Feeding Tubes and Gastrostomies

This section provides an introduction to various kinds of non-surgical and surgical feeding tubes, including nasogastric (NG), nasojejunal (NJ), orogastric (OG), gastrostomies (G-tube or button), and gastro-jejunal (GJ) tubes (also known as gastro-enteral tubes). Other tubes used less commonly (such as gastro-duodenal tubes) are not discussed in this section. The section covers the differences between these tubes, how they are placed, and common issues.
labeled photo collage of feedign tube types showing (l-r) naso-gastric & naso-jejunal>Gastrostomy>Gastrostomy & Naso-jejunal>Gastro-jejunostomy

Feeding Tubes

Background
Feeding tubes are alternative ways to enter the gastrointestinal system while bypassing the mouth. Feeding tubes are used for children who need additional help to gain weight or protect them from complications from oral feeding, and to ensure that the child receives enough fluids to stay adequately hydrated*. These tubes also provide options to give medications when a child can’t or won’t take them by mouth. Tubes also can help to vent (relieve gas) and remove or drain unwanted fluids from the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. This section explains the basic differences of the various feeding tubes and gastrointestinal ostomies, and addresses common questions and concerns. The resource links provide useful additional opportunities to learn more about these topics. Decisions about placing and removing any tube that goes in the body can be difficult. It is important for families and medical personnel to discuss benefits and possible risks associated with the various options before making a decision.
*Note: Intravenous nutrition, known as total parental nutrition (TPN), is not addressed in this section.
Labeled diagram of the Digestive Tract
Parts of the Digestive Tract. This diagram is provided as a reference to help visualize where the various feeding tubes extend into the body.

Oral vs. Tube Feeds

When and whether to place a feeding tube must be tailored to each family's situation and desires. Families will often prefer oral feeding over tube feeding, even if it takes a long time and requires additional preparation. Parents may not think of tube feeding as "eating." [Petersen: 2006]. For various reasons, including the "unnaturalness" of tube feeding and other psychosocial concerns, parents may persist with oral feeding in the face of stressful, frankly unenjoyable, mealtimes [Sullivan: 2000] and instructions from a physician to provide nothing by mouth. [Petersen: 2006] Sometimes, if the nutritional status of a child is becoming marginal, it helps to introduce the possibility of a feeding tube at one visit, discussing positive and negative ramifications of the decision, and allow the family some time to consider the idea. Preliminary research suggests that a well-managed feeding tube usually (but not invariably) has a positive impact on nutritional status, but little is known about the overall impact of a feeding tube on a child or family's function over the long term. A systematic Cochrane review of gastrostomy tube feeding in children with CP does not support either tube or oral feeding over the long term; a controlled long-term study is needed to address this question. [Sleigh: 2004]

Indications for a Feeding Tube

Indications for a feeding tube may include:
  • Unsafe oral feeding. In some children, tube feeding may be necessary due to frequent coughing, choking, and aspiration. Even if maximum efforts are made to prevent aspiration of food and drink into the lungs (with gastrostomy tube feeding and Nissen fundoplication), oral secretions may still be aspirated;
  • Severe reflux and the need for preventative surgery to prevent it (Nissen fundoplication) - a feeding tube will usually be inserted at the time of reflux surgery.
  • Inefficient feeding due to oral motor dysfunction leading to prolonged labor-intensive feeding or poor weight gain. Families often don't realize how long they spend preparing food and feeding their child with a chronic condition - for children with CP and swallowing problems, estimates are 3.5 hours/day compared to 0.8 hours/day for typically developing children. Families who have opted for tube feeding often report an improved quality of life due to a reduction in feeding times, improved medication administration, and decreased worries about their child's nutrition. [Sullivan: 2004];
  • Recurrent periods of dehydration or weight loss due to frequent illnesses; and
  • The need for an alternate route to give medications, fluids, or an unpalatable diet (ketogenic diet formulas).
Indications for temporary tube feeding may include:
  • If malnutrition malnutrition is present, oral feeds, even with nutritional supplementation, are rarely enough to resolve it. Sometimes however, a period of tube feeding (nasogastric or gastrostomy tube) supplementation may allow the child to catch up to a normal weight and then continue with oral feeds alone.
  • Percutaneous placement of a gastrostomy tube or gastrojejunal tube is recommended if the child will require tube feeding for more than about six weeks. These are readily removable when no longer necessary.
  • The child with a temporary feeding tube can be fed by tube at night, allowing hunger and thirst to occur during the day so that oral feeding can continue. This may also be a time that oral-motor skills to improve oral feeds may be optimized, allowing a better transition back to oral feeding.

Nasogastric (NG), Nasojejunal (NJ), and Orogastric (OG) Tubes

diagram of a human body showing Nasogastric Tube Diagram inserted through the nose and running ot the stomach
These three types of tubes are temporary tubes placed manually through the nose or mouth into the stomach or small intestine.
NG: Nasogastric tubes are put in by passing a thin, flexible tube from a nostril, down the back of the throat through the esophagus, and into the stomach (see diagram below). These can be placed at the bedside by medical personnel. Parents or caregivers can also do this easily with a little training and if they do it often may actually be more comfortable doing this than the child’s physician! The safest practice for determining the length of the NG tube is to measure from the tip of the Nose, to the Ear, to the xyphoid process, and then to the Midline of the Umbilicus (the NIMU method) [Irving: 2018] and then marking this length on the tube that will be inserted. The safest methods for NG tube location verification include pH testing of gastric secretions (pH of 1–5.5 is indicative of correct placement), and radiography. Safety alerts warn against the use of auscultation and visual inspection of gastric aspirate as the means of NG location verification because neither method is confirmatory, and either can give false affirmation of correct NG placement. [Irving: 2018] Improper placement of NG tubes can result in complications including insertions into the esophagus, small intestine, pharynx, intracranium, or respiratory tract (which can lead to aspiration), and perforations and deaths can occur. Liquid nutrition can be given through the NG feeds in larger intermittent amounts called boluses, or over longer periods of continuous feeds (such as night feeds) and can be delivered by gravity or with a pump. Certain centers are exploring the benefits of NG tubes to aid infants in leaving the neonatal intensive care setting in favor of home tube feeding with close clinical follow up. [White: 2020]
Newborn with Nasogastric Tube
NJ: Nasojejunal (NJ) tubes need to extend further past the stomach and into the small intestine. The first part of the small intestine is called the duodenum, and ideally the NJ tube extends past the duodenum to better anchor it into place. For children who cannot have feedings into their stomachs, NJ tubes are often the next alternative. NJ feeds are run over longer periods continuously using a pump. NJ tubes can be more challenging to place since they can curl up in the stomach unintentionally. Typically NJ tubes are placed (and replaced) with the help of radiology, such as an x-ray to confirm the placement is correct.
Both NG and NJ tubes have a disadvantage that they can be easily dislodged or completely pulled out while a child is moving around or having cares done. While the initial placement of a tube can make a child gag and feel uncomfortable, usually an NG or NJ tube is well tolerated once the child becomes used to it.
OG: OG tubes are sometimes used in the hospital during acute or surgical care for drainage of the stomach. OG tubes are passed into the mouth, down the esophagus, and end in the stomach. These tubes are larger in diameter and can help with draining the stomach either as a vent or hooked up to suction. OG tubes typically are less comfortable for children as they can trigger gagging.

Gastrostomy “G-tubes” and Gastrostomy-Jejunostomy “GJ-tubes”

Diagram showing the relative placement of the G-Tube and GJ ports
Background

Ostomies generally refer to surgically created pathways to enter or exit the body, such as a gastrostomy that is a pathway to the stomach, or ajejunostomy that is a pathway to the jejunum (part of the small intestine). The site where the gastrointestinal tract (stomach or intestine) is pulled up to meet the skin heals into an opening called a stoma. There are many other kinds of ostomies in the body not covered in this section, such as colostomies and ileostomies as exits for chime (digested food and fluid) or stool, tracheostomies for respiration, and urostomies for removal of urine. Stoma nurses (or enterostomal teams) have specialized experience in caring for common problems such as irritation or leaking.
illustrated and labeled large view and closeup of endoscope and PEG gastronomy tube
Image from Gastrostomy placement (MedLinePlus)
A gastrostomy tube ("G-tube") is a gastric feeding tube, passed through a gastrostomy, designed for the administration of liquid nutrients, fluids, or medications. Most of these procedures are now performed endoscopically or laparoscopically instead of as an open surgery. In the procedure known as Percutaneous Endoscopic Gastrostomy, or PEG tube placement, a videoscope is passed through the mouth, down the esophagus and into the stomach, to guide insertion of a tube through the abdominal wall accessing the stomach. PEG can be performed by a gastroenterologist or a surgeon. A temporary tube may be in placed initially and later replaced with a low-profile or “button” device (with balloon or non-balloon internal bolsters). Gaining in popularity, Laparoscopically Assisted Gastrostomy, or LAG tube placement, can be performed by a surgeon and appears to be associated with fewer complications. [Sandberg: 2018] The site typically heals in about 1-3 weeks. G-tubes are placed in children who tolerate feedings into the stomach but who are unable to orally consume enough calories to maintain adequate nutrition and growth or who are at risk for aspiration of oral feedings due to difficulty with oropharyngeal control, esophageal motility, and/or gastroesophageal reflux. [Sleigh: 2004] G-tubes are often considered for children who use NG tubes for an extended period of time because the G-tubes eliminate problems with nasopharyngeal irritation, are much less likely to pull out, and can be concealed under clothing for improved privacy. G-tubes can be changed when leaking or approximately every 6 months; however there is not expert consensus on how often to change a functioning G-tube.
gastrostomy button
Image of a "gastrostomy tube and balloon “button” in place
A number of recent studies have focused on the use and safety of G-tubes. For example, improved weight gain after G-tube placement without serious complications was demonstrated in a 5-year retrospective study of children with neurological impairment, malnutrition, and oromotor dysfunction. [Dipasquale: 2018] Mothers of children with a gastrostomy tube may spend up to 8 hours per day on care activities. [Heyman: 2004], and parents of children with gastrostomy tubes can experience higher out-of-pocket expenses for their child when compared to children without gastrostomy tubes.[Heyman: 2004] Studies such as these give general insights into caring for a child with special health care needs; however, families and caregivers need to discuss the benefits and risks of tube placement and tailor their decision based on the child’s unique circumstances.
There remains lack of consensus on which infants should undergo G-tube placement. A recent study demonstrated no significant increase in hospitalizations or emergency room visits using an evidence-based oral-feeding protocol in infants and children <= 2 yrs old with oropharyngeal dysphagia and aspiration compared to those receiving feeds via G-tube. [McSweeney: 2020]
G-tube Placement Alternatives
  • Percutaneous Endoscopic Gastrostomy (PEG) - endoscope or image-guided radiography to insure proper g-tube placement
  • [Percutaneous] Laparascopically Assisted Gastrostomy (LAG or PLAG) (e.g., Seldinger technique)
  • Stamm gastrostomy - open surgical procedure, higher rate of complications
  • Janeway gastrostomy - conventional laparoscopic procedure, higher rate of complications
  • Percutaneous radiological gastrostomy (PRG) – Interventional radiology-guided push-pull non-endoscopic placement directly through the abdominal wall
black and white image of MIC-Key button
A balloon bolster style button
G-tube Equipment
Many people use brand names to refer to their child’s device, but the generic terminology for the two styles is “balloon” and “non-balloon.” Ask for clarification if someone refers to a device that you are not familiar with.

Balloon-bolster low profile gastrostomy device
  • Contains an internal, water filled balloon which holds the low-profile device in place and prohibits displacement
  • The balloon is breakable, so g-tube changes may be required more frequently than non-balloon devices.
  • The valve is located on the outside of the body
  • Relatively easy and painless to change
  • Has a feeding adapter locking mechanism
black and white image of Bard button
A Bard non-balloon button
Non-Balloon Gastrostomy Button
  • Contains a mushroomed shaped tip which prevents displacement
  • The mushroom tip is less likely to break than the balloon tip, and therefore needs to be changed less frequently (once per year)
  • The valve is located inside the stomach, making the non-balloon button less noticeable than the balloon device
  • More difficult to change
  • Does not have a feeding adapter locking mechanism
Feeding

  • Care should be taken to select the appropriate formula – consultation with local nutrition experts or pediatric gastroenterology may be helpful.
  • Formula, milk and water are the only fluids permissible to use through a G-tube.
  • The child should always be held upright during a feeding.
  • Oral stimulation (chewing, sucking on pacifier) is recommended during the feed to promote normal development.
  • Participation at the dinner table, or routine family eating activities should be performed during a G-tube feed to promote socialization.
  • The G-tube should be flushed with water after each feeding to avoid obstruction due to drying of residual formula or medications. Recommended flushes are 5-10cc of water for infants and 15-30cc of water for older children.
  • Venting of gas may be needed for the child’s comfort, similar to burping a baby after a feeding. Venting can be done using an empty syringe, opening the extension catheter to drain air out, or with a specialized decompression tube for Bard buttons.

Gastrostomy-Jejunostomy Tube (GJ)

gastronomy-jejustomy (GJ) port photo and Tube Diagram with description
Image courtesy of Feeding Raya (http://agirlandhertube.blogspot.com)
An alternative for enteral feeding, the GJ is most often placed due to prevent aspiration or gastroesophageal reflux and may be used to prevent need for a fundoplication. [Onwubiko: 2017] Similarly to the G-tube, a GJ tube passes through the wall of the stomach. Internally however, these two types of tubes are not the same because they provide access to two separate places in the GI tract, specifically into the stomach and the jejunum (2nd part of the small intestine), allowing fluids, nutrition, and medication to bypass the stomach if needed. The tube is held in place with a plastic disk on the outside of the abdomen and a balloon or plastic bumper on the inside of the stoma. There are 3 ports located externally: the G, the J, and the balloon. If a child has a G-tube already, it can be converted into a GJ tube using interventional radiology rather than through another surgery. The GJ option enables the care team to be selective about what enters the stomach, if anything. If a child receives all medications, fluids, and nutrition into the jejunum, the G portion still enables the stomach to be vented. Due to the jejunum’s narrower shape, jejunal feeds must be given at a continuous rate by pump, rather than as boluses (larger volumes given more quickly) which can be given into the stomach at intervals (more like established meal times). Replacing a GJ is more technically difficult than replacing a G-tube and requires experienced medical personnel. Typically, GJ changes are scheduled every 3 months and often can be replaced over a wire, thus minimizing fluoroscopy time. Unscheduled replacement of a dislodged GJ tube can be more time consuming.
Medication Safety

To prevent medical errors and improve patient safety, it is important to think about which medications, formulas, and supplements are given, how they are formulated (liquid versus pill, immediate-release formulations versus time-release, etc.) and how they are metabolized (processed) in different parts of the body. All prescription medications, over-the-counter medications, supplements, and natural or holistic remedies need to be discussed with the medical provider and pharmacist to help prevent interactions. Medical errors can arise from crushing certain medications, mixing medications together for administration, or even mixing certain medications with nutritional formulas. Some medications, including some liquids, require diluting before administering through a tube. The tube may become clogged or deteriorate with exposure to certain chemicals and formulations. Co-administered liquid medications can alter the pH and cause denaturing of either or both medicines. Viscous liquid medications may adhere to the interior of the tube, despite flushing. Immediate-release products are more likely to be able to be crushed and given by tube, however the finer particle size caused by crushing can still change the drug’s metabolism in the body. Extended release or enteric coated pills, tablets, or capsules are not designed to be crushed and given through a feeding tube. Feeding tubes should be flushed between each medication.
The site of administration needs to be considered as well. Medications given by mouth (oral route or “PO”), into the stomach (gastric route, via NG, OG, or GT), and into the small intestine (enteric route, via NJ or duodenal, or jejunal tubes) are not metabolized the same way in these different parts of the body. Certain medications, such as proton pump inhibitors, warfarin and oral iron formulations are absorbed above the jejunum (the second section of the small intestine), and should be given into the stomach to be most effective. Pharmacists are trained to work with patients and prescribers to prevent medical errors and to optimize use of the medications and supplements, so it is important to consult a pharmacist directly.
Ostomy and Skin Care

Bathing
  • Parents should clamp the g-tube or close the valve prior to bathing the child.
  • Avoid overtly hot water, which could irritate the surrounding skin.
  • Use mild soaps and soft washcloths to avoid further irritation and abrasion.
Granulation tissue
  • Granulation tissue represents a foreign body reaction in the skin surrounding the tube. It is red/pinkish inflamed epithelial tissue.
  • Excess granulation tissue can be controlled or reduced by topical application of triamcinolone cream three times daily for a week, or cauterized using silver nitrate sticks obtained through a physician.

Complications

Placement
  • Major complications in a retrospective cohort of 208 patients with gastrostomy placement by interventional radiology included peritonitis (3%), [Dookhoo: 2016] and death (0.4%). [Friedman: 2004] Spearing or poking the transverse colon can occur, requiring surgery to fix.
  • Minor complications in this cohort included tube dislodgement (37%), tube leakage (25%), and g-tube skin infection (25%). [Friedman: 2004]
  • A review of 90 GJ tubes placed at one center demonstrated complications occurred in <20% and included one intestinal perforation. Mortality was 23% although there were no procedural-related deaths, likely attributed at least in part to the underlying medical fragility of the patients included in the study. [Onwubiko: 2017] Another study identified risk of perforation at 9.4%, occurring most frequently in patients <10 kg, and mortality risk at 0.9%/person. [Morse: 2017]
Pulling out the G-tube
  • Children can pull-out their g-tube directly or inadvertently through contact or traction while playing.
  • Dressing children in a "onesie," a one-piece undershirt with the tube tucked inside, or placing the end of the tubing under the tabs of a disposable diaper can help avoid the tube being pulled out.
  • Using an abdominal binder can also help protect the tube from being pulled out.
  • A dislodged GJ tube typically requires fluoroscopy to replace.
Leaking
  • Leaking is a common problem with feeding ostomies. Ensuring that the tube is properly placed and, if there is a balloon, that the balloon is properly inflated, can reduce leaking.
  • Balloon style buttons for children vary in the volume contained in the balloon. Typically, this is 3 mL (cc) for infants up to 1 year and 5 mL (cc) for older children. If unsure, contact the physician who placed the button.
  • Other factors such as granulation tissue, damaged or displaced tubes, or weight changes can affect the fit of the tube. Leaking may also occur if the stomach is too full, which can happen with poor gastric motility (slow emptying) or with rapid bolus feeds.
Gastroesophageal Reflux
  • The role of G-tube in management of children with gastroesophageal reflux is complicated to summarize. [Aumar: 2018]
  • Overall there has been a trend away from concurrent anti-reflux surgery such as fundoplication at time of G-tube placement as it is generally not indicated and presents safety and comorbidity risks.
  • In one prospective observational study, 74% of children had reflux at the time of G-tube placement, and tube placement did not aggravate reflux in the majority of children. [Aumar: 2018] In this study 11% of children developed GERD after G-tube placement, and 16% of the patients required anti-reflux surgery at a later time. [Aumar: 2018]
  • Medical management is often sufficient to control reflux symptoms in tube-fed children rather than anti-reflux surgery.
  • Feeding transpylorically via a jejunostomy or GJ tube may decrease reflux symptoms but also has its limitations.

Role of the Medical Home

While most caregivers report 'general satisfaction' at their child having had a feeding tube placed, many report the need to develop complex coping strategies over the first months to manage the equipment, feeding schedules, and general care in the face of family life. The medical home provider is critical to this process by:
  • Facilitating family coping strategies
  • Adjusting the child's diet for optimal growth and nutrition (and prevention of obesity)
  • Adjusting the child's feeding schedule for optimal family/child functioning
  • Monitoring the feeding tube for complications (feeding intolerance, reflux with aspiration, stoma leakage etc.)
  • Ensuring that the family has adequate equipment for using and caring for the feeding tube
  • Ensuring that the family is aware of what to do if the tube dislodges
  • Working with the family to ensure adequate and safe feeding at school, childcare and respite settings
  • Helping the child and family continue to focus on advancing oral feeding by monitoring safety, prescribing oral motor therapy (if indicated), and optimizing the feeding schedule to enhance hunger during meal times

Protective Clothing

Commercial vendors include many businesses started by entrepreneurial parents who recognized the need for adaptive and protective clothing to help protect privacy and prevent tubes from being pulled out. The Medical Home Portal does not endorse any of these products but has provided this information as an example of this type of resource.
  • Adaptations by Adrian is a commercial site offering sales of adaptive clothing including onesies, sizes small child to 2XL adult.

Resources

Information & Support

For Professionals

Enteral Nutrition Handbook, 2nd Edition (ASPEN)
Updated and expanded in 2019 to deliver the best of evidence-based recommendations, practical application, and hands-on clinical skills along with the foundational science that underpins enteral nutrition. Available for a fee from American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition.

Nutrition, 3rd Edition (Bright Futures) (PDF Document 1.8 MB)
Nutrition Issues and Concerns (Chapter 2) provides detailed guidance on breastfeeding and nutritional issues for children with special health care needs. It includes a table with energy calculations for children and adolescents with Down syndrome, spina bifida, Prader-Willi syndrome, cystic fibrosis, and pediatric HIV infection. Available for no cost as a downloadable PDF or for a fee as a printed book.

For Parents and Patients

Feeding Tube Awareness Foundation
A very comprehensive, parent-focused site offering information about feeding tubes, their use, and troubleshooting. Downloadable Tube Feeding parent guide in English and Spanish.

Nasogastric Tubes Insertion and Feeding (Nationwide Children’s Hospital)
Clear how-to info for families about NG-tube placement, feeding your child, and cleaning equipment.

Continuous Drip Nasogastric Feeding with Pump (Cincinnati Children's Hospital)
Instructions for parents using a continuous drip tube feeding with pump. Includes supplies, preparation, general information, and a link to instructions in Spanish.

Gastrostomy Tube Home Care (Cincinnati Children's Hospital)
Parent instructions on caring for a gastrostomy tube. Includes cleaning, flushing, giving meds, venting, protecting, and problem-solving.

PEG Tube Home Care Instruction (Boston Children's Hospital)
Parent instructions on caring for a child after having a PEG or MIC-G tube placed.

PEG Tube Home Care Instruction (Boston Children's Hospital)
Parent instructions on caring for a child after having a PEG or MIC-G tube placed.

Gastrostomy Feeding by Syringe (Cincinnati Children's Hospital)
Instructions and safety tips for gastrostomy feeding for parents. Also available in Spanish.

Ostomy Care (PDF Document 246 KB)
Transcript from 2007 Medical Home conference call; provides information about ostomy care and resolving problems with gastrostomy tubes; includes a "Let's Talk About" on gastrostomies.

Gastrostomy-Jejunostomy Tubes (Cincinnati Children's Hospital)
Includes information about flushing, protecting, adding medications, and solving problems related to gastrostomy-jejunostomy (G-J) tubes.

Services for Patients & Families in Idaho (ID)

For services not listed above, browse our Services categories or search our database.

* number of provider listings may vary by how states categorize services, whether providers are listed by organization or individual, how services are organized in the state, and other factors; Nationwide (NW) providers are generally limited to web-based services, provider locator services, and organizations that serve children from across the nation.

Authors & Reviewers

Initial publication: May 2013; last update/revision: April 2015
Current Authors and Reviewers:
Author: Jennifer Goldman-Luthy, MD, MRP, FAAP

Page Bibliography

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