When you're recovering from surgery, bouncing back from injury or living with a chronic illness, a healthy diet can provide the nutrition you need to heal. But sometimes, certain medical conditions can make it challenging to eat. If you're having trouble getting all the nutrition you need from eating regular foods, your doctor may suggest a liquid tube-feeding formula delivered to the gastrointestinal tract via a feeding tube, also referred to as enteral nutrition.
If you're unfamiliar with this solution, you likely have questions. Here's what you should know about feeding tubes, how they function and the various factors you should consider.
What Is Enteral Nutrition, Exactly?
Enteral nutrition is liquid nutrition that is delivered directly into the stomach or small intestine via a feeding tube. Enteral nutrition is recommended when a person cannot take in enough nutrition by mouth or if there is a medical problem involving the upper gastrointestinal tract. Even though you might not hear about it very often, enteral nutrition supports the needs of roughly 250,000 infants, children and adults seeking medical attention at a hospital, according to the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition.
Enteral nutrition is used when a person:
But enteral nutrition isn’t just for individuals who are hospitalized. More than 400,000 people living at home get their nutrition from a feeding tube. While some individuals may only require a feeding tube for a few weeks, others may need it for life.
How Does Enteral Nutrition Work?
When a person is unable to eat food by mouth, a tube-feeding formula can provide all the vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates, fat and electrolytes the body needs, just like food. However, rather than entering the body through the mouth, this liquid nutrition is delivered directly to the digestive system through a feeding tube.
Feeding Tube Placement
A doctor can place a feeding tube as an inpatient or outpatient procedure.
How Do I Choose an Enteral Nutrition Formula?
There are many different tube-feeding formulas to support all kinds of nutrition needs and health conditions. To help find the best formula for your unique requirements, your healthcare team will consider multiple factors, such as your:
What Types of Enteral Nutrition Formulas Are Available?
Most formulas are conveniently pre-packaged in ready-to-use cans or containers. But some are available in powder form to mix with water. Depending on your needs, your doctor will most likely recommend one of these three basic types of formulas:
Can I Make My Own Tube-Feeding Formula?
Recently, the use of homemade tube-feeding formulas made with blenderized whole foods has become popular. Such formulas can provide some phytonutrients not found in standard commercial tube-feeding formulas. However, they may not be nutritionally complete if poorly designed, according to an article in Today’s Dietitian. Other potential problems include microbial contamination from inadequate food handling practices and increased viscosity, which can lead to clogging of feeding tubes.
Commercial formulas that incorporate real food ingredients, like PediaSure® Harvest™, provide complete nutrition and are a convenient alternative. Made with organic fruits and vegetables, PediaSure® Harvest™ combine the whole food goodness of a blenderized formula with the complete nutrition of a standard formula.
Getting the Support You Need
Living with a feeding tube is a big change, so allow time to adjust both physically and emotionally. Mealtimes, travel, socializing and even sleeping may all require different approaches.
It can be helpful to know that strategies and resources are available to help you cope, such as those provided by the Oley Foundation. The first key resource is your healthcare team. They can connect you with additional professionals, like registered dietitians and psychologists, who specialize in the challenges you may be facing.
But most importantly, don't be afraid to discuss what you're experiencing with your family and close friends, so that they can give you the support and encouragement you need.
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Nutrition and Hydration Tips for Healthcare Workers
As the first line of defense against the coronavirus pandemic, healthcare staffers put in long hours to give people the medical attention they need. Wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), including face shields or goggles, face masks, gowns and gloves, throughout their shifts helps them remain safe while tending to others. However, protective gear stays on for long stretches of time, which can make it difficult for essential workers to get enough food and water to safeguard their own health.