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Dangers of force-feeding children

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Mrs. Yewande Jubril, a mother of three, almost lost her three-year-old child after he was force-fed by her housemaid.

Jubril said she had instructed the maid to feed her son pap which she already made for him.

“My son is a picky eater, even at his age. So, I usually have to force him to eat. Even though I am guilty of force-feeding sometimes, I dance and sing to make him eat. My housemaid, on the other hand, never exercised that level of patience towards my son. I had warned her several times against forcing my son to eat, but she constantly turned a deaf ear to my pleas,” she said.

To date, Jubril said the thought that he would have died still haunts her. She said the incident made her wary of hiring housemaids or even allowing strangers to feed her child in her absence.

She said, “I was desperate to have someone watch over my son while I was at work, which was why I endured the maid’s terrible behaviour. That morning of the incident, apparently, my son had refused eating his food and my housemaid forced him to eat.  She said she only held his nose and tried forcing the pap down his throat, when my son began to choke. Thank God for my security guard who heard his screams, rushed into the apartment and grabbed my son from her and took him to a nearby hospital.”

The mother of two said she only learnt about what happened when she got home from work as the guard intentionally didn’t inform her on the phone about what happened not to create panic.

She added that apart from sending the maid away, she tried to exercise more patience in feeding her son.

Force-feeding, experts say, is the practice of feeding a human, in this case, children, against their will. Force-feeding children is a common, especially among impatient parents.

According to experts, most parents force feed their little children because they want them to be healthy and strong. However, they warned parents that, if care is not taken, much can go wrong.

A nutritionist, Dr. Chioma Ndiokwelu, said force-feeding a child is wrong.

“Most parents force-feed their children because they want the kids to grow up to be healthy and strong. But these children know when or how much to eat. Human infants — like those of any other animals — are programmed to survive, and therefore, know exactly when and how much to eat. The real reason parents force-feed is because the parents feel insecure about their kids’ physical stature. Parents want their kids to grow big physically,” Ndiokwelu said.

She added that the problem with force-feeding is that it leads to unhealthy food habits. According to her, individuals who were force-fed as kids may also suffer psychological damage.

“Parents may argue that inflicting such psychological trauma is necessary to achieve the desired effect. But, findings show that those who are force-fed end up developing healthier eating habits—and putting on weight—only after they leave home,” Ndiokwelu noted.

Unlike Jubril, who has decided to stop forcing-feeding her son, Mrs. Yinka Abiodun, a mother of four, said she still force-feeds her four-year-old son, Lanre.

Abiodun said, “My mother force-fed all her children and she thought me how to do it. Lanre is my last child; I force-fed his siblings. I see nothing wrong in force-feeding a child. Is it better that the child starves? Some children don’t like eating, so they need to be forced to eat. Since I’ve been practicing force-feeding, nothing has happened to them. I know nothing would happen to my son. I am doing the right thing.”

The nutritionist said parents who force-feed their kids tend to think of themselves in glowing and noble terms.

She added that forcing kids to eat food could be tasking, noting that those who do it think of parents who don’t as being lazy.

“Force-feeding a child might lead to choking. Some years ago, I heard of a mother who force-fed her one-year-old child to death. It was a tragic occurrence for her. Her ignorance caused the death of her baby; she might not be able to forgive herself knowing she used her own hands, although unwillingly, to kill her own child. I am totally against force-feeding,” she said.

In the same vein, a medical practitioner, Dr. Leye Abidemi, said force-feeding a child would heighten the child’s dislike for food.

He said, “When a child has a feeding problem, he or she becomes scared during mealtimes as anxious and frustrated parents try to persuade the child to eat. A feeding problem is often the result of parents coercing their children to eat. In most cases, this backfires. Forcing your child to eat will only worsen the situation because it reinforces the child’s dislike for food.”

Abidemi added that meal times should be pleasant affairs. He advised parents to avoid making their child’s eating habit a bone of contention at every meal.

“This will make the child dread meals even more. Make every effort to make your child look forward to mealtimes. Give your child the food she likes best for two to three months and omit all the foods that she dislikes. This will help to make her less suspicious and tense about food.”

He advised parents not to force-feed their children or ‘choke them in the name of love.’ “It’s dangerous and has killed many children. Without autopsies, it’s easy to cover-up this type of death, as it happens in Nigeria,” he said.

Similarly, a respiratory physician, Dr. Cajetan Onyedum, said force-feeding could trigger pneumonia in a child.

He said, “Most times when mothers are force-feeding their babies, little contents of food end up in their lungs and trigger pneumonia. Fussy eating is common amongst toddlers. The trick is not to worry about it. Remember that they have smaller stomachs and don’t need as much quantity of food as adults. When a child eats small amounts of food, it is fine. As long as the child gains weight and is healthy, parents shouldn’t worry. They should, instead continue offering different varieties of balanced meals. Their (children’s) taste buds are evolving, and they may reject a particular food initially, and eat it the next time it’s offered.”

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