If you or your loved one is faced with the prospect of tube or enteral feeding—whether for a short period of time only or in the long term—it is understandably daunting. However, with proper knowledge, training, and guidance from doctors and healthcare professionals, it is not a completely difficult situation.

Tube feeding is those who are unable to take in or ingest solid food the normal way, which is masticating it through the mouth and swallowing it. Instead, a liquid formula is used. This may be the situation for stroke patients, for instance. It is also used to ensure proper and direct supplementation of nutrition for underweight or malnourished infants, children, and adolescents.

Tube feeding is a completely safe and widely practiced procedure. While it may seem painful for the patient, it is easy to get used to given proper practice and implementation. A wealth of resources is readily available today on enteral feeding, and you can use this to help you make the practice a part of your daily routine at home. The necessary materials, implements and equipment involved in tube feeding at home are easy to procure. With the help of your neighborhood hospital, clinic or medical institution, you can easily find sources for tubes, feeding bags, enteral feeding pumps, and other similar implements that are perfectly fitted for your loved one’s needs.

Types of Tube Feeding

It is important to understand what tube feeding is and how it works so that you are not fearful of the set-up. There are basically two ways by which tube feeding can be carried out, and they differ on where and how the tube is inserted into the patient’s stomach.

The first is called nasogastric (NG) because a long, flexible, and thin tube is passed through the nose and down the back of the throat and into the stomach through the esophagus. Another option is to place the feeding tube directly into the stomach through the abdominal wall. This is called a gastrostomy feeding tube (or G-tube). A device called a button may also be used to access the hole into the stomach.

Feeding a patient can also either be continuous or round-the-clock, or intermittent. The latter is also called bolus feeding. These can either approximate the actual meal intakes of normal individuals (e.g. breakfast, lunch, dinner) or are given in between those regular meal times as a supplement to nutrition requirements.

Nasogastric Tube vs. Gastrostomy

Depending on the instructions or guidance from your doctor, a nasogastric tube will either be left inserted and replaced periodically, or it can be inserted and withdrawn every feeding. An NG tube is ideal for patients who are relatively mobile and self-sufficient, as they can be trained to do the insertion and feeding by themselves. A polyvinyl NG tube is the most commonly used type, which is economical because it can be washed and reused for up to a week.

A gastrostomy tube or button is more common for the long term. It is also ideal for patients who are immobile or are not able to take care of themselves. The devices used can be left in for longer periods of time, and are more stable in their placement or attachment within the body.

Jejunostomy Tube or Button

Sometimes, the patient is unable to tolerate or digest food in the stomach itself, so doctors make a way to feed directly to the jejunum or the second part of the small intestine. This is the portion of the digestive system where food in its liquid form is absorbed. A tube may be inserted through the nose down to the jejunum (called a naso-jejunal tube) or placed directly into the jejunum (jejunostomy tube or button). Sometimes, the tube or button is made to pass through the stomach and then to the jejunum (gastro-jejunal tube or button).

In cases like these, a device called a feeding pump is usually required to automatically dispense and carefully calibrate the formula into the digestive system. Normally, the formula can be dispensed or pushed through the tube using a syringe, or be allowed to drip through gravity from a bag. A combination of feeding methods and schedules may be employed according to the situation of the patient.

These are just the very basics of enteral feeding that you may be concerned about. It is best to sit down with your doctor and support medical professionals to fully understand the situation of tube feeding for a patient at home. Don’t be afraid to ask questions until you are satisfied, and most importantly, gain confidence in carrying out these procedures with the proper knowledge and practice.