimes the tube is
inserted incorrectly or will accidentally become dislodged. The following signs
might mean there is something wrong with where the tube is placed:
- slower heart rate
- slow or troubled breathing
Is the Outlook?
It can be difficult to cope with feeding your infant through a
feeding tube. It is normal to feel a sense of anxiety about not breast- or
bottle-feeding your infant. However, many babies only need to temporarily use
feeding tubes until they become strong enough or well enough to feed on their
own. Talk to your doctor about the emotions you’re feeling. If you are feeling
sad or hopeless, your doctor can help you find support groups and can even evaluate
you for signs of post partum depression.