For many children, feeding tubes are a necessary part of life. A feeding tube is often a literal lifeline, providing a child with the nutrition and hydration she needs to stay alive. Even though a feeding tube may be necessary for a time, many children are able to gain medical stability and no longer need a tube. A child who is medically stable and growing well may be ready to start a tube transition and learn to eat by mouth.
What is a tube transition?
A tube transition is the gradual process that takes place when a child moves from receiving nutrition and hydration by tube feeding to receiving nutrition and hydration by eating and drinking. A tube transition is a journey that parents and children take together. A tube transition is not pass/fail. If a child lets us know that he is not ready to eat by mouth, the adults on the journey readjust the pace and help the child gain the comfort and the skills he needs in preparation for learning to become an oral eater.
How is a tube transition different from a tube wean?
A tube transition starts the minute a child receives a feeding tube. Parents begin to view tube feedings as the first step in helping their child learn to eat by mouth. Parents understand that tube feedings are an important time for a child to learn to trust her body and the people caring for her. Children can also learn that their mouth can be a place of comfort and calm and soothing. This may happen when a child sucks on her fingers or receives kisses on her face from a mom or dad.
A tube transition is about what we are helping a child to acquire–not about what we are taking away. Children who are transitioning off of feeding tubes are learning to join their families at the dinner table. They are learning to enjoy eating as they discover taste and flavor. They are learning the privilege of appetite. Children who participate in tube transitions thrive as oral eaters because the caring adults who have supported the transition have carefully helped the child to learn important skills both before and during the process of introducing hunger in the form of a caloric reduction. A child who has transitioned off of a feeding tube has gone a journey with their parents and learned that they are loved and supported at every stage of their transition.