man with gastronomy tube

When a health problem restricts you from eating or drinking enough to have adequate nutrition for the body, tube feedings can provide:

  • Good nutrition to help your body to heal
  • Fluid to prevent your body from drying out (dehydration)

Use this guide to help you and your family understand how to give yourself feedings through your gastrostomy [gas-TROS-tuh-mee] tube after returning from the hospital.

An illustration of the stoma site -- the insertion point of the feeding tube in the stomach.

The feeding tube goes into your stomach through a stoma.

What Is a Gastrostomy Tube?

The gastrostomy tube (GT) is a short feeding tube that goes directly into your stomach through a surgical incision called a stoma [STOH-muh].

The GT is soft and bendable.

When you leave the hospital, you should be able to:

  • Give yourself liquid food and water through the feeding tube.
  • Give yourself medication through the tube.
  • Clean and take care of the GT.
  • Troubleshoot problems if they arise.

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Understanding the Tube Feeding Equipment

Before your feeding, you will need:

  • 60cc syringe
  • Liquid food prescribed by your doctor
  • Measuring cup
  • Clean food container
  • IV pole or wall hook to hang the food container while receiving the feeding
An IV pole lets you hang the food container while receiving tube feedings. To receive your liquid food, attach the tube from the end of the food bag to the end of your GT.
This illustrates using an IV pole to hang the food bag during tube feedings. An illustration showing how to attach the feeding tube to the food container.

Giving the Tube Feeding

1. Always wash your hands thoroughly before touching the GT, food, or medication.

An illustration of inserting the syringe into your feeding tube.

Attach a 60cc syringe to the end of your feeding tube.

2. Check the placement of your GT, then:

  • Attach a 60cc syringe to the end of your feeding tube.
  • Pull back on the plunger. You should see some gastric juices (yellow-green fluid). This is stomach content and tells you the tube is in your stomach.
  • If you pull back a large amount of fluid, do not give yourself food. Inject the stomach content, which contains important minerals, back into the tube. Then flush with water. Wait for a few hours and check again. Tell your visiting nurse or your doctor if this occurs often.

3. Some patients need to compare the length of the feeding tube at home to what it was in the hospital. If your doctor told you to do this, write down the length of the tube as measured in the hospital.

  • Use a ruler to measure the length from the stoma site to the end of the feeding tube.
  • Call your doctor if you see no stomach content and the length of your tube has changed. This may mean the tube is out of place.

4. To give yourself the feeding:

  • This illustrates opening the clamp on your GT to adjust the speed of tube feeding.

    Slowly open the clamp on your GT to adjust the speed of the feeding.

    Insert the tip of the tube from your food container into your feeding tube (GT).

  • Open the clamp slowly to adjust the speed of the feeding.
  • Your meal should last 45 minutes to an hour.
  • It’s important to sit up or prop your head up while receiving your feeding. If you choke or have difficulty breathing during a feeding, stop and call your doctor right away.
  • When you’re done with the feeding, fill the food container with the amount of water your doctor prescribes. This provides fluids for you and flushes out the tube.
  • After you’ve had water, roll the clamp down to turn off and disconnect the food container
  • Insert the GT plug.

5. Wash out the food container after each use:

  • Use dishwashing liquid and water to wash the container.
  • Rinse the container thoroughly.
  • Use a clean food container for each feeding.

Taking Your Medication Through Your Feeding Tube

You can take your medications through your GT.

Before you use your feeding tube for medicine:

  • Use the liquid form of your medication if your pharmacy has it. If you can’t get the liquid form, you must crush your pills.
  • Do not crush sustained-release pills. If the letters “SR” appear after the drug name on the prescription bottle label, this means the medication is “sustained-release.” You do not want to crush these pills to take through your feeding tube.
  • Check with your pharmacist or nurse to be sure that you can crush your pills and take them at the same time. Also ask if you should take your medications with food or on an empty stomach.

Steps for giving medicine through your feeding tube

To give your medication through your GT, follow these steps:

  1. Check for feeding tube placement (see step 2 of “Giving the Tube Feeding”).
  2. Flush your feeding tube with 30cc of water before giving your medication.
  3. Crush the pills. To crush your pills, place them in a plastic bag and use a rolling pin or soup can to crush them.
  4. After you have crushed your pills finely, let the pieces dissolve in warm water (not hot water) so that no pieces will clog your tube.
  5. Draw medication up into your syringe by pulling back on the plunger.
  6. Attach the syringe to the end of the feeding tube. Then push on the plunger to give your medication.
  7. Flush the tube with 30cc of water after giving your medication.

Preventing a Clogged Feeding Tube

  • To prevent a clogged feeding tube, flush your tube with water each time after giving a feeding or medication.
  • If your feeding tube becomes clogged, you can use these methods:
  • Place the syringe into your feeding tube, and pull back on the plunger.
  • Flush your tube with warm tap water.
  • If you cannot unclog your tube, call your doctor. It is important not to miss your prescribed liquid food and water.

Caring for Your Stoma Site

An illustration on keeping your stoma site clean.

Use an outward circular motion to clean around the stoma site.

While the stoma site heals, clean around the site daily.

Follow these steps to care for you stoma site.

1. Choose any of these products and moisten it with warm, soapy water:

  • Cotton-tip applicator or swab
  • Clean, soft washcloth
  • Gauze square

2. Cleanse the stoma site using outward circles around the stoma.

3. After cleaning, rinse the area around the stoma with water and any of the products listed above.

4. Allow skin to dry.

  • Apply antibiotic ointment if your doctor says you may.
  • Observe your stoma site daily for redness, pain, swelling, or unusual drainage around the tube. If you notice any of these signs, call your doctor.

When to Call the Doctor

The information above should not replace discussions with your doctors, nurses, or dietitian.

Call your doctor if you:

  • Have choking or problems breathing during a feeding. Stop the feeding and call right away.
  • Can’t unclog your tube.
  • Can’t confirm that the tube is in your stomach.
  • Have persistent diarrhea, constipation, nausea, or dehydration.
  • Have redness, pain, swelling, or unusual drainage at the stoma site.

About UPMC

Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 800 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, West Virginia, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals. We are dedicated to providing Life Changing Medicine to our communities.