Enteral Tube-Feeding: Understanding the Basics

Posted 1.29.15 | Mallory West

Although most Neocate users drink their formula, many patients receive Neocate through a feeding tube. This is referred to as “enteral nutrition”. Those of you with tube-fed family members are already experts on the subject, however, I hope this post will be useful for those of you who are new to tube feeding or for those of you who are just interested in learning how it works.

Tube feeding provides nutrition to someone with a medical condition that impairs his/her ability to eat or drink (or impairs their ability to consume enough to sustain his/her nutritional needs). Nutrition is provided by a special liquid food that is given through the feeding tube.

The liquid food contains all components of nutrition (protein, fat, carbs, vitamins and minerals) so it provides everything a person needs to live and be healthy. Some people are exclusively tube-fed while others continue to eat food while supplementing with tube-feeds. Fluids and medications (most of them) can also be given through the tube (which is a nice perk for kids who require some bad-tasting meds!).

Types of Feeding Tubes

There are various types of feeding tubes. A nasogastric or nasoenteral tube is inserted through the nose into the stomach or small intestine[1]. Alternatively, a tube may be surgically inserted through the skin and directly into the stomach or the small intestine in a procedure called a gastrostomy or jejunostomy, respectively. You may hear these refered to as a “g-tube” (short for gastrostomy tube) or a “j-tube” (short for jejunostomy tube). Patients with g-tubes may get a feeding port (commonly known as a MIC-KEY button or a mickey tube), so that the outside feeding tube only needs to be attached during feedings.

Methods of Tube-feeding

There are 3 ways that tube-feeds are administered:

  • Gravity: With gravity feeds, a bag of formula hangs above the patient so that the formula flows down the tube.
  • Syringe: With syringe feeds, formula is administered by hand using a syringe to push the formula through the tube.
  • Feeding pump: An electronic pump moves formula through the feeding tube at a controlled rate. Common brands of feeding pumps include the Kangaroo pump and the Infinity pump.

Feeding Rates

  • Bolus feedings: Bolus feedings are relatively large in volume and given over a relatively short period of time. Feedings are given several times a day and the schedule more closely resembles “mealtimes” in comparison to a continuous feed.
  • Continuous/drip feedings: Feedings that are given at a slow rate, over a relatively long period of time. Continuous feeds may be indicated for patients who are unable to tolerate large volumes.
  • Combination: Some people may do a combination of both types. For example, they may receive bolus feeds during the day and a continuous feed overnight.

Enteral nutrition is such an amazing example of the impact that medical technology has on our lives. Before there was enteral nutrition, the inability to eat was a life-threatening situation. Although nobody wants to rely on a feeding tube unnecessarily, it is such a blessing for those who could not live without it.

My younger sister Caroline got her G-tube about 6 years ago (she was 11). We tried to avoid it for so many years but once she got it, it turned out to be such a blessing in disguise! She has never looked healthier; she gained some much-needed weight, her hair and skin look so much healthier, and she’s so much stronger. Our family is so thankful for it! If you have come across this post because your little one is getting a feeding tube, I hope this gives you a new and optimistic perspective!

Do any of you have experience with a feeding tube? What impact did it have on your child’s life? What are the biggest obstacles you experience with a feeding tube?


[1] American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (A.S.P.E.N.). http://www.nutritioncare.org/About_Clinical_Nutrition/What_is_Enteral_Nutrition/


Read Comments (2)

  • 2015-02-10 | Lisa Alvarez

    I am an adoptive/foster mom, currently caring for 3 children with feeding tubes. Two have G-tubes & one has an NG tube. It brings me joy seeing that their nutritional needs are being met & they are thriving! It is easy to give meds through the tubes too. No fussing!!

  • 2015-02-11 | Rob McCandlish, RDN

      Thanks for sharing your story about how much of an impact feeding tubes have on your family’s quality of life. And it’s great to hear that you welcome little ones with special medical needs to your family! Around here, we think of people who have feeding tubes as having super hero powers.
      Happy Feeding Tube Awareness Week!

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