Tube Feeding: Living With a Feeding Tube
Your body needs nutrition to stay strong and help you live a healthy life. If you're unable to eat or you have an illness that makes it hard to swallow food, you may need a feeding tube. The tube is used to put foods, liquids, and medicines into your stomach. You may have the tube for several weeks or months or longer. It depends on why you need it.
- Surgery is used to insert the feeding tube into your stomach. After surgery, you'll have a 6- to 12-inch tube coming out of your belly.
- Foods, liquids, and medicines are given through the tube. The food is a mixture (formula) that has proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals.
Having a feeding tube means learning new skills and routines. You'll learn how to use and care for the tube and avoid common problems. Keeping the tube clean is an important part of your care.
How do you use and care for a feeding tube?
Using a feeding tube
It's important that the food you use for tube feeding has the right blend of nutrients for you. And the food needs to be the correct thickness so the tube doesn't clog. For most people, a liquid formula that you can buy in a can works best for tube feeding. Your doctor or dietitian will help you find the right formula to use.
- Make sure that the tube-feeding formula is at room temperature.
- Wash your hands before you handle the tube and formula.
- Wash the top of the can of formula before you open it.
- Follow your doctor's instructions for how much formula to use for each feeding.
- If using a feeding syringe: Connect the syringe to the tube, and put the formula into the syringe. Hold the syringe up high so the formula flows into the tube. Use the plunger on the syringe to gently push any remaining formula into the tube.
- If using a gravity bag: Connect the bag to the tube, and add the formula to the bag. Hang the bag on a hook or pole about 18 inches above the stomach. Depending on the type of formula, the food may take a few hours to flow through the tube. Ask your doctor what you can expect and how long it should take.
- Flush the tube with warm water before and after feedings or before and after giving medicines through the tube. You can use a syringe to push water through the tube.
- Sit up or keep your head up during the feeding and for 30 to 60 minutes (or as long as your doctor tells you to) afterward.
- Keep the formula in the refrigerator after you open it.
Follow your doctor's instructions about how long the formula can sit out at room temperature. Throw away any open cans of food after 24 hours, even if they have been refrigerated.
- If you feel sick to your stomach or have stomach cramps during the feeding, slow the rate that the formula comes through the tube.
Then slowly increase the rate as you can manage it.
- Talk with your doctor about changing your feedings or medicines if you are having problems with diarrhea, constipation, or vomiting.
Using the tube to take medicines
Here are some tips for taking medicines through your feeding tube.
- Follow your doctor's instructions.
Don't try to put whole pills in the tube—they may get stuck. Ask your doctor if liquid medicine is available, or if your pills can be crushed.
- Don't mix your medicine with the tube-feeding formula.
This can cause a clog in the feeding tube.
- Don't put more than one medicine down your feeding tube at a time.
- Flush the tube with water before and after you put each medicine down your tube.
Caring for the tube
Here are some tips for caring for a feeding tube.
- Keep it clean.
That's the most important thing you need to know about caring for your tube.
- Flush the tube with warm water before and after feedings or giving medicines. You can use a syringe to push water through the tube.
- Clean the end (opening) of the tube every day with an antiseptic wipe.
- Always wash your hands before touching the tube.
- Tape the tube to your body so the end is facing up.
Look for medical tape in your local drugstore. It may irritate your skin less than other types of tape. Change the position of the tape every few days.
- Clamp the tube when you're not using it.
Put the clamp closer to your body so that food and liquids don't run down the tube.
- Keep the skin around the tube clean and dry.
- Sleep on your back or your side.
You are likely to be more comfortable.
Avoiding common problems
Here are some common problems that can occur with a feeding tube and tips for avoiding them.
- Clear a blocked tube.
A blocked tube can happen when the tube isn't flushed or when formula or medicines are too thick.
- Prevent blockage by flushing the tube with warm water before and after feedings and medicines.
- If the tube is blocked, try to clear it by flushing the tube. Call your doctor if the tube won't clear.
- Don't use a wire or anything else to try to unclog a tube. A wire can poke a hole in the tube.
- Call your doctor right away if a tube falls out.
Don't try to put the tube back in by yourself. The tube needs to be replaced before the opening in your belly closes. This can happen within hours.
- Check a leaking tube.
A tube that leaks may be blocked, or it may not fit right. After checking the tube and flushing it to make sure that the tube isn't blocked, call your doctor.