In 2011, the Feeding Tube Awareness Foundation (FTAF) launched the first annual Feeding Tube Awareness Week:
“The mission of Awareness Week is to promote the positive benefits of feeding tubes as life-saving medical interventions. The week also serves to educate the broader public about the medical reasons that children and adults are tube fed, the challenges that families face, and day-to-day life with tube feeding. Feeding Tube Awareness Week® connects families by showing how many other families are going through similar things and making people feel less alone.”
Before my daughter, Romy, was born in November 2019, I didn’t know much about feeding tubes and had never met someone who used one. That all changed when we were nearing the 50-day mark of our neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) stay without an end in sight. In order for Romy to be discharged, we decided with her surgeon for a Gastric tube to be placed in her abdomen while her care team tried to figure out our options for repairing the remaining fistula between her esophagus and trachea. You can read more about Romy’s story here!
So, what is a feeding tube? A feeding tube is a medical device used to feed someone who is unable to eat or drink (chew or swallow). There are many reasons why someone might need a feeding tube, and many kinds of feeding tubes are available based on the individual’s needs. According to the FATF, there are over 350 conditions that necessitate the placement of a feeding tube.
Feeding tubes are primarily placed when the individual cannot get proper nutrition from eating and drinking on their own either because of a chronic medical condition, disability, temporary illness, etc. They may use them for weeks, months, years, or the rest of their lives.
There are many different variations/types of feeding tubes, but all tubes fall under the following two categories:
- Short-term feeding tubes:
- A nasogastric (NG) tube is inserted into the nose and threaded down the esophagus into the stomach. These tubes can stay in place for four to six weeks before needing to be replaced.
- An orogastric (OG) tube has the same pathway as the NG tube but is placed in the mouth to start and can stay in place for up to two weeks before being replaced.
- Long-term feeding tubes:
- A gastric tube (g-tube) is surgically placed in the abdomen, offering direct access to the stomach, and bypassing the mouth and throat. This allows individuals unable to swallow to receive food, fluids, and medication.
- A jejunostomy tube (j-tube) is like a g-tube but is placed in the middle third of the small intestine.
Before Romy was born, I had no experience with feeding tubes, and after 18 months of feeding her through her g-tube four to five times daily, I am still no expert, but here are my top three tips for g-tube success:
- Keep the stoma (g-tube) site clean and dry. This decreases the likelihood of infection and the formation of granulation tissue.
- Change your g-tube button as directed by your doctor. Romy had a “balloon button,” and it was important to change it every three months. The integrity of the balloon deteriorates over time and can leak, causing the g-tube button to become dislodged from the stoma.
- Always keep a replacement button on hand in case of an emergency, either to replace it on your own at home or to take it to the emergency room (ER). The ER might not have your exact brand/size in stock.
This year, Feeding Tube Awareness Week is celebrated worldwide from Monday, February 6th, to Friday, February 10th. Because of her g-tube, my daughter is now a healthy, thriving three-year-old. I will continue to share her story to raise awareness of feeding tubes, a lifesaving intervention for more than 500,000 children and adults in the United States alone.