Forcefully feeding baby

Don't force-feed your child, Africa's experts warn – DW – 02/23/2022

Experts advise parents to feed the children when they are hungryImage: Getty Images/AFP/F. Vergnes


George Okach

February 23, 2022

The practice of force-feeding babies and toddlers is common in many African countries. Health experts warn that, though this gives adults full control, it can harm a child's development.


Many babies and toddlers in parts of Africa are subjected to the intrusive practice of force-feeding despite the known health risks. 

The practice is not uncommon in West Africa, Professor Ignatius Onimawo, the former president of the Nutrition Society of Nigeria, told DW.

"The woman positions the child between her legs and uses one hand to block the child's nose. The child has no option but to open its mouth. Then porridge is poured into the child's mouth, forcing it to swallow," he said.

"The practice is dreadful and has, on numerous occasions, led to the death of children here in Nigeria. It is still dominant in the south. There are deaths that have been recorded."

Such deaths cannot be quantified because they are usually treated as accidental, Professor Onimawo explained.

Force-feeding a baby can result in accidental suffocationImage: picture alliance/John Heeneman

Culture or nurture? 

In African societies, parents and caregivers will tell you that the practice of pushing too much food into the mouth of a baby or toddler is deeply rooted in their culture. 

"Yes, my mum used to pinch my nose and force food into my mouth. I have seen her doing the same thing to my siblings," said Wezi Gausi, a Malawian mother of two. 

"To me, forcing a child to eat is normal. What I can say is that most kids are selective when it comes to food. As a mother, I know what is best for my child. "

Kenyan mother Irene Wairimu admits to forcing her daughter to eat. "I am not employed and do on-call domestic jobs. I can't stay there with the child all day. I have to force-feed her, so that she stays full throughout the day. Then I will be able to go to work."

Distress over meals

Keziah Wangari of Kenya says that her four-year-old son dislikes porridge but needs it, because breast milk is not enough to keep him nourished. That is why she forces him to eat the porridge.

Irene Wairimu's daughter is also picky when it comes to food, causing upset and confusion.

"My child is always hungry. I am forced to supplement the feeding with porridge, but my daughter does not like porridge. I block her nose, so that she will drink all the porridge," the 25-year-old said. 

"The porridge will ensure she stays fed."

Bridget Banda of Malawi says she uses force because she cannot let her child go hungry just because she refuses to eat. "It's every mother's responsibility to make sure that their child eats the food. "

Maize is a staple across Africa south of the Sahara

Quality over quantity

All nutrition experts DW spoke to in Kenya and Nigeria strongly cautioned parents against force-feeding. 

"A child is a human being and knows what it wants. A parent may want to give it certain food items, ignoring the child's preference," says Gladys Mugambi, head of the Nutrition and Dietetics Unit at Kenya's Health Ministry.

The portions given to children should be measured, according to the Nigerian nutritionist Ignatius Onimawo.

"Some of the foods they are forcing on the children are not even nutritious, It's just maize flour mixed with water, low in protein and other essential nutrients."

Eating disorders

Research shows that force feeding can disrupt a child's development. It can lead to acute malnutrition or obesity, and ultimately poor self-regulation when it comes to food consumption later in life.

"Sometimes these kids may look healthy but they are not. Though their tummies may appear big, there are other signs to show that they are malnourished, because that food they force them to eat is not nutritious," said Onimawo.

The WHO and UNICEF recommend exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months of life and the introduction of nutritionally-adequate and safe complementary foods thereafterImage: Dagmar Wittek/DW

Over-feeding and force-feeding in childhood can also cause other eating disorders like anorexia, according to Gladys Mugambi. Parents and caregivers should take advantage of available resources to educate themselves about child nutrition, she told DW.

Psychological effects

Ruth Nduati, a paediatrics professor at the University of Nairobi warns that anxious parents who use force to get a child to eat could cause the child to like food less. 

The child, she said, would associate the bad experiences with certain foods. In many cases, force-feeding leads to overeating because a child fails to learn appropriate appetite control. Children usually know when they are hungry and when they are full and those signals should be nurtured, Nduati told DW. 

Gladys Mugambi, the nutritionist says new mothers are now being advised to keenly consider such responsive methods of feeding their babies.

"In Kenya, we have come up with guidelines that can be used by all mothers. When the mother gives birth, we give them the card that has all the information that is required to take care of the toddlers nutrition-wise."

Mirriam Kaliza (in Malawi) and Andrew Wasike (in Kenya) contributed to this report.

Edited by: Benita van Eyssen and Cristina Krippahl


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Pressure to eat | Child Feeding Guide

While pressuring a child to eat is usually done with the best of intentions, it can have unintended consequences.

Parents are often worried when their child eats very little, does not eat healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, or refuses a meal completely. For some, this worry can be significant, particularly if the child is not gaining weight well, or is losing weight. For others, uneaten meals can be a source of frustration.

Often parents find themselves using pressure, force or coercion to try and get their child to finish their meal.

This can take many forms:

  • Pressure - "I want you to eat all of your carrots"
  • Coaxing - "Just eat that little, tiny piece there"
  • Emotional blackmail - "A good girl would eat their dinner after Mummy worked so hard cooking it"
  • Use of rules - "Eat your age; three potatoes because you are three years old"
  • Bribery - "If you eat everything on your plate then you can leave the table"
  • Punishments - "You can't go and play outside unless you finish your spaghetti"
  • Force-feeding - physically putting food into the child's mouth and forcing them to swallow

Using all of these behaviours has the opposite effect to what was intended.

While a child may eat a little more when being coerced, the act of being pressured into eating can lead to the development of negative associations with the food, and ultimately dislike and avoidance. It can also stop children from recognising and responding appropriately to internal signals of hunger and fullness, which can make them more likely to overeat in later life.

Why is it bad to pressure or strongly encourage a child to eat?

Parents' use of pressure to eat often stems from worry and anxiety regarding how or what a child is eating. Parents can become concerned about their child's health and wellbeing (and ultimate survival) if they feel that their child is not eating enough to sustain healthy development. If a child is underweight, parents are more likely to want to encourage eating and may end up using pressure without realising that they may have the opposite effect to that desired. 

Parental pressure to eat can also stem from a desire to avoid wasting food that has been prepared, and the belief that children should 'clean their plates'.  

However, sometimes the portion sizes that we serve to children are unrealistically large, meaning that it is unrealistic to expect the child to finish the meal and every meal will appear 'unfinished'. In this case, it is not the child eating too little, but the portion size being too large.

Pressure to eat has been linked with a number of negative consequences. These are:

  • Less liking for the food
    This can be caused by the negative experience of being forced to eat. Children are quick to make associations between foods and unpleasant experiences that accompany them. If a child is pressured to eat more than they wish to, then the negative emotional and/or internal feelings of being too full can become associated with a particular food, leading to a reduction in liking for the food.
  • Less willingness to eat the food
    Similarly, willingness to try a particular food can be reduced if the initial experiences are negative. For example, a child's first exposure to cabbage may be met with refusal, either due to their natural neophobia-based response (see the food refusal pitfall section) or a lack of hunger. If this refusal was met with constant verbal coaxing and a parent attempting to put the cabbage in their mouth, the association that the child would likely make with cabbage will not be a positive one.
  • Overeating and overweight
    Pressuring a child to eat can undermine their ability to learn appropriate appetite control. Children need to be given the opportunity to learn to recognise their body's hunger and fullness signals. Through experiencing feelings of hunger and a reduction in these feelings when they eat, children learn how their body signals that it requires more energy and, conversely, when enough energy has been consumed and it is appropriate to stop eating.

Although hunger and fullness are internal feelings, research has shown that they can be overridden by a number of factors. Pressure to eat is one way by which children might be urged to eat more than their body requires. 

Over time, feelings of fullness lose their significance, as they no longer signal that the meal should stop. Rather, children learn to continue eating, even after they start to feel full, stopping only when their plate is empty, or when their parent says that it is okay to stop.

This means that children listen less to their body and so food intake becomes dictated by factors other than what the body requires. Research has also shown that children eat on average 30% more when offered a larger portion of food.

Offering children portion sizes that are too large and pressuring children to eat more than they desire are important factors in the development of overeating and overweight.

What should I do instead?

Except in very rare cases, children are extremely good at knowing when they are hungry and when they are full. Therefore, it is important to trust them and believe that they will eat if they are hungry. By doing this, you should not feel a need to pressure your child to eat. This is something that they will do willingly if their body requires food. Similarly, children's natural tendencies to reject new or bitter foods should not be met with pressure. Rather, keep offering foods and accept refusal, acknowledging that this is a normal developmental phase and that what you do is important in determining whether this is a positive or negative experience for your child.

Things to try

  1. Examine the evidence
    How long is it since your child last had a snack or filling drink, such as milk? Are they really hungry? Are they too tired to sit at the table and eat well? Is your child unwell and therefore not hungry? Try using a diary to track the number and timings of snacks, drinks, meals, and naps to see if your child's routine could be contributing to their eating behaviour.
  2. Put yourself in their shoes 
    Try to imagine what it would be like if you were not hungry and you were being coaxed to eat, or even force-fed, or if you were unsure of what it was you were being asked to eat. How would you feel? Empathising with your child and seeing your behaviour through their eyes will help you to recognise that this behaviour is likely to have the opposite effect than you intended. Each time your child refuses food, remember to see things from their point of view.
  3. Step back and be objective 
    Eating should be a pleasurable experience for your child that meets a biological need. It is not about satisfying you. Try to get satisfaction from knowing that your child has eaten as much as they desire and that they feel satisfied, rather than from having them eat an amount of food that you have defined.
  4. Trust their tummies
    Our bodies are very good at letting us know when we are hungry and full. However, constant interfering - by asking children to eat when they no longer want to - can disrupt this. Eating when hungry and stopping when full is a behaviour that we want to safeguard, not undermine, so try to allow your child to tell you when they are hungry and full.
  5. Check portion sizes. Children's tummies are smaller than adults' and you may be serving too much food and therefore setting unrealistic expectations. As a guide, a single portion of each food is roughly what would fit in the palm of the child's hand. For example, if serving lasagne, give a palm-sized portion of the lasagne and 2-3 palm-sized portions of vegetables. For dessert, try a palm-sized portion of fruit, with a palm-sized serving of natural yogurt. Remember that all children's appetites differ, but sticking to the 'palm rule' for each food will help you avoid giving over-sized portions of single foods.

As an example, for a two year old, a palm-sized portion of strawberries would equate to three large strawberries.

(Information about suitable portion sizes for toddlers can be found here.)


"Force-feeding is as much violence as physical or sexual violence, but in our culture this practice is not considered violence, is recognized as normal and is widely used." I. Mlodik (Ph.D. in Psychology, Gestalt therapist, experienced child psychologist)
An adult often does not even realize that he is forcibly feeding a child, by hook or by crook he tries to feed his beloved child, and remains very pleased with himself when he succeeds. Remember how many times you persuaded the child to eat? and by what methods?

For example, blackmail: "for mother, father....and all close and distant relatives" - what is it if not manipulation of the child's feelings? Those. - love mom - eat a spoon - and the child, of course, loves mom and eats, but not because he is hungry, but because you decided that he is hungry.

Another option is bribery - "eat porridge then I'll give you candy" - and he will choke on porridge because he wants candy, and porridge is such a necessary evil on the way to the desired candy.

Another common option is to distract the child and feed him while he is watching a cartoon or a concert performed by specially invited relatives, and to improve his appetite, you can also call dad with a belt in his hands - do you think healthy eating behavior is formed in a child in such a situation?

All these ways to "do good" are real violence, skillfully hidden behind a mask of care. Of course, not a single grandmother or mother who wants to feed a child against his will wishes anything bad for her beloved child, but at this moment she satisfies her desire to feed the child, and not his desire to eat.

What is happening to the child at this moment? He learns for life on an unconscious level the so-called parental message - "do not feel." Mom, as it were, tells the child by her actions: "what you feel is wrong, I know better that you are hungry."

Of course, you won’t teach a child not to feel by one case of force-feeding, but if you recognize yourself in the above examples, think that the following is also possible for you:
“no need to cry, it doesn’t hurt at all”
“don’t lie, you can’t be hot, October is in the yard"
"it's not a shame"
"stop being capricious"
"you're tired, stop running like crazy"
there can be many options for such phrases, but they all teach the child not to trust his feelings, his body, himself themselves, are taught not to express emotions, not to feel.

Where does all this lead?

It will be difficult for such a person to understand his emotions, feelings and needs, it will be difficult for him to show compassion, it will be difficult for him to understand other people, it may be difficult to establish relationships with other people.

“We as adults need to accept the fact that a child has needs, feelings, interests and desires that may differ from our ideas of what he should feel or want at the moment. We need to learn to respect his wishes and unwillingness, his feelings and emotions, himself, otherwise how can he learn this himself? - summarizes the medical psychologist Irina Pylneva.

Side effects of forced feeding of children

As parents, we want our children to get optimal nutrition, and for this they need to eat the right and balanced food. However, feeding your kids food can be a daunting task, especially if your child refuses to eat what you want them to eat. In such cases, parents often tend to force-feed their children, but this can lead to dire consequences. If you want to know more about why force feeding babies is bad, we suggest you skip to the next post.

In this article

What does force feeding mean?

Providing food and nutrition for a child is what every parent wants, but sometimes it is too late. force-feeds her children. The following items may constitute force feeding:

  • Decide how much, when and what the baby will eat
  • Feeding a child a huge amount of food, even if he is offended by it
  • Comparing a child to other children or blackmailing a child into eating or eating a lot of food.
  • Ignore child's requests to eat less or later

Why do parents usually force feed their children?

As parents, we do our best to ensure that our children are properly raised, feeding and providing food is one of them. Here are a few reasons why parents tend to force feed their babies:

1. To finish what's on his plate

Most of us think that once it's on the plate, it must end up in our stomach. But with babies it is different, because they will only eat as much as their stomach allows.

2. When serving solid food

This is a very common feeding mistake that parents make when they first start feeding their babies. The goal is not to force the child to eat food he despises, but to let the child develop a taste and then let him choose what he likes to eat.

3. Worry about the child not eating enough.

Babies Eat Less, Eat More As parents, we think that our child may not be eating or getting enough small amounts of food, which leads to overfeeding.

4. Feeding spoon for older children.

Some parents like to feed their children even when they are old enough to eat themselves, because they think they cannot feed themselves. This leads to overfeeding.

5. Misunderstanding of the child's needs.

As parents, we think we are more aware of what our child needs, and the same goes for food. Therefore, when a child refuses to eat, we often tend to force feed, thinking that the child does not understand the demands of his body.

6. Introducing new foods

Parents often force their children to eat when they are introduced to a new fruit, vegetable, or food. This opinion supports the idea that infants need to be constantly given food so that they can sort out the taste.

7. Compare with other children.

If a friend or cousin of a child of the same age eats more food, parents may feel that they are not good at feeding the child and that they prefer force feeding.

8. Inculcate good habits.

The fact that a certain food is good for health does not mean that you force the child to eat it. Parents often think that in order to instill good eating habits in their children, they need to teach them to eat certain foods, even if they don't like them.

What are the consequences of force feeding?

We understand that as parents you do your best to raise your child and food is an integral part of it. However, force-feeding should be avoided.

Here are some of the effects force-feeding can have:

1. Vomiting.

When you feed your baby against his will, he may vomit or vomit.

2. Aversion to food

A child can not only hate that you can feed him, but also make him resist this food.

3. Loss of appetite.

We eat when we are hungry, and so do the children. But as parents, we question our children's judgments about food, and therefore force-feeding. It kills their appetite.

4. Negative emotions.

The child may develop negative feelings and emotions towards food and even towards the parent.

5. This leads to unhealthy eating.

Your child may develop unhealthy eating habits because he may develop a hatred of healthy foods.

6. Lack of control over eating habits.

One of the worst side effects of forcing babies or older children is that they can lose control of themselves. Their eating habits.

7. Eating disorders

Eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, etc. may develop due to lack of control over food intake. than there is more.


He hates food all his life.

Babies can get very upset and hate food as they get older.

10. Parental control over food leads to nutritional problems.

When parents force feed their children, they may end up feeling lost and out of control of their lives. This can lead to problems with low self-esteem.

How to stop forcing children to eat?

Forced feeding of children. Young or older children can cause many physical, emotional and physiological problems. So it's important to understand why you're force-feeding your baby and look for the trigger that might be causing this behavior.

If you feel that your child eats less than his brother, or refuses to eat, is more immersed in play than food, etc., then this is quite normal. You must remain calm and not panic, let your child come and ask for it.

What you can do to get your child to eat properly without forcing him

Here's what you can do:

  • Eating with your son
  • Be patient when introducing something new
  • If the child is distracted, return his attention
  • be patient

questions and answers

Here are some common questions that can be answered in your favor:


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