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Understanding patients and tube feeding

Our Stories: Annina Whip

Getting to know patients and truly understanding them and their background is key when recommending which tube feeding solution is right for them.

Annina Whipp, Specialist Paediatric Dietitian, explains a healthcare professional's role in helping people who are tube fed find the right path for them.

I am really fortunate to work with a paediatric gastroenterology team in an acute hospital. This means the patients I see tend to have conditions affecting anywhere along their gastrointestinal tract. I work with patients who are tube-fed (also known as enteral feeding), or intravenous feeding (also known as parenteral feeding), in hospital or patients who require specialist dietary advice for conditions including allergies or autoimmune disorders such as coeliac disease or inflammatory bowel disease. I see patients ranging from babies to 18 years, which makes my job incredibly varied. I love to see a patient's health improve by making changes to their nutritional intake.

As a dietitian, I will provide education and support to help patients, parents and carers follow a specific diet and maintain good nutritional status like maintaining weight and meeting their nutritional needs.

In children, dietitians work closely with families to help meet a child’s individual nutritional needs. A paediatric dietitian will work with the child, parents/carers, nurses, doctors, speech therapists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists to make sure they are receiving the nutrition they need to grow and develop, this is known as a 'multidisciplinary team'. Dietitians will support children who are able to have an oral diet or who may need tube or intravenous feeding.

It is important that the patient and their family is involved in the decision-making process as much as possible. The route of feeding is decided by the medical team based on the patients' medical history and estimated time-frame. A dietitian will select a suitable formula to help the patient establish tube-feeding.

If a patient is interested in a blended diet, blended or pureed food via a feeding tube, it does involve a discussion with their dietitian, but it is important that the patient and family choose what is the best method for them.


What does tube feeding awareness week mean to you?

I would love to see the general public have a better awareness of what tube feeding is and why it is sometimes needed. It is important to stress that it isn't used out of convenience (e.g. due to simple fussy eating). It is used when it is not possible for a person to meet their nutritional requirements orally. This could be for a wide range of reasons including an unsafe swallow or conditions causing raised energy requirements. People who are tube-fed can take part in sports, go to work, have relationships just as anyone else would.

Annina's top tips on how to support people who are tube-fed:

  • Not staring when a person is administering a feed.
  • Continuing to invite people who are tube-fed to social occasions involving food. Often people who are tube-fed can feel isolated as many social occasions involve food.
  • Offer help: sometimes it can be tricky to administer a feed in public.
  • Discuss the preferences of a tube-fed person. Some people who are tube-fed prefer not to sit at the dining table or be around food preparation whilst others are happy to do so. It is important to reduce the isolation felt by people who are tube-fed. Discussing how they feel can be really beneficial.