Children's Hospital Colorado

Pediatric Gastrostomy Tubes (G-Tubes)

Dr. Duncan Wilcox, Surgeon-in-Chief, performing surgery with other healthcare providers in the operating room

What is a gastrostomy tube (g-tube)?

A gastrostomy tube, also known as a g-tube or a feeding tube, is a small tube that enters the stomach through a small opening in the abdomen. It is used to deliver nutrition, fluids and medicine. Your child may need a g-tube when they cannot eat and drink safely or consume enough calories using their mouth. Providing nutrients this way is also called enteral feeding.

Using a g-tube improves your child’s quality of life by allowing them to get the nutrients, calories and fluids they need. If your child’s health improves, your child’s doctor can remove the g-tube later.

Why might my child need a pediatric g-tube?

Your child may need a g-tube for a variety of reasons. Children may need a g-tube if they:

  • Are unable to gain weight because they are not consuming enough calories
  • Have trouble swallowing, eating, drinking or taking medicine
  • Breathes food or fluid into their lungs when swallowing, a condition called aspiration
  • Have an esophagus that does not function properly
  • Need more calories than they can take in through their mouth

What to expect from a g-tube placement

A pediatric surgeon who specializes in gastrostomy will place the g-tube. Most of the time, our pediatric surgeons are able to use a minimally invasively surgery technique called laparoscopy. This means that the surgeon uses small incisions instead of a large one and a small camera to see inside your child’s belly during surgery. Kids who have minimally invasive surgery heal faster due to the smaller scars, and they have less pain during recovery.

About the gastrostomy surgery:

    1. During surgery, the surgeon creates a small opening through the belly and into the stomach.
    2. Then, a g-tube made of silicone is placed into the stomach through the opening.
    3. Your child’s g-tube is the width of a chopstick and is held inside their stomach by a water-filled balloon or an internal disk.
    4. Between 8 to 12 hours after surgery, you can use the g-tube to feed your child. The incision heals within 1 to 2 weeks.

Types of g-tubes

Your pediatric surgeon will decide what type of g-tube is best for your child. There are two types of g-tubes:

  • Skin-level or “buttons” are the most common type of g-tube that we use at Children’s Colorado. They are low profile and not noticeable under normal clothing.
  • Long tubes that hang outside the body are generally only recommended if the skin-level g-tube isn’t a good match for your child (if the skin get irritated, for example). If your child does have a long tube put in, we may be able to switch it out for a skin-level g-tube at a later date.

How long does gastrostomy surgery take?

The surgery to place a g-tube usually lasts about an hour but can vary in length. Most children only spend one night in the hospital after a g-tube placement. Before leaving, your child’s care team will make sure:

  • You know how to care for the g-tube and feed your child.
  • The g-tube is working properly and your child is comfortable.

Living with a g-tube

Pediatric surgeons at Children’s Colorado understand that you may be concerned about how your child will live once they have a g-tube in place. Rest assured knowing that the goal of placing a g-tube is to help your child have a better quality of life. Crawling on the floor, playing sports and participating in activities, like swimming, is okay and even encouraged in order for your child to have a healthy lifestyle.

Why choose Children’s Colorado for g-tube placement?

Extensive experience placing g-tubes

Pediatric surgeons at Children’s Colorado place over 200 g-tubes in children every year. This means that our doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners and physician assistants are experts in caring for children with feeding tubes and managing any concerns that come up. Children’s Colorado offers ongoing follow-up care to make sure that your child’s gastrostomy site stays healthy and the tube is functioning well.

Pediatric-trained care team members

  • Pediatric anesthesiologists know how to keep your child safe and pain-free before, during and after surgery.
  • Pediatric surgeons understand that surgery can be scary, which is why they explain everything to you and your child in an age-appropriate way.
  • Pediatric nurses at Children’s Colorado have been awarded with Magnet recognition, a prestigious recognition for excellence in nursing.

Specific conditions treated

Not every child with one of the following health concerns will need a g-tube. However, here are some common conditions that may require a g-tube to be placed:

Contact us

If you have any questions about your child’s gastronomy surgery, please call our nurses at 720-777-6571.

Helpful resources

The Feeding Tube Awareness Foundation strives to help parents by sharing practical experience about tube-feeding infants and children. In addition to education, the foundation also helps raise positive awareness of tube feeding so that families have the support they need.