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Breast, bottle …. or tube – Feeding Tube Awareness Week

It’s no secret that most infants are breast- or bottle-fed, but for some children, neither of these are an option. Feeding Tube Awareness week, which runs from February 2 to 8, raises awareness about people getting nutrition through a tube, and the daily challenges they face.

Why do people need feeding tubes?

Certain medical conditions and disabilities make it difficult for children to adequately chew or swallow their food, so they can’t get enough nutrients for healthy development. Other children need their nutrition to be very specially made, like a specialised formula, so that their body can safely absorb it. Common reasons a child may need a feeding tube include premature birth, congenital heart conditions, gastrointestinal conditions, cleft palate, autism and neurological conditions such as cerebral palsy.

To ensure kids with feeding difficulties get adequate nutrition, they may be fed via a tube. The tube may be threaded through the nose down to the stomach. This is usually used as a shorter-term measure. When tube feeding (also called enteral nutrition) is likely to go on longer, a tube may be surgically inserted into the abdomen.

Adults can also have feeding tubes, because of an ongoing condition, for example, or something that happened to them such as a stroke or neurological condition.

What goes in the tube?

Tube feeding can provide the essential nutrients for healthy growth, including protein, fats, carbohydrates, fluid, fibre, vitamins and minerals. A dietitian will advise families about the right formula for their child’s needs. Usually, it comes as a ready-to-use liquid formula or a powder that you mix with water.

Infants under 12-months-old usually have expressed breast milk or infant formula. Children over 12 months will have a formula designed for the needs of their age group.  Some children may need a special formula that requires a doctors’ prescription.

Sometimes families make their own feeds in consultation with a dietitian, by blending foods into a liquid meal that can go through the tube. This allows a variety of foods to be used and gives older children more choice over what goes in their feeds. However, it also has risks, so should always be carried out with the advice of a professional.

How does the food get in?

There are three main ways that food/formula is delivered:

  1. Gravity – in this method, a bag of formula is hung above the child. The higher the bag is held above the stomach, the faster the formula goes in.
  2. Pump – a specialised pump can deliver fixed meal portions over a set time period eg over 8-24 hours each day.
  3. Syringe – the formula is pushed from a syringe into the feeding tube. This can be used to provide larger amounts of formula at a time.

The dietitian’s role

For people who are tube fed, their dietitian plays a vital role. At Growing Early Minds, our experienced paediatric dietitians can help with:

  • Assessing the nutritional needs of your child and finding the right formula
  • Monitoring your child’s growth and adjusting feeds accordingly
  • Monitoring for (and helping with) any problems such as nutritional deficiencies, dehydration, nausea, constipation or diarrhoea
  • Advice about how to prepare, hang and store formula safely to minimise risks of contamination or infection
  • Recommendations that are culturally appropriate and consider the needs of your family
  • Help to make feeding a positive experience
  • Recommendations about feeding environments and routines and the transition from tube to oral feeding
  • Reducing the risk of common tube feeding problems and helping solve any issues
  • Screening for tube feeding issues that may need medical attention
  • Liaising with other health professionals (such as speech-language pathologists) so your child can receive the best possible care.

At Growing Early Minds, our paediatric dietitians provide culturally appropriate and evidence-based management for children who are tube fed. As Accredited Practising Dietitians, they are committed to maintaining high standards of practice and professional development.

You can visit our clinic in Blacktown (Western Sydney, NSW) or we can see children in their everyday environments such as at home, child care, school or playgroup. Telehealth services are also available.

To find out more or book an appointment, give us a call on 1800 436 436 or email

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