Feeding Tube Awareness Week: Myths & Facts of Tube Feeding

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The 4-8 February 2019 is Feeding Tube Awareness week. Feeding tubes or “enteral” feeding, is when a person is fed via a tube, either through the nose, the mouth or directly into different parts of the digestive system. 

Here at Xavier, we support many children who are enterally fed and help their families to provide the care they need. There are some common "myths", or misunderstandings about what it means to be tube fed. Here, our nursing team discuss three common myths.

MYTH 1: You can always eat by mouth when you have a feeding tube.

FACT: Some children benefit from tube feeding and drinking because they can’t eat enough by mouth or they have difficulty swallowing.  If you feed or provide fluid via the mouth to a child who has a feeding tube due to swallowing difficulties, you may actually cause them harm.  As the child can’t swallow well, foods and fluids can enter the lungs and a child can choke or be at a much greater risk of chest infections and what is known as “aspiration pneumonia”.  One of the greatest health and well-being risks for children with complex needs that leads to hospitalisation is chest infections from swallowing difficulties.

Our Advice: If you are not sure why your child has a feeding tube or they have swallowing difficulties, ask for advice from a Xavier Speech Pathologist who can undertake a swallowing assessment to determine your child’s risks and provide you with a meal time feeding and drinking plan if appropriate.  Some children can benefit from swallowing exercises a Speech Pathologist can help design a plan for your child.

MYTH 2: Tube feeding is forever.

FACT: Some children have conditions that will require them to have feeding tubes their whole lives. But for many children, tube feeding is temporary. Children are able to wean off their feeding tubes once they are no longer necessary. It is often difficult to estimate how long a feeding tube will be needed, especially if the child’s condition and abilities are not yet fully understood.  Where appropriate, a Xavier Speech Pathologist will assist you to transition your child from tube feeding to feeding and drinking orally.

MYTH 3: You have to get everything right, right away!

FACT: Just like everything in parenting, you will make mistakes and learn from them. Don’t panic when you do. We have all made mistakes. There can be a bit of trial and error in the beginning as tube feeding isn’t a one size fits all solution. Learning what is best for your child is a step-by-step process, particularly with infants and children who are unable to easily tell us what they need.