Pronounced: EN-ter-al FEED-ing
Enteral feeding, or tube feeding, is a way to deliver nutrients through a tube if you cannot take food or drink through your mouth. In some cases, you may only need tube feeding for a short period of time during your hospital stay. In other cases, you may need to go home with the tube in place and continue to receive nutrition this way. It may be temporary or permanent.
Depending on your condition, you may have a tube that leads from the:
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Tube feeding provides you with proper nutrition when a condition makes it difficult, unsafe, or impossible to take food in through your mouth. Fluids and medicines can also be given through the tube.
Possible complications of tube feeding include:
If you have gastroesophageal reflux, you may be at increased risk for vomiting or aspirating.
If you are in the hospital or at a clinic, before the feeding, the staff will:
Tube feedings may be delivered by several methods. Depending on your condition, a nurse, trained caregiver, or family member may deliver the tube feeding. If you are able, you may receive training on how to give yourself the feedings.
The feeding tube will be clamped or kinked. A large syringe will be attached to it. The formula will be poured slowly into the syringe. The tube will then be unclamped, and the syringe will be held high. This allows gravity to move the formula through the tube. When the feeding is done, the tube will be flushed with water to prevent clogging. The tube will then be clamped again, and the syringe will be removed. The tube will be re-capped and taped to the body. If the syringe method is used, you will need several feedings throughout the day. These are called bolus feedings.
First, the formula will be poured into the feeding bag. The bag will be hung on a pole. The tube from the bag will be connected to the clamped feeding tube. Once the two tubes are connected, the feeding tube will be unclamped, allowing the formula to flow. As with the syringe method, gravity will move the formula through the tube. The flow can also be adjusted using a regulator clamp. When the feeding is done, a syringe filled with water will be used to flush the tube. Lastly, the tube will be capped and taped to your body. You will have several feedings during the day.
These steps are similar to the gravity-drip method. The difference is that the tubes are connected to an electronic pump. The pump will be programmed to deliver the formula at a set rate per hour. For example, with continuous feeding, you will slowly be fed throughout the day. If you need this approach, the feeding will be stopped every four hours. The tube will be flushed with water so that it does not get clogged. The pump method can also be used for bolus feedings.
Getting nutrition through a tube is not painful. You may have an upset stomach. To help prevent this:
After the tube feeding, the following steps will be taken by you or a caregiver:
Remember that you still need to take care of your mouth and teeth. Brush your teeth twice a day, or as advised by your doctor.
If you have tube feeding at home, you will be instructed to call your doctor right away if you have:
Family Caregiver Alliance
Canadian Caregiver Coalition
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Last reviewed December 2013 by Daus Mahnke, MD
Last Updated: 01/15/2014