Learning About Total Parenteral Nutrition in Children

What is total parenteral nutrition (TPN)?

Sometimes a baby's digestive system can't absorb nutrients. Total parenteral nutrition (TPN) gives your baby protein, carbohydrate, and fats through a tube (catheter). This tube is inserted into a vein. The tube allows liquid nutrients to go directly into the blood. The blood carries the nutrients to the tissues and organs that need them. These nutrients do not have to go through the digestive system.

Your baby may need TPN because of:

  • A condition that makes it hard to absorb nutrients from food. For example:
    • The baby's digestive system may not be completely formed if your baby was born early (premature).
    • Part of the digestive system may be missing.
    • An illness may get in the way of feeding.
  • Medical treatment or surgery on your baby's digestive tract. TPN gives your baby's intestines time to heal.

Your baby can get nutrition by TPN for as long as needed. When he or she can feed normally, TPN stops.

How is TPN done?

The doctor carefully places one end of a thin, flexible tube into a major vein. In newborns, this may be done through the belly button. The doctor then takes an X-ray to make sure that the inside end of the tube is in the right place. The outside end of the tube is called the port. That's where the TPN goes in.

TPN comes in a pouch. This is attached to a pump. The pump sends the nutrients into the tube 24 hours a day.

What can you expect while your child is having TPN?

  • Your baby won't feel any pain from the tube.
  • The hospital staff will keep the tube and port clean. This helps prevent infections.

Is it an emergency?

If you or someone in your care has chest pains, difficulty breathing, or severe bleeding, it could be a life-threatening emergency. Call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number immediately.
If you are concerned about a possible poisoning or exposure to a toxic substance, call Poison Control now at 1-800-567-8911.

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