Should you force feed a baby

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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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.)

Why you can't force-feed a child, and what to do if he needs to eat

You can't force-feed a child! All children are different: some eat everything - both meat and vegetables; for others, feeding is torture. Parents often insist on eating even if the baby does not want to, but this can negatively affect his mental health.

There are a few tricks that can help moms and dads feed their babies without harming them.

  1. Why do we force children to eat
  2. Danger of forcing children to eat by force
  3. How to feed a child without violence and tantrums

Causes of parental food abuse — why we force children to eat I’ll pour it out by the collar.”

And adults often transfer the model of eating behavior of their childhood to their children. It's all nothing but food abuse.

This may include the following:

  • Urgent calls to eat or eat something that the child does not want. The reason for this is the conviction of mom and dad that the baby is hungry , it's time for lunch on schedule. Or even the fear of offending the one who cooked dinner, on a subconscious level.
  • Transformation of the meal into the moment of punishment . That is, the crumbs are given the condition that if he doesn’t finish everything, he won’t get what he wants or won’t leave the table.
  • Disregard for taste preference . Children have many more food receptors than adults. If a mother wants to feed her child with healthy vegetables at all costs, mixes them into food or masks them, this does not mean that the baby will not guess. He may well guess that there is something in the dish that he does not like, and he will refuse to eat.
  • Urgent introduction of new dishes into the diet. Babies are food conservatives. Trying something new for them is not the same as for adults. And, if a new dish is suspicious, he may refuse to accept already familiar products.
  • Scheduled meals . For most, this is very helpful. But there are categories of children who may experience a feeling of hunger extremely rarely, or they are more suitable for frequent meals, but in small portions. It is necessary to pay attention to this moment.
  • Excessive passion for healthy nutrition . If a mother is on a diet, counts calories, and there are no sweets or fast food in the house, this is one thing. But when she tries to infringe on the dignity of the baby, turn him into a slim girl, constantly reproaching overweight - this is violence.

All these points subconsciously influence the culture of eating from an early age. Excessive guardianship, fear that the baby will be hungry - or, conversely, overeat - on the part of parents can cause irreparable harm to the psyche.

The danger of forcing children to eat by force - the consequences are much more serious than you think

According to Yuri Burlan's system-vector psychology, a person is born to have fun. And eating is one of the channels for getting it.

Imagine that instead of enjoying a plate of delicious food, a child will hear reproaches or persuasion to eat every last crumb. In the future, everything that should, in theory, evoke positive emotions in such a child will cause fear, doubt, or even disgust.

  • It is impossible to force-feed a child also because at first he will not develop personal taste preferences , and in the future it will be difficult to defend his opinion among his peers.
  • In addition, there is a danger of developing dissociative behavior in him - that is, he becomes insensitive to violence and withdraws from reality: "It's not me, it's not happening to me," etc.
  • From birth to the age of six, the child feels his dependence on his mother most of all, as well as the confidence that he is protected and safe. Therefore, it is very important during this period of life to be as gentle as possible in communicating with the child and to correctly approach the intake of food. Swearing, quarrels and squabbles that develop around the topic of nutrition can cause a child to neurosis .
  • Children who have been forced to eat a particular meal are more likely than others to suffer from eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia . Indeed, in childhood they did not have the opportunity to express their point of view about food intake, to talk about their food addictions. Even without feeling hungry, he ate, because adults said so. The stomach was stretched, and in adulthood it becomes more difficult to control food intake.
  • Being an adult child who was constantly told what and when to eat, will not be able to be successful and independent . He will be led - and wait for what other, more self-confident individuals will say and do.

How to feed a child without violence and tantrums, what to do - advice from a pediatrician and a psychologist

Pediatricians often warn mothers that during an illness the child eats little, and it is not advisable to force him to eat even his usual diet.

It is also worth paying attention to the emotional state of the baby . If you notice that he is sad or nervous, talk to him: perhaps there was a conflict in the circle of peers, which affected the lack of appetite.

Pediatricians urge parents to look at the fact that the child eats little, from the other side. Indeed, among children under the age of seven, there are less than twenty percent of true little children. Hunger is controlled only by instincts. Later on, eating behavior is influenced by the social environment and habits.

Doctors say that in order for a child to be full, he needs to eat as many spoonfuls of food as he is full years old . And, if you discuss this moment with the child in advance, before eating, both mother and baby will feel comfortable.

What to do if the child is healthy, the instinct of self-preservation works, but the child simply does not want to eat?

There are several working methods developed by child psychologists and pediatricians to help feed a toddler.

No need to put pressure on the child

Children always imitate the behavior of their parents, and are also very sensitive to their emotional state.

Take it easy on the fact that the child has not finished eating. After all, the whims of the baby can be due to satiety.

Do not:
  1. Yell at your baby while eating.
  2. Punish with food.
  3. Forcibly put a spoonful of food into the mouth.

It is best to be extremely calm while eating. Don't worry if the plate is half empty.

Display a plate of fruit, cheese, nuts and dried fruits in a prominent place. If the baby gets hungry, such a healthy snack will only benefit.

Turn eating into a family tradition

Children are conservative and if you turn an ordinary dinner or lunch into a kind of family ritual, during which the whole family is together, family plans, events for the day are discussed, the child will see that eating - it's calm, fun and warm.

To do this, set the table with a festive tablecloth, serve beautifully, take out napkins and the best dishes.

Set a good example

The child looks at your actions and actions - and repeats them.

If mom and dad eat healthy food without interrupting their appetite with sweets, the baby will also be happy to follow the example of their parents.

Original serving of the dish

Not only a kid, but also an adult will not want to eat gray boring porridge. Think of how you can decorate it with dried fruits, nuts, honey. The more interesting the plate of food for the child, the more pleasure all its contents will be eaten.

The beauty of this food art is that a parent can prepare an interesting and balanced meal that includes both vegetables and proteins.

Don't be afraid to experiment!

If your child doesn't like kritz, try beef or turkey. Boiled vegetables cause dislike - then you can bake them in the oven. You can cook several options for one healthy dish - and see which one will be eaten by the baby with a bang.

The main thing is not to reproach the child for wasting food or cooking time so that he does not feel guilty.

Cook together

Have your child cook dinner. Let him do simple things: wash the vegetables, make a figure out of the dough, cover the dish with cheese. The main thing is that he will see the whole cooking process and feel his importance in it.

During lunch, be sure to praise your child for helping.

Psychologists advise parents to be calm and patient. If the child is healthy, that is, in moderation, he will begin by the age of 10-12. And until this age, the task of parents is to instill in him a culture of eating.

Viewed here

Do you force feed your child?




On the one hand they write that do not force feed, break the psyche and a healthy appetite (which has never been and is not expected). On the other hand, do not follow the child's lead, feed as varied as possible in the first two or three years, otherwise a terrible future awaits you later. The child will only eat food of their choice, such as pasta and cookies. All.

Whom to trust?



I have never force-fed (the very concept of violence is directly embedded in our "mothers"). Served on the table as expected: first, second, compote and fruit. If he wants to eat - to his health and help, of course, but if he doesn’t want to - yes, for God's sake. Eat in a couple of hours. Are you sick???


When you go on vacation to Europe, I feel ashamed of our mothers - shouting, tugging on the arm and other methods. ...


Yes! Very tasty! Yesterday I force-fed my cat with a baked apple, he is stupid stupid, well, it’s very tasty!!






Stupid, food is fun. I never force-fed (the very concept of violence is directly embedded in our "mothers"). Served on the table as expected: first, second, compote and fruit. If he wants to eat - to his health and help, of course, but if he doesn’t want to - yes, for God's sake. Eat in a couple of hours. Are you sick???

"I'll eat in a couple of hours" was especially amused.


Entertain and distract with songs, jokes, give a toy in hand, or a spoon, or porridge to smear on the table, and after this interesting activity, everything is eaten.

By the way, semolina is an absolutely empty food, zero benefits, only calories, used to feed malnourished children with it, cheaply and gain weight quickly.





They forced me, of course, too, but they didn't say such words.


9030 January 29, 2010, 22:30






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Children who were force-fed in childhood are prone to drug addiction (((i.e. from childhood you kill their ability to say NO!!!! So decide for yourself, but in the animal world they are not force-fed))) I she never forcibly fed her daughter at the age of 2, she didn’t want to eat anything at all once a week, she only drank, but at the same time she didn’t know sweets and other food garbage until she was 3 years old, now she’s 22 years old and she has a great taste for food, very loves and knows how to cook)))

And it's not just about "feeding", it's about education. What does "eat later" mean? This means breaking the daily routine, as a result of problems with falling asleep, etc.

Scrap to explain obvious things by myself.0002 #31



, on the contrary, I have always ate with a huge appetite, all in a row. simply. Sitting at the table with him is one torment, he will eat his own, and he begs everyone, constantly strives to steal something from the table ... And even when there is some kind of feast - even when he is full, he will still moan for something to be given to him .

True, at the same time, he is active, absolutely not fat, there has never been a single wrinkle ... and where does all the food go? .




m 9000 m 9000 m 9000 m 9000 m 9000 m

My grandmother told me that it was a big problem to feed me. Of the possible tricks, they will put a toy in me, they will put a small basin with water, and while I am in it with this toy, I eat with a spoon and into my mouth. Or two grandmothers were engaged in such a business - they rolled a car from one to another in front of me. I forgot, opened my mouth and ate.

They forced me, of course, but they didn't say those words.

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