Many children can not eat or feed while they are in PICU. This may be because they are very tired from their illness. They may have an injury or surgery that makes eating or feeding difficult.

It is very common for children in PICU to have a feeding tube into their stomach.

Feeding tubes

The most common feeding tube is a “nasogastric” or “NG” tube going from the nose to the stomach. Another type of tube is called a “nasojejunal” tube that goes directly to the intestine. Both these tubes deliver liquid food when a child is unable to eat.

Nutrition through the bloodstream (parenteral nutrition)

Sometimes children can not manage food given into their stomach or intestine. In this case nutrition can be given directly into the blood stream. This is called “parenteral nutrition”. “Parenteral” means not through the mouth or the digestive system.

The bowel usually breaks down food into protein, carbohydrates (basic sugars), fats, vitamins and minerals. These can all be put into special fluid that can be given through the vein. The fluid is called Total Parenteral Nutrition (or TPN for short).

Some children might need to have nutrition through the vein for many weeks.

Doctors will do regular blood tests to check levels of sodium, potassium and other electrolytes. They will tailor the nutrition depending on those results. The nutrition fluid is very concentrated. It needs to go through larger veins rather than the small veins on the hands or forearms.

If your child can eat

When your child can eat, food will be delivered to them. It is usually possible for you to bring food for your child. Check this with staff looking after your child.

Dieticians and pharmacists

Dietitians work with the team to make sure children on PICU are getting all the calories and nutrition they need. Pharmacists also help make parenteral nutrition for children on PICU.

Related topics

This topic was reviewed by a paediatric intensive care specialist in July 2022.

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