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Feeding Whole Food Formulas Through a Food Pump: Tips & Alternatives

With an increasingly large variety of formula available to the tube fed population today, caregivers now have more options than ever when working with their child’s doctor to find a solution that meets their nutritional needs in a way that everyone can feel good about.

One option that has grown in popularity is whole food formula – choices that focus on using all whole food to deliver a variety of nutrients to tube fed individuals.  And while delivering whole food formulas using a food pump is not recommended by pump manufacturers, we understand that this may be what your child tolerates best, or what simply fits your day to day life.

If you use whole food formulas and this is the method you prefer, we have some tips to share that may make this method of feeding easier.

  • Add water: Check with your child’s health care provider to determine the daily free water goal. Use some of that free water to thin out the total whole food formula.
  • Strain the formula: Whole food formulas may contain intact food chunks. These chunks clog the food pump tubing and cause food pump alarms. Pour the formula through a clean strainer to remove any chunks. 
  • Be mindful of hang times:
    Whole food formula with nothing added to it, not even water, can be open and unrefrigerated for up to eight hours. The formula, though, may thicken as it sits at room temperature. To thin the formula, run the container under warm water before each feeding. NEVER boil or microwave the formula. Doing so creates a major safety concern and could change the formula content and the availability of its nutrients.
    • NOTE: Hang times vary by product. Follow the formula manufacturer’s product-specific hang times.
  • Replace the feeding bag: A dirty feeding bag or a defective new feeding bag can cause a food pump alarm. Throw away a feeding bag if it looks dirty after a thorough cleaning. If a brand-new bag causes an alarm, try another bag to see if that fixes the problem.

Alternative Feeding Methods 

Still having issues with delivering whole food formulas using a food pump?

  • Discuss other feeding methods or alternate formulas with your child’s provider.
  • Syringe bolus feeding may be a less frustrating method for delivering whole food formulas. If you would like to explore this method, first discuss it with your child’s provider. Click on the image below to watch a video on syringe bolus feeding. You can also view these videos in the Nutrition section at  

Bolus Feeding by Syringe – Push Method

Bolus Feeding by Syringe – Gravity Method

Partial whole food formulas contain only some ingredients that are whole foods. Food pumps have fewer issues delivering partial whole food formulas. If you’re interested in a formula change, discuss it with your child’s provider or dietitian. Either can make sure you have a plan that meets your child’s nutrition needs.


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