The cardiac infant feeding clinic at the St. Louis Children’s and Washington University Heart Center provides you with the support and guidance needed to help your baby grow stronger through tube feeding and later tube weaning when your child is ready.

It’s not uncommon for babies born with congenital heart disease to have difficulty taking the food they need to help them sustain their growth and development. That’s why your baby may require a feeding tube (nasogastric (NG) tube) to ensure he or she is getting the necessary nutrients to help get healthier and stronger for future procedures.

If your baby is ready to leave the hospital, but requires a feeding tube, our cardiac infant feeding clinic offers support for your family. The team includes a pediatric dietitian and speech pathologist who understand that caring for an infant who needs tube feeding can be overwhelming, intimidating and stressful for your family. The customized services we can provide to your child are part of the continuum of care the Heart Center offers to patients and their families.

The infant feeding clinic will set up follow-up outpatient sessions for your family, in conjunction with other appointments, as your child progresses through his or her heart care. During these appointments, our team provides information and resources to help with your child’s food progression and ensure he or she is getting the necessary nutrients to grow during the early stages, whether from breast milk, fortified breast milk or formula.

When it’s time to wean your baby from the feeding tube, the feeding clinic team will be there to help. We work closely with your baby’s cardiologist and nurse practitioner to ensure his or her needs are being met and that your baby is continuing to grow and get stronger.

The tube weaning process is unique to each infant. The feeding clinic team specializes our approach to what works best for your baby and works toward a goal of taking liquid or food by mouth by your child’s first birthday.

How can our dietitian provide support for your baby?

  • Ensure your baby is getting the calories needed with a feeding tube to support his or her growth
  • Help develop a food log with parents to track what your baby is eating
  • Teach families how to fortify breast milk when needed or make formula for weight gain
  • Ensure your baby is well-nourished before future procedures, such as the Glenn surgery, typically done during the 4- to 6-month range
  • Focus on tube weaning by developing a plan with the speech pathologist

How can our speech pathologist help you navigate feeding?

  • Evaluate your baby’s oral motor skills related to feeding
  • Focus on tube weaning by developing a plan with the dietitian
  • Help with progression to solids, such as purees and/or baby food
  • Assist with bottle feeding and cup drinking when appropriate
  • Observe for swallowing safety and perform a swallow study if needed due to clinical concerns for aspiration

What if my baby doesn’t need a feeding tube?

If your baby leaves the hospital and isn’t tube fed, the feeding clinic team is available to support the needs of your child if he or she begins having feeding difficulties. Your care team will provide contact information before hospital discharge. We will follow your child’s progress via your child’s cardiology or cardiac neurodevelopment clinic appointments to ensure he or she is eating well enough to gain weight and progress appropriately. 

For more information about tube feeding, visit National Pediatric Cardiology Quality Improvement Collaborative.