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Force-feeding: 4 Health Hazards to Your Baby

Force-feeding: 4 Health Hazards to Your Baby

By Chiomah Momah

It is a common sight, especially in rural Nigeria, to see mothers force pap (corn porridge) down the throats of their wailing babies while pinching their nostrils to ensure it all goes down. Likewise, in many households, children are often threatened to ‘finish that food’ under the menacing glare of mum or nanny sometimes wielding a cane.  These acts are classified as force-feeding; feeding against one’s will which amounts to child abuse.

Force-feeding has in the past been used as a torturing technique during wars, and creates a feeling of helplessness in adults, so one can imagine its impact on a child. Here are a few physical and psychological dangers associated with this common practice.

1. Suffocation

Sometime ago, newspapers reported the sad story of Chinwe who force-fed her one year old daughter a meal of pap. As the baby forcefully swallowed the food, she choked on it and suffocated to death. It was indeed a tragedy for the young mother whose ignorance resulted in the death of her own daughter. You expose your baby to a similar fate whenever you engage in this unwholesome practice.

2. Pneumonia

When force-feeding an infant, it’s easy for fragments of food to get into the young child’s lungs and trigger pneumonia; a serious lung infection. This happened to baby Diamond, a 10 month old in the UK, whose mum, apparently obsessed with the baby’s weight, force-fed her pap and pureed food. Diamond eventually died of pneumonia and her mum earned a 3 year prison term for causing her child’s death through force-feeding.

3. Injury

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The tongue or upper lip may be injured accidentally by the plate or object used to carry out the force-feeding. Another common injury associated with force-feeding is a semi-circle of finger tip bruises round the mouth of the baby. This injury occurs when the feeder forces the baby’s mouth open by depressing both cheeks.

4. Dislike for food

When a child is forced to eat, it can be very traumatic mentally. The child will associate food with anxiety and that can be counterproductive. Such a child may end up intensely disliking food and mealtimes. This in turn may create a long term unhealthy relationship with food and may even develop into eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia.

While most parents that force-feed their children do so in order to ensure their child gets enough nourishment, it does more harm than good. Rather than force or threaten a child to eat, it’s up to you to get creative and find ways to make him look forward to mealtimes. Not every child has a large appetite and as long as your child is healthy and growing well, there’s no need to fuss.

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