Pediatric Cardiology Tube Weaning Program

As your child grows and heals after heart surgery, the Children’s Health Heart Center team can help them transition from tube feedings to eating by mouth. We offer highly specialized care designed for children with heart defects, helping you manage their medicines and nutrition while optimizing oral feeding. We’re your partner in the weaning process, closely monitoring your child to ensure they are safe and well as they take this important step toward independent eating.

What is Tube Weaning?

Tube weaning is the process of helping a child eat by mouth, instead of through a feeding tube. Many children with congenital heart defects will use a feeding tube during early life. Generally, after they have healed from heart surgery, our goal is to transition from using a feeding tube to eating by mouth.

Weaning is a weeks-long process; they cannot stop using the feeding tube overnight. Our tube weaning program specialists can help guide you through the process and ensure your child gets the nutrition they need.

What are the benefits of Tube Weaning?

Tube weaning as early as your child can is important for their development. Eating food by mouth has many benefits including:

  • Increased oral motor skills
  • Improved inclusion in social aspects of meals
  • Improved quality of life for the child and the parent
  • Reduced risk of respiratory infections

Our program is highly specialized to help children who have congenital heart problems. Our cardiologists ensure that your child is healthy and strong enough for tube weaning. We also understand how to customize a plan for your child. For instance, we know if your child needs to stop any heart medicines like diuretics before tube weaning.

What are the side effects of Pediatric Tube Weaning?

Most children who are tube weaning will lose some weight. This is normal but can feel concerning for parents. We will monitor weight closely and work with you to help improve nutrition from foods eaten by mouth. We will follow your child until your child gains weight.

What are the risks of Tube Weaning?

Children who are tube weaning likely take in fewer liquids than they did while tube feeding. This can put your child at risk of issues such as constipation or mild dehydration.

We’ll work with you to monitor for these problems and help lower these risks. Each day, you’ll enter your child’s food and drink intake into an app. Our team will monitor your child’s intake and let you know if changes to the plan are needed.

What to expect with Tube Weaning

What to expect before Pediatric Tube Weaning

Before your child begins tube weaning, we perform a thorough evaluation to ensure they are ready. You’ll meet with:

  • A cardiologist to ensure they are healed from surgery and strong enough to eat by mouth
  • A speech therapist to ensure your child has the swallowing and oral skills they need to eat
  • A clinical psychologist who can discuss your child’s behaviors around eating and strategies to deal with behavioral challenges around meals
  • A dietitian to ensure they are receiving the nutrition they need
  • A nurse practitioner to create a wean plan with recommendations from all team members, ensure wellness to begin a wean, and monitor health and stability during and after the wean.

Once you’ve met with all members of our team, we’ll create a personalized plan for your child. Tube weaning is different for every child. Our team will work with you and your child to develop the most appropriate plan for their oral feeding journey. We’ll give a plan to follow as you move through the weaning process.

What to expect during Tube Weaning

Once your child is cleared to tube wean, we’ll start carrying out your child’s weaning plan. We will see your child weekly during the weaning process either in person in clinic or via telemedicine visits. The weaning process usually takes 3-6 weeks.

After they are weaned off tube feeds, we will continue to follow them closely, but will start to space the follow-up appointments to every 2-4 weeks depending on their progress. Once they are consistently eating by mouth and gaining weight, we will stop tube weaning follow-up appointments.

What to expect after Pediatric Tube Weaning

Once your child is getting all the nutrition they need by mouth, you won’t need to attend weekly appointments. However, we are always here to help if you have any problems or issues with eating.

How do I prepare my child for Pediatric Tube Weaning?

We also recommend your child participate in speech therapy and occupational therapy. These services help your child gain the oral skills and fine motor skills they need to eat.

You can also ask your dietitian about condensing tube feeds so that your child eats fewer times per day, but eats more at those meal times. Bigger tube feeds can help prepare your child’s stomach for eating meals.

What questions should I ask my provider about Tube Weaning?

  • Who can I call if I have questions about my child’s weaning process?
  • Are there any signs that my child is not ready for tube weaning?
  • Would my child benefit from speech and/or occupational therapy?
  • Are there any foods I should avoid during tube weaning?
  • How can I keep my child safe from choking during tube weaning?
  • How much weight should I expect my child to lose during tube weaning?
  • What should I do if my child is constipated during tube weaning?

Pediatric Cardiology Tube Weaning Program Doctors and Providers

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does it take to tube wean a child?

    In our program, it takes about 3-6 weeks to tube wean a child.

  • Can I breastfeed my child after they are weaned off tube feedings?

    Yes. We recommend working with an experienced lactation consultant to help you and your child develop a strong breastfeeding relationship.

  • Why would a child need a tube wean?

    Children with heart conditions often need to eat via feeding tube early in their lives. They will need to wean off the feeding tube to eat by mouth.

  • What is tube weaning?

    Tube weaning is the process of stopping eating via a feeding tube and instead, eating by mouth.