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What is a gastrostomy?

child with a feeding tube

A gastrostomy is surgery that makes a small opening through the skin into the stomach or intestine. The opening is called a stoma. Your child might need a gastrostomy if he has trouble eating or drinking by mouth.

A feeding tube is a small plastic tube the doctor puts into the stoma when your child has a gastrostomy. (Some children have a small plastic device called a button instead of a tube.) Your child gets food and medicines through the tube or button.

Balloon in stomach

After the doctor puts the tube in place, a small balloon is filled with water. This keeps the tube from coming out.

Types of feeding tubes

  • A gastrostomy tube (G-tube). This type of tube goes directly to your child’s stomach.
  • A jejunostomy tube (J-tube). This type of tube goes into your child’s intestine.
  • A gastrojejunal tube (GJ-tube), also called a combination tube. This type has openings (ports) that go to your child’s stomach and intestine.

The doctor will decide which type is best for your child. “Do You Know… Types of Tubes and Sutures” has more information on feeding tube types.

Graphic of internal organs

Why does my child need a feeding tube?

Your child might need a feeding tube if he:

  • Has trouble sucking and swallowing normally,
  • Grows more slowly than normal or has trouble gaining weight, or
  • Has trouble taking medicine by mouth.

A feeding tube can be used to give your child a liquid diet (formula). The liquid goes directly into the stomach or intestine. Doctors can also give medicines through the tube. Extra fluid or air in the stomach or intestine can be removed through the tube.

Your nurse will teach you how to use the tube to feed your child.

Before the gastrostomy procedure

Before your child’s doctor does a gastrostomy, the St. Jude team will meet with you and your child. They will talk with you about what to do before surgery and what to expect before, during, and after the procedure.

For the gastrostomy, your child gets medicines to make him sleep through the procedure (sedation). The sedation will keep your child from feeling pain or remembering the procedure.

The St. Jude team will talk with you about the risks of sedation and surgery. These include:

  • Reactions to anesthesia medicines,
  • Problems with breathing during surgery,
  • More bleeding than normal, and
  • Infections.

All surgeries have these risks. You will need to sign a form giving the St. Jude team permission to do the gastrostomy procedure.

During the procedure

The gastrostomy procedure takes about one (1) hour. First the doctor makes an opening in your child’s belly. This is the stoma. Next, the doctor puts the feeding tube through the stoma into the stomach.

After the procedure

After the tube is placed, your child will go to the recovery room to wake up from the sedation. Then he will stay at St. Jude for 1 to 2 days. While he is in the hospital, your child will start getting liquids through the feeding tube. Before feedings start, your child will probably get clear liquids through the tube to make sure his system is ready for other liquids.

Your child’s feeding tube will be attached to his belly with tape or another device that holds it in place. There might also be gauze around the tube. Nurses will change the gauze and tape in a few days when they clean the area. They might put on fresh gauze and tape if it is helping keep the tube in place. If your child has a device holding the tube in place, the clinical nurse specialist will change it if it gets dirty or starts to come off.

You might notice a little fluid draining around the tube for 1 or 2 days after it is put in. After your child has a tube for 6 to 8 weeks, doctors might change it to a button or smaller tube.

Your child might have some pain after the gastrostomy procedure. If your child has pain, tell your St. Jude team. They can prescribe medicines to help. Your child might also get antibiotics on the day of surgery to prevent infection.

The nurses or clinical nurse specialist will show you how to care for the tube and the skin around it. It is important to keep the tube and your child’s skin clean and free from infection. You will learn what to do if the tube accidentally falls out or gets plugged. If the tube comes out, it is very important to put it back in as soon as possible. This is because the stoma can close quickly.

A clinical dietitian will be part of your child’s medical team. The dietitian will create a feeding schedule to make sure your child gets enough nutrition. The St. Jude team will also keep track of your child’s weight.

Your child should be able to return to normal activities after the procedure when he feels well enough.


If you have questions about a gastrostomy, please talk to your child’s clinical nurse specialist.


This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.

St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.

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