Specialist doctors from St George Hospital are leading a study into infant tube-feeding through innovative research to help families nourish their children's nutritional needs.
The hospital launched Supporting Children with Complex Feeding Difficulties (SuCCEED) - a partnership between researchers, clinicians and families.
It brings together all nine multidisciplinary paediatric feeding clinics in NSW to better understand current practices in tube-feeding babies, where standard methods fail.
Tube feeding is a way of providing nutrition, in the form of specialised formula. The two most common methods are NG tubes (inserted through the nose into the stomach) and PEG tubes (surgically inserted through the abdominal wall into the stomach).
SuCCEED chief investigator and paediatrician at St George Hospital, Chris Elliot, said up to three quarters of children born prematurely, with developmental delay or chronic illness have difficulty being fed.
"The most severely affected children cannot safely eat or drink enough to stay alive," he said. "For these families, every mealtime can be scary and stressful.
"Many parents tell us the process of feeding children at home via feeding tubes is both lonely and challenging."
Feeding difficulties can arise from preterm birth, cancer, cerebral palsy, autism, congenital heart disease and cleft palate.
"Although feeding difficulties are common - with studies estimating that up to half of parents with otherwise healthy children worry about their child's feeding at some stage - little is known about the best ways to care for children who experience these difficulties," Dr Elliot said.
"This is pioneering work - tackling the gaps in current services by using novel research methods to listen to families to identify and share best practices which will improve care."
SuCCEED is funded by Early Life Determinants of Health - a clinical academic group under the Sydney Partnership for Health, Education, Research and Enterprise and South Eastern Sydney Local Health District.
Study partners South Western Sydney Local Health District, Sydney Children's Hospitals Network, University of NSW, UTS, Western Sydney University and Ingham Institute.
The study also aims to address the lack of support provided to families and carers.
It also launched Australia's first free, research informed online resource dedicated to improving the experience of caring for children with complex feeding difficulties.
The website childfeeding.org provides guidance for the first four weeks of tube feeding a child at home.