Feeding tubes can be a lifesaving medical intervention for children with complex medical needs.
According to The Feeding Tube Awareness Foundation, half a million children and adults in the U.S. rely on feeding tubes, a number that is expected to increase by eight percent over the next three years. Feeding tubes are not just for those at the end of life, they provide necessary nutritional support for children to live, grow, and thrive. There are over 300 conditions and diseases that can require tube feeding in children. Tube feeding can be supplemental to what is eaten orally. What’s more, whatever physical ability a child has, in most cases, will not be affected.
“Being told your child needs a feeding tube can be scary,” said Tara Montague, whose daughter Mary, 17, was born with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a neuromuscular disease that affects the motor cells in the spinal cord. “I wanted her to eat by mouth, but because of SMA, she didn’t have the muscular ability to swallow and chew. She has had a feeding tube since she was two months old, because without it, she would starve.”
BAYADA Area Director of Pediatric Clinical Operations Kathy Pfeiffer recommends that parents consider the following questions if their child’s physician prescribes a feeding tube:
- Is the child safely able to eat and drink enough to grow and develop appropriately?
- Will the child be able to catch up on necessary weight gain without a feeding tube?
- Does the child use too much energy to eat and drink?
- Does the child have a medical condition that will make it difficult to maintain a healthy weight?
Jack and Mary Davis understand all too well the important role a feeding tube can play in a child’s health. Their daughter Kasey, 4, who was born at 26 weeks gestation and weighed less than two pounds, has relied on a feeding tube since birth.
“We are thankful that Kasey has her tube because she would not have grown and thrived without it,” said Mary Davis. “She also takes many medications daily and if not for her tube, it would have been very difficult to get these medications in her.”
According to Pfeiffer, there are different types of feeding tubes. The type that is used depends on how long the child will be tube fed and whether or not the stomach or intestines can tolerate the needed volume of food.
“Nasal tubes are non-surgical and temporary, while gastric tubes are surgically placed through the abdominal wall into the stomach, explained Pfeiffer. “It’s important for parents to speak to their doctor to find out the best feeding tube option for their child.”
Pfeiffer understands that parents might feel overwhelmed by the equipment and supplies that accompany tube feeding, but she shares that it does get easier. “There are many resources available, including home care nursing, to help parents care for their children who are tube fed,” she said.