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Caring For A Loved One With A Feeding Tube

Elizabeth Duhan - January 09, 2017 11:39 AM

A feeding tube is a lifeline for someone who can’t get nutrition or medication in the traditional way due to disease or trauma. It can improve the quality of life, help prevent diseases like pneumonia, and possibly keep a loved one with you longer.

The human body needs sustenance, which a feeding tube can provide. However, it can be a challenge for caregivers. Understanding how the tube works, proper maintenance, and some essential troubleshooting is the key to caring for a loved one with a feeding tube.

What Is a Feeding Tube?

There are a few types of feeding tubes, but the phrase often refers to a gastric tube inserted through the abdomen directly into the stomach. The purpose is to bypass the mouth and throat to provide enteral nutrition and medication. This is a long-term feeding solution for individuals who are unable to obtain their daily caloric needs through the mouth. The ultimate goal is to improve nutrition so that individuals can thrive.

Tips for Using the Feeding Tube

The most important thing you can do is get to know the feeding equipment well before using it. Most designs have a port for food and one for medication. You should be able to tell them apart. There may also be a valve for inflating and deflating the balloon that holds the tube in place. This should never be used for food or meds.

It is critical that you go over the use, care and maintenance of your loved one’s feeding tube with a health care professional. Not all tubes are alike, so you may need to follow very specific instructions. The first step is learning how to use the tube for feeding, including following these basic tips:

•    Make sure the formula used in the tube is the proper thickness and temperature. If the formula is too thick, it could clog the tube. Follow the recommendations of your physician or dietitian when selecting a formula. They understand the nutritional needs of your loved one and what works best with the feeding tube installed. Most formulas are a healthy mix of proteins, carbohydrates, essential vitamins and fats.

•    Hygiene is critical with feeding tubes. Wash your hands thoroughly before handling either the tube or food. You should also wipe off the outside of cans and packages before opening them.

•    Put your loved one in a sitting position before you start the feeding, whether using a pump, syringe, or gravity feeds. He or she should remain upright for at least an hour after the tube feeding. The doctor may suggest sitting up for even longer.

The shelf life for open formula is 24 hours when refrigerated. Dispose of it right away if you are not able to put it in a refrigerator.

How to Properly Care for the Tube

Take steps to keep the tube clean, such as flushing it with warm water before and after each use and washing your hands before touching it. Wipe the openings, or ports, of the tube with an antiseptic wipe at least once a day. Keep the skin near the tube clean and dry.

Make sure to check the feeding tube for a proper fit and make sure it is not causing any tension at the stoma site.  The external bolster should sit flat against the abdominal wall, not being pulled into the stoma site or sticking out too far. Additionally, when connecting the food source to the device, make sure to secure the extension sets so that they are not causing unnecessary tension on the device or stoma site.


Tube feeding is a complex task, so it is best to be prepared for the unexpected. If you have a hard time getting fluid or formula through the tube, it is most likely blocked. If possible, flush the tube with water to clear it. If it fails to open, consult your primary physician for medical help. Don’t stick anything inside the tube hoping to clear it such as a wire brush, straw or swab. You could damage the tubing and cause even more problems.

If the tube is accidently dislodged, don’t panic. Get help right away to prevent the stoma site from closing. It is always good practice to keep a spare tube on hand in cases of emergencies.

While you are taking care of your loved one, make sure to take care of yourself at the same time. If you get overtired or stressed, you may make a mistake. Look into local caregiver support groups and set up a schedule with family and friends to give you a break if necessary. With a little education and experience, caring for your loved one’s feeding tube will become second nature to you.
Elizabeth Duhan serves as Marketing Project Specialist at Applied Medical Technology, Inc., a global leader and manufacturer of enteral feeding devices and accessories, upholding the highest standard for performance and quality assurance for over 30 years.

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