For some people who live with a feeding tube, there comes a time when they can transition back to solid food, also known as weaning.
Here are some important considerations for making this transition and how to go about doing so:
When is it time to wean?
As with any changes to a tube feeding schedule or process, it’s important to get the guidance and permission of a physician before you begin any weaning.
It’s only safe to transition to oral eating when you can swallow foods of several different thicknesses and textures without gagging, choking or vomiting. More importantly, if you are the person who is transitioning to oral eating, you must be ready and willing, and not feel forced.
Every person will differ in how they transition from tube feeding to oral eating. The key is to go slow and pay attention to how you tolerate oral feeds. Some people will want to stay on intermittent or cyclic tube feeding while transitioning to oral eating, while others may be able to make a more dramatic transition, with a physician and dietician’s support.
For those who are on cyclic feedings, try to reduce the number of hours a feeding pump runs, ideally at night, while increasing oral eating during the day.
For intermittent feeding schedules, you might take breaks between pump feeds for oral eating. It may also help to take in smaller amounts of food by mouth at first until you become accustomed to oral eating, and to be sure you’re getting adequate nutrition.
Generally speaking, by the time you are able to eat about 75% of your caloric needs by mouth for a few consecutive days, you may be able to discontinue tube feeding altogether, though some dietitians may recommend you add oral nutrition supplements to your meals.
For children who have only tube-fed
If you are transitioning a child to oral eating, who has only ever taken in food through tube feeding, this process will be a whole new experience that involves adjusting to the taste of foods. The Oley Foundation recommends starting out with flavored water—perhaps adding a few drops of something flavorful and tart such as lemon, pickle juice or other juice to water—as stronger, more pungent flavors are often better received than bland foods. Additionally, beginning with sauces such as spaghetti sauce or soy sauce can gauge a child’s receptiveness to foods.
Most importantly, be patient with the process. It may take repeated attempts to make the transition.
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