How to Say It: EN-ter-al FEED-ing
Enteral feeding delivers nutrients through a tube when a person cannot take food or drink through their mouth. Some people may only need tube feeding for a short period of time. Others may need to go home with the tube in place and keep getting nutrients this way. It may be temporary or permanent.
The tube may lead from the:
Tube feeding is done to provide nutrition when a health problem makes it hard, unsafe, or not possible to take food by mouth. Fluids and medications can also be given through the tube.
Problems are rare, but all procedures have some risk. The doctor will go over some problems that could happen, such as:
Gastroesophageal reflux disease may raise the risk of vomiting or aspiration.
If you are in the hospital or at a clinic, the staff will:
A nurse, trained caregiver, or family member may deliver the tube feeding. If the person is able, they may be taught how to give feedings on their own.
Feedings may be delivered by:
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 recapped 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. When 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 4 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 lower the risk of this problem:
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 care team.
If you have tube feeding at home, call your doctor right away if you have:
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
Family Caregiver Alliance
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Canadian Clinical Community
Enteral feeding—an overview. Dietetics website. Available at: https://www.dietetics.co.uk/enteral-feeding.aspx. Accessed July 23, 2021.
Enteral nutrition support in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/management/enteral-nutrition-support-in-adults. Accessed July 23, 2021.
Gastrostomy feeding by syringe. Cincinnati Children’s website Available at: https://www.cincinnatichildrens.org/health/g/g-tube-syringe. Accessed July 23, 2021.
Tube feeding at home. Queensland Health Government website. Available at: https://www.health.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0032/360896/etf_tfah.pdf. Accessed July 23, 2021.
Tube feeding systems. Oral Cancer Foundation website. Available at: https://oralcancerfoundation.org/nutrition/tube-feeding-systems. Accessed July 23, 2021.
Last reviewed July 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review BoardDianne Scheinberg Rishikof MS, RD, LDN Last Updated: 7/23/2021