How to force feed a baby

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.)

Don′t force-feed your child, Africa′s experts warn | Africa | DW

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.

Experts advise parents to feed the children when they are hungry

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 suffocation

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 thereafter

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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How to feed a child if he refuses



How to feed a child if he refuses

Do you not know what to do when it is difficult to feed your child? At first, the baby refuses to eat the “wrong” chicken or the “bad-smelling” cauliflower.

Then you start cooking the same food every day three times a day, wondering if a child can survive on pasta alone...

Before forcing a baby to eat, let's remember that refusing to eat is a common behavior for many children. You may experience this for the first time at age 2.

In most cases, the causes may be:

  • Personal preference. Agree, not all of us love broccoli, although it is useful.
  • Lack of appetite.
  • Reluctance to try something new.
  • Teething, cold.
  • Refusal to eat is a way for a child to show his parents his independence, which he often shows up to 5 years.

It is important for parents to find out the reasons why a child cannot be fed. And instead of punishing, fighting, bribery or threats, try to instill a healthy attitude towards food in your baby.

Feed the unwilling woman

When a child refuses to eat, parents consider him a picky eater. A person who is picky about food usually does not eat certain foods or only eats the same food every day. While the whole family is happy to eat different dishes, the baby can only choose chicken, favorite sandwich or apple.

If this is your case, make sure that he is picky about food only because of his taste preferences.

Also, there may be other problems:

  • The child does not like the texture of the new food
  • Has difficulty chewing or swallowing certain foods
  • Mom shows her dislike for food and he starts refusing to eat too
  • Parents try to force feed the baby. He ends up protesting

10 rules to help feed your baby

1. Diversify your baby's diet and offer his favorite dishes at every meal, supplementing them with a new product.

Allow me to choose and eat only what is on my plate. The child may not touch rice or vegetables, but instead eat meat. Or vice versa. The main thing is to offer choice and have a positive attitude towards food intake.

2. Limit distractions.

If a child watches cartoons or plays a game during lunch, he can easily lose interest in food. From the outside, gadgets seem like a good way to seat a child at the table, but in fact they distract from eating. Set a rule at home - eat all family members without phones and with the TV turned off.

3. Watch your portion sizes.

Perhaps the problem is not that the child does not want to eat, but that he refuses to eat all the food that is on his plate. Remember that children do not need as much food as adults. If the portion size is too large, the baby will not be able to eat everything. Not because he is mischievous, but because he has already eaten. It is better to reduce the portion size. If necessary, the baby will ask for supplements.

4. Remember that the child may not be hungry when you offer food.

Children's appetite changes during the day or week.

5. Make sure the feeding time is not too late and the baby is not tired yet.

It will be difficult for you to force your child to eat if he is sleepy and overtired. Review your diet and don't feed when it's time for bed.

6. Watch your emotions when feeding your baby.

Coaxing, threatening or shouting will not help you get your baby to eat. As soon as he gets upset and starts crying, he will definitely refuse to eat.

7. Involve your child in cooking and choosing new foods.

Decide what to cook today with your little one and make a grocery list together. The child is more likely to eat what he has prepared.

8. Reduce the number of snacks and drinks other than water between meals.

Some children refuse to eat the main meal if there were too many snacks. Babies have a smaller stomach than adults and feel full faster. If the child is not hungry, he is unlikely to eat.

9. Understand your baby's eating style.

His appetite may change throughout the day. Some children do not eat a heavy dinner, but they eat breakfast and lunch well.

For more tips on what to do if your child is not eating well, read here.

How to feed a baby who is teething

The first teeth actively begin to erupt in babies from an average of 6 months. Due to discomfort, the baby may not eat well, and their mood may change.

During this period, it is important to offer the child nutritious food that is easy to chew:

  • Chilled vegetable or fruit puree.
  • Soft foods - yogurt, chicken soufflé, casserole, porridge.

Is it difficult to feed a baby without a bottle?

Many babies get used to bottle feeding and then don't want to eat "like adults". The later you wean your baby from the bottle, the more difficult it is to teach him to drink from a cup and eat with a spoon.

Drinker and cup training can begin as early as approx. 9 months.

But first check if the child is ready for this:

  • Can he sit up and hold his head without support?
  • Does the baby open its mouth when spoon fed?

If the child is able to do these things, he is ready for a drinker.

Introduce the cup slowly. Show your child how to use it first. For several days, replace drinking from a bottle during feeding with drinking from a sippy cup. Today, use a drinking cup for breakfast, and a bottle for other meals. Tomorrow, let's have it in two meals. But if it’s so difficult for a child, it’s better to immediately switch to a drinking bowl.

What else will help:

  • Tell your baby that he has grown up and does not need a bottle.
  • Praise him when he drinks from a bowl or cup.
  • If the child is old enough, let him choose his own cup.

How to feed a baby without a high chair

The high chair is associated in children with eating. It is recommended to use up to 3 years. What if the baby does not sit in one place without a high chair and it is impossible to feed him?

Our recommendation:

  • Make sure the child is comfortable sitting at the table without a chair
  • Remove other toys so that the baby is not distracted
  • Enter the rule - during feeding we sit in one place. If the child runs away, finish the meal
  • If the baby is still small and you are forced to feed him without a high chair, put him on your knees with a half-side facing you - so he will see the spoon with food, and you - his mouth.

When is it difficult for you to feed your child? Are you up to some tricks?

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How to stop force feeding your baby

"He eats very little, it's just a disaster. Neither persuasion, nor cartoons help."
"Ours is very picky. He only eats certain foods, and I'm worried."
"He eats much more and faster while listening to cartoons! Without them, he pokes around, eats a little and says that he is full."
"He can't sit at the table for a long time. He will run up, eat two spoons and go about his business."

Baby nutrition: what parents expect and how a child's body works

What parental expectations about nutrition do we meet most often? The picture is something like this: the mother prepares a variety of healthy foods, which the child eats with pleasure and gratitude strictly according to the schedule. And he does it very carefully, consistently and quickly. And most importantly, the child eats a lot: a bowl of soup, a second, salad and compote. If we are talking about a baby who eats complementary foods, the amount and composition of the food eaten correspond to the complementary foods scheme issued at the clinic.

But in reality, children do not want to know anything about the schemes, norms, regimens and balance of KBZhU (calories, proteins, fats and carbohydrates). They eat as dictated to them by their special, unlike any other body. They listen to signals of hunger and satiety - the only true guides!

But parents cannot let such an important and emotionally charged topic drift. After all, if you don’t force and control it, the child will starve himself, get sick, or eat only cookies - and also get sick. Adults have a lot of fears!

Another point that prevents parents from seeing the real needs of children is the strange belief that an adult and a child have the same appetite, that a child should eat the same amount, and that the menu should be the same. For example, a child must eat soup or salad. But the metabolism of adults and children is different.

We will deliberately not provide tables and diagrams, because we believe in the uniqueness of your child's needs. There are only two guidelines - hunger and satiety. If you learn to listen to these signals, most nutritional problems will disappear, and every meal will no longer resemble a war, but will give joy and pleasure from eating and communicating.

Until what age to breastfeed and when to introduce complementary foods

With the nutrition of a newborn, everything is simple - the mother's breast is given out on demand (search movements, smacking, squeaking), feeding is frequent and prolonged. If you are having difficulty managing breastfeeding, please contact your breastfeeding consultant for help.

WHO and UNICEF have compiled recommendations for optimal feeding for infants and young children. They are as follows:

  • early initiation of breastfeeding within one hour after birth;
  • exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life;
  • Introducing adequate, nutritious and safe complementary foods at six months of age, along with continued breastfeeding until the child is two years of age or older.

Until six months, the baby should not receive anything other than mother's milk or formula: the crumbs' intestines are not ready to process anything other than breast milk. Juice, water, compote, yolk, puree, decoctions, cereals can harm the health of the baby and will definitely not bring any benefit.

At the age of six months, the child is conditionally considered ready for the introduction of complementary foods. But we would like to draw attention to the fact that it is worth introducing complementary foods only if the child has a food interest. Food interest is the persistent desire to get food and try it.

If the child does not show interest in food, do not rush to introduce complementary foods. Most likely, the baby is physically or mentally not ready. In some children, food interest wakes up at seven to eight months or closer to a year.

Take your child to the table with you so that he can see how adults eat and can show his interest in cutlery or food. Don't insist that he eat. Remember: complementary foods during this period are exploratory in nature, and the child satisfies all energy and other nutritional needs with milk or formula.

Where do complementary feeding norms come from

If natural complementary foods are not suitable for you and you decide to give your child baby food in the form of homogenized purees and cereals, pay attention to the following important point. The introduction of complementary foods is often associated with the concept of "norm". The pediatrician gives the mother a chart showing how many grams of what kind of food the child should eat in which week of complementary foods.

Where do these norms come from? The Spanish pediatrician Carlos Gonzalez will tell us about this: “Usually, needs are determined not by the average value for the population, but by two typical deviations above the average, rounded (usually upwards) to get a beautiful number.

That is, when they say that a person needs 300 mg of vitamin X per day, this means that, according to experts (as a rule, this is not about knowledge, but about opinion), 97. 5% of the population needs less of it.

Officially, instead of “need”, another name is used - “recommended daily intake”. In everyday speech, we say: "An adult needs 300 mg of vitamin X per day" - as if it were a minimum. But it would be more correct to say: “The vast majority of adults need less than 300 mg of vitamin X.”

It would be strange to think that an adult eats a certain amount of food every day during his life at strictly defined intervals: for breakfast - strictly 200 g of porridge, for lunch - 300 ml of soup, etc. The volume of servings depends on the physical, intellectual and emotional load, mood, season, well-being and other reasons.

An attempt to cram the amount of food indicated in the complementary foods table into the child often triggers a bunch of problems. And all because in the real world the child does not correspond to an approximate and uniform scheme for everyone.

The point of introducing complementary foods is not to feed, but to introduce the child to adult food. This acquaintance lasts up to about a year and a half and gradually turns into proper nutrition. During this period, the child is already able to give signals of hunger and satiety, he himself gets acquainted with these signals of his body, learns to manifest and satisfy them.

Why do children eat so little after a year

In the second year of life, many children have a sharp decrease in appetite. The fact is that, compared with the first year of life, the growth of a child slows down significantly; consequently, the need for food decreases. This sometimes upsets parents who are used to the fact that the child eats on both cheeks.

In fact, a decrease in food intake is normal. The volume of a child's stomach is approximately equal to the size of his fist. So imagine how much of this volume is occupied by, say, half a banana, a bowl of porridge or three cookies! The small size of the stomach does not allow you to feel full for a long time, so two and a half to three hours pass between meals. It is better to eat little, but often: prepare quick healthy snacks, snacks, take food on the road.

In the second and third years of life, the child goes through a period of neophobia - fear of everything new, including food. The kid begins to be "choosy": he does not eat a certain product or a product with any properties: red, puree, jelly, etc. (This is how the evolutionary defense mechanism of grown-up babies works, who are already able to eat unfamiliar berries or mushrooms, but still do not know how to determine whether they are good for food.)

Do not insist and actively offer such food. If the child already knows how to speak, you can discuss with him what exactly he does not like about food, what scares him - let him speak his fear. If the whole family consumes these products in front of the child, over time he will start eating them.

Often, a decrease in appetite is due to the fact that something important is happening to the child: teeth are being cut, speech is being actively mastered, the child is learning to use the potty, etc. You should not add stress by force-feeding.

Food eras

It is also important for parents to know what food epochs are. Surely you have noticed that there are periods when the child eats only pasta or experiences an irresistible craving for butter. The fact is that children feel the signals of their body well, instinctively satisfying the needs for a particular substance.

That is, in one period the child spends a lot of energy - and he needs carbohydrates, in another he experiences a growth spurt - and he needs protein, in the third there is active growth and brain development - the need for fats and carbohydrates increases. We cannot always guess the reason, but we can trust the child in choosing products. Therefore, it is necessary to be as calm as possible about one or another of his preferences.

Normal eating behavior of a 3 year old child

If during the first years of life food abuse was not applied to the child, by about three years the baby becomes completely independent in matters of nutrition: he is aware of hunger and satisfies it with available food or notifies adults about it, eats on his own (there are exceptions that are not directly related to nutrition ), feels full and stops eating, regardless of how much is eaten, how much is left and what food he eats.

In the case of violence at the table, the child does not have the opportunity to be aware of the signals of his body. How can he feel hungry if he is fed on schedule, ahead of the feeling of hunger? How will he understand what satiety is, that is, a signal that he needs to stop if he continues to be fed by force, deceit, persuasion, when he has already clearly made it clear that he was full?

It is not surprising that by the age of two or three, when a child can really resist force-feeding, he refuses everything that is offered to him. In addition, he feels how much adults worry about his nutrition, which means that he has a field where he can control his parents, refusing food and being picky.

By force-feeding, we don't just mean aggressive feeding where food is shoved into the baby's mouth. Even methods such as persuasion, cartoons, games and entertainment at the table, used to distract the child and feed against his will, are considered violence.

By force-feeding a child "for the sake of his health", you are doing him irreparable harm. When the baby is focused on something else while eating, the digestive system does not come into a state of readiness to digest food. Gastric juice begins to be secreted only in response to the sight and smell of appetizing food, to the desire to eat it, and instead, the child watches a cartoon and mechanically opens his mouth.

With such feeding, he will not learn to hear the signals of hunger and satiety, which can subsequently lead to overeating and other eating disorders.

How to teach a child to eat carefully

Separately, I would like to talk about the behavior of the child at the table - this is another reason for concern for parents.

During the introduction of complementary foods, games with food are of great importance. The child learns the world by all available means. He strives not only to eat or smell food, but also to feel, smear, break, crumble, spill - this is how he really gets acquainted with food, makes it understandable and familiar to himself.

Of course, adults are annoyed by such behavior at the table. For convenience, you can separate eating and studying it: as soon as the child stops eating and starts playing with food, he can be transplanted from the table to the floor and given a small portion of food for study.

Children eat sloppily, it is better to put up with it. The ability to use cutlery is a complex skill that does not appear instantly and without many mistakes. But the rules of etiquette can be taught by our own example: if we use a fork, a napkin every day, wish each other a good appetite, sit down at the table together, this will gradually become natural for the child, he will not have to be specially taught to anything.

Another point that often causes confusion among adults: at the age of four or five years, children cannot sit at the table, fidget, crawl, run away, come running. It is difficult for them to remain still for a long time, to keep their attention on one object. Having satisfied their acute hunger, they turn their attention to another activity. This is normal behavior and should not be criticized for it.

How to feed your baby properly