Tubefeeding in public

So, turns out I have a bit more to say on the etiquette of feeding children in certain ways in public.

So my husband and I have debated whether it’s acceptable to tube-feed our kid in public. We’ve basically settled on yes for convenience’s sake. Otherwise, we couldn’t take our kid anywhere. It’s not something I really wanted to make a stand about. But part of what allowed us to settle on yes is that we’re lucky. Our kid’s tube-feeding can be done very discreetly. Most people who are unfamiliar with tube-feeding have no idea it’s going on. A small backpack reasonably similar to the one pictured here hangs on his chair or wheelchair. The tube comes out of the bag as you see (we allow less slack), and we thread it up through his pants underneath his clothes. The pump makes practically no noise.

This couple was not so lucky (assuming The Scottish Sun is a semi-reputable publication). There are lots of different kinds of tube feeding. Apparently, their kid’s tube feeding is noisy and visible. And they were asked to leave a coffee shop because it was bothering customers. Now here’s the thing. I’d probably be uncomfortable feeding my kid in public if it were noisy and visible. I’m not saying I should feel uncomfortable, but I probably would. I still don’t want to make a stand. But I get so viscerally, horribly upset that this couple was kicked out of the coffee shop.

Rose Woodhouse

Elizabeth Picciuto was born and reared on Long Island, and, as was the custom for the time and place, got a PhD in philosophy. She freelances, mainly about disability, but once in a while about yeti. Mother to three children, one of whom is disabled, two of whom have brown eyes, three of whom are reasonable cute, you do not want to get her started talking about gardening.


  1. I didn’t read the article you linked to, but yes, I think it’s awful that the couple was kicked out.

    I do find it strange that my own prudery probably makes me a little uneasy about breast feeding in public (I think it should be allowed, etc., but I feel uneasy about it), but I’m less uneasy about tube feeding.

  2. I didn’t read the linked article or your breast feeding article because I’m rediculously busy. I think you get to do both and how dare someone say a person can’t eat in public because they have to use a feeding tube. Don’t you think that person has an interesting and slightly more complicated life without you kicking them out of coffee shops? Why don’t you try tube feeding and then we will talk about what you can and can’t do and where you are allowed to eat.

  3. Rose-

    As I mentioned in that anecdote I shared with you a while back, your writing here has made me change the way I react to situations like this. I have no recollection of encountering a parent tubefeeding in public and may never come across it. But I’m 100% convinced my reaction before “meeting” you and after would be worlds apart. My visceral reaction might remain, but I am increasingly able to catch myself and apply reason and proceed accordingly. Again, I thank you.

  4. Would the cafe owners have been offended by a whirring ventilator? I don’t see any difference between that and a food pump, decorum-wise.

    • The description is like no food pump I’ve ever heard of, and seems to have had some kind of ventilating component, actually. Again, this is the Scottish Sun, so who knows?

  5. I am at a bit of a loss as to why there is an etiquette attached to this. Maybe if I saw what it was and why it might make people feel ill watching it? I mean, it’s a tube through which food goes, isn’t it?

    (Also, Rose, keep an eye out on NaPP. You and your blogging influenced a life experience that I will be writing about.)

    • Will, I have email alerts for NaPP, so I’m excited to see!

      As for why people might be yucked out. Well, you know, I’m used to it, so I don’t think twice. We host zillions of playdates with zillions of kids, and they look on for a curious few minutes while I set it up and don’t seem to think twice about it. My oldest says “James has two belly buttons!” But adults do seem to get grossed out. It’s in that visceral, medical way, I guess. Here’s an image of the same port he has in his stomach:, and here’s what it looks like when the tube is in and he’s feeding: But people in public don’t see that, because it’s under clothes. Here’s what it looks like when we’re feeding him in public, except we will thread it through his pants and take measures so he can’t grab/play with the tube:

      • Are there sounds associated with it? Visually, it seems to be something you’d have to go out of your way to notice.

        • In our case, sound is next to unnoticeable. I’m trying to think of a comparison. Maybe like a tiny electric fan? Or not even that loud. When it’s in the bag, you basically don’t hear it unless the room is absolutely silent at the very moment it’s pumping.

          Seems to be different for the Scottish couple.

    • I join will in not seeing any reason why this would not be “acceptable” in public. I fully respect your reticence (I imagine you dream of an outing where nobody even notices you and your son), but a) people eat in public all the time, and this sounds a lot less obvious (and potentially repulsive) than the way most people eat; and b) nutrition’s a non-negotiable need that wildly outweighs the inconvenience to anyone who would be so ridiculously squeamish as to be bothered.

      (Frankly, it’s the tubes at the other end of the nutritional process that are a lot more icky, but hell if anybody’d be justified in raising an objection even to them.)

      • Once in a while we get a look that communicates something like, “Did you really have to bring him here? I’m trying to enjoy myself.” Or “I don’t want my kids to have to see that kind of thing.” It’s not frequent, but it happens. I wish those looks didn’t happen, but I do understand that sometimes they are visceral and unwilled. Most people have the maturity to recover in time so that it’s not communicated; some people don’t. But it’s an awful feeling. And I don’t like having it. And I don’t like giving that visceral feeling to people.

        It makes me angry that they feel that way, and I like it to happen as infrequently as possible.

        • I give those people looks that say the same thing… “Why did YOU have to come here? Decent people are trying to enjoy themselves.”

  6. You and your husband shouldn’t hesitate to find your son in public. I can understand why you might hesitate, but anyone who has an issue with it needs to just suck it up*.

    Regarding the case in Scotland, assuming that the report is 100% accurate (which I am wary assume), that family was clearly wronged by the coffee shop. That was a distinct level of asshole on display (again, assuming it’s true).

    *Crap. On re-reading, that sounds like a really bad pun. It certainly wasn’t meant to be.

  7. Coffee shop in my neighbourhood in Toronto. Mid-morning, mid-week. Group of young mothers who obviously get together regularly are holding babies and drinking green tea lattes in the comfy chairs grouping by the front window. Intense conversation as between peers who need the opportunity to talk to fellow adults at least once a day. Two of the women are breastfeeding, holding the baby blanket over the baby’s head and blocking the view of anyone looking through the window from the street, but less successful at hiding things from the few other people in the coffee shop.

    Young man is drinking coffee, sitting halfway between moms and me, staring like he’s testing new eyeballs in the outdoors for the first time, and paying no attention to anything else than the breastfeeding moms. He gets up, approaches the owner behind the counter and launches into an urgent monologue about how the owner should set up a quiet room somewhere so the moms can be private and not be stared at when they do their “own thing like that” (apparently the phrase he uses for breastfeeding) in public. Watching “that kind of thing” gets people agitated, might offend them, can’t be good for business when customers have to watch.

    Owner looks at him, looks at moms, then says: “Well, yes, I guess I could do that. But there’s another way to handle it too. You could just mind your own business.”

    Young guy walks out of coffee shop. Owner goes over to moms and asks if they would like top-ups or more scones.

    Civilization – 1. Nosy Parkerism – 0.

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