Feeding Tube Education: Oral Feeding

Helping Hand Logo

Getting Ready for Oral (by Mouth) Feedings

Be ready for oral feeding even when your child is getting tube feedings. Eating by mouth, at regular mealtimes, allows your child to copy other family members. At the same time, your child is learning that oral feedings can satisfy hunger. It is important for your child to connect using his or her mouth with the feeling of the stomach getting full.

Reasons for Oral Feeding

  • Tube feeding schedules can confuse the connection between hunger and eating by mouth.
  • Children who are tube fed can miss out on the critical period of learning to use their mouths. Missing these critical times can make it harder to learn to eat by mouth later on.
  • Many times, children who are tube-fed are not at the table to share family meal times.

Helping Your Child Get Ready for Oral Feedings

Use these ideas even if your child is not ready to eat by mouth at this time:

  • Keep tube feeding equipment out of sight when you are giving a tube feeding. Hold babies while feeding. Tube feeding equipment should be behind the caregiver so the infant can watch the caregiver’s face.
  • Give infants a pacifier or a finger to suck on during tube feedings. This connects sucking with feeling full.
  • Place something safe in their mouths of older children during tube feedings, for example an empty spoon or teething ring.
  • Older infants, toddlers and children should sit with the family at the table during meals.
  • If the doctor agrees, give your child foods to see, smell, taste and play with while receiving the tube feeding.  A feeding therapist will give you other ways your child can use his or her mouth.

When to Change to Oral Feedings

  • Your child’s doctor must first tell you that it is medically safe.
  • Your child’s doctor may work with a dietitian to decide if your child’s weight is stable. It is normal for your child to have slight weight changes while his food intake adjusts.
  • Your child’s doctor may also work with a feeding therapist to help decide on food that is right for your child.
  • Your child should be showing signs of hunger or interest in food.
  • Your child needs to have oral motor skills to begin eating food by mouth.
  • Once your child is eating more by mouth, you can work with a feeding therapist to decide on foods that are right for your child’s age and stage of development.

View and print the Feeding Tube Workbook (PDF)