Kids Health Info

Barium swallow and meal

  • A barium study is an X-ray examination of the oesophagus (food tube) and stomach conducted in the fluoroscopy room. Your child drinks a special liquid called barium that shows up on the fluoroscopy images. If the doctor needs to see the barium go through your child’s stomach and bowel, then it is called a “follow through”.

    What is a Barium Meal?

    A barium meal is an X-ray examination of the oesophagus and stomach that takes place in the fluoroscopy room. Real time images are captured as your child swallows a contrast medium and the images are then displayed on a television screen. The contrast medium used is usually a liquid called barium which shows up well on the X-ray images. It tastes like a thick milkshake (wherever possible we add some flavouring to it) and your child will drink it while lying in different positions on the examination table. 

    Your child must remain still throughout the examination and may need to be held in the correct position. The fluoroscopy camera will move around your child at different times and will come quite close to your child but it will never actually touch them. The examination usually takes about 20 minutes, but this can vary depending on how complex the case is. 

    If the entire small bowel is to be examined the procedure is called a “follow through”.  In addition to the procedure described above, extra images are taken of the abdomen as the contrast moves through the bowel. This procedure may take several hours depending on how long it takes the contrast to move all the way through the bowel.

    Parents are encouraged to stay with their child during the test to help hold and comfort them, however, if there is any chance a female carer might be pregnant, she cannot remain in the room during the X-ray examination. The official X-ray examination report will be sent to your child’s referring doctor, usually a few days after the test.


    Do not allow your child anything to eat or drink for four hours before their appointment. Babies may be breastfed three hours prior to a barium meal. To assist your child’s visit to the Medical Imaging department, you may wish to bring a favourite toy or book. If you are interested in having the Educational Play Therapists assist your child with preparation for the exam, please call the number or follow the link below.

    Care after procedure

    There are no immediate after-effects of this procedure. Your child should be given lots of fluids to avoid constipation. For the next day or two, their bowel motions may appear white because of the barium.


    The official x-ray examination report will be sent to your referring doctor, usually a few days after the test.

    Key points to remember

    • Barium can be used to show the oesophagus, stomach and small bowel.
    • Your child will be required to fast before the study. 
    • This is a fluoroscopy (X-ray) test.

    More information

    For further information please contact the Medical Imaging department on 9345 5255.

    Information about preparation for Medical Imaging procedures: Educational Play Therapy. 


     An image of barium contrast in the gut

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This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.