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How long will my baby with a heart defect need a feeding tube?

A baby born with a heart defect may need the help of a feeding tube until his or her heart is repaired and functioning more efficiently. However, a feeding tube is rarely needed long term.

Babies who are dealing with a heart defect frequently don’t eat or grow well, because the two hardest things that they do all day is breathing and eating. A heart defect frequently results in excess blood flow to the lungs, making them congested and causing the baby to breathe fast. When a baby breathes fast, he or she burns more calories and has less energy left over to eat. This, in turn, results in poor weight gain. Medications can help control congestion in the lungs, allowing the baby to go home and gain weight for a few months before coming back to the hospital to undergo surgery for the heart defect.

Sometimes infants who have congenital heart disease (heart defects that are present at birth) will need help with a feeding tube to get the calories they need to gain weight. In this case, your baby may need to have a nasogastric (NG) tube placed. An NG tube is a small flexible tube that is placed in your baby’s nose and passed down into the stomach. This allows for formula or breast milk to be given without your baby having to burn so many calories to take it by mouth.

In other cases, a gastrostomy tube (also called a G-tube) may be placed into the stomach directly. This is especially useful for patients who when feeding by mouth are at high risk for having formula or breast milk travel up the esophagus and back down the trachea into the lungs (aspiration). A G-tube also allows for formula and or breast milk to go directly into the stomach, thus reducing the risk of aspiration and decreasing the amount of energy needed to feed.

The need for NG-tube or G-tube feedings early in life does not mean that a baby will always have to be fed in this way. If successful heart surgery is performed, or if the symptoms of heart failure are more successfully managed, a baby may then be able to resume taking food by mouth again. It is not uncommon for babies who have to be fed with tubes in the hospital to quickly begin feeding by mouth once they are at home. Some babies will have to relearn the coordination necessary to suck and swallow. An intensive oral training program can be tailored for these children.

Continue Learning about Congenital Heart Disease

Congenital Heart Disease

Congenital Heart Disease

Congenital heart defects (CHDs) are more common than you may think, but not all of them require surgery or treatment. Many defects that require intervention can now be corrected using catheterization procedures, which repair damag...

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.