One of the biggest concerns that parents have is how to tube feed in public. Parents tend to be concerned that there will be stares or comments, and as we all know, sometimes it can get a bit messy. But it can be done — safely, hygienically, and with minimal complications. Don’t let fear limit your child’s life!
The most important thing to remember is that anything takes practice, and feeding in public is no different. The first few times may feel uncomfortable. You may find you have forgotten something critical, like a syringe for venting. Or you may find that your fingers no longer seem capable of attaching an extension set. Don’t give up, even if you have trouble the first few times. It will become easy and commonplace soon enough.
Having a plan can make everything much easier. First of all, make sure you plan what you will need, and take along an emergency kit to handle any unexpected problems. Our page on Preparedness has lots of tips for making emergency kits, including what you might want to include in your kit. Here is a list of some of the most common items you will need to bring with you:
- Extension set and/or adaptors
- Feeding pump and set, if applicable
- Feeding and flushing syringes
- Formula, breast milk, or a blenderized meal
- Medications and syringes
- An extra button kit
- Medical tape
- Venting supplies, if applicable
You may also want to plan where you will tube feed. Virtually anywhere that you are allowed to eat and drink should be acceptable for bolus feeding. Sometimes, having a table or a place to sit down comfortably may be helpful. Also note that many museums or amusement parks have a medical area or a quiet room for breastfeeding. These can also be great places for tube feeding if you prefer a little privacy.
Some children are able to receive their tube feedings in a variety of ways. If this is the case, you might want to consider using either a pump or a closed syringe (push method) when you are out and about. Feeding pumps tend to be very discrete, and the feeding can be delivered during virtually any activity. For children who are fed by syringe, sometimes using a closed syringe and pushing it every few minutes can be easier than an open one, which has a greater potential for spillage.
While babies and toddlers rarely have a problem being fed in public, some older children may find it uncomfortable. Be sensitive to your child’s feelings and her privacy. Some children do not like having to lift up their shirts in public to attach the extension set. If this is the case, you might want to consider leaving an extension set in place while you are out and about. Other children prefer to have their feedings done privately. See if you can find a breastfeeding room, a medical area, or even a quiet corner to help make your child more comfortable.
Most children become more comfortable being fed in public over time. Older children, however, may go through periods when they become self-conscious. While it is critical to help them learn to cope with their feelings, it is equally important that their feelings are respected.
Just as you would never eat in a bathroom, you should never give a tube feeding in the bathroom. If someone tells you to move to the bathroom, feel free to let them know that people with disabilities have the right to have their medical needs met in public places. Most children with feeding tubes are considered to be children with disabilities, and the Americans with Disabilities Act requires their needs be accommodated.
There will always be stares and comments. Most people have never seen a feeding tube, and they will likely be curious (or possibly confused) about what you are doing. The best strategy, especially with other children, is to educate them using child-appropriate language. You can simply say that your child needs help with eating, and this is his feeding tube.
Handling dirty looks and comments can be more challenging. Some families prefer to ignore them, while others like to have a few stock responses prepared. Some families prefer legal — “a child with a disability has the right to have her needs met in any public place.” Others like humorous — “I’m inflating my child,” or, “I know he is the most adorable baby ever.” Others like to inform — “It’s rude to stare.”