The first primal dance between parents and babies involves parents offering food to babies, and babies responding by taking it. As babies grow older, more foods are introduced, and the expectation is that they respond in exactly the same way. So, where there is resistance to this dance routine, or deviation from the synchrony, some parents resort to forceful measures. This is especially when children refuse food offered. As far as some parents are concerned, the dance must go on…by force.
Act of Love
Force-feeding children is a cultural practice seen all over the world. The reason for it?…Love! If you ask any parent why they force-feed their children, they will say it’s because of love. In Mauritania, girls as young as 12 are force-fed with high calorie foods, so that they would look good enough for men to marry. Their mothers justification for it?…Love! ‘Chichi’s’ 2 year old son died during an episode of force-feeding by Chichi. She lives with the guilt till today, and insists she force-fed him out of love. ‘Helen’ still force-feeds her daughter and justifies it as a mother’s love for her child. According to her, her grandmother and mother force-fed her as a child, because they loved her!
Most of my life, I’ve seen children force-fed with food and drinks. In Nigeria, it’s a common practice and it’s always done as an act of love and care. Force-feeding is done in different ways, the commonest being pinching children’s noses and literally pouring food down their throats. Children between 1 – 3 years of age (toddlers), are the primary victims of this act, so I’ll focus on them.
The Scientific Journey
Force feeding can cause choking and eventual death. A simple explanation is: when we feed and breath, both air and food travel through our throats to our bodies. As they make this journey, food and water go down a pipe (oesophagus) to the stomach. Conversely, air goes down another pipe (aka trachea or windpipe) to the lungs. Amazingly these two pipes share a common opening at the back of the the throat. The good thing is that our bodies are designed in such a way that a flap called the epiglottis sits like a door near the windpipe. Anytime we swallow, it acts like a door and shuts the windpipe so food goes down through the oesophagus, to the stomach instead of the lungs. Now, where there is a forceful interruption of this reflex, the chances of the epiglottis not shutting out food is increased, which may lead to either a blockage of the windpipe or food going down the lungs. These could be fatal. For a toddler, remember that the throat and pipes are smaller and less mature than in adults. Hence, they are more at risk of choking.
Fussy eating is common amongst toddlers, especially two year olds. 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. So, when a child eats small amounts of food, it is fine! As long as the child gains weight and is not poorly, don’t worry! Continue offering different varieties of balanced meals. Their taste buds are evolving, and they may reject a particular food initially, and eat it the next time it’s offered. Don’t fuss or look frustrated when they don’t eat. Eat at the same time as them, remember they copy us. If you think it’s a physiological problem, speak to your doctor. Make the dietician your best friend. They are wonderful in such situations. Other tips can be found here.
Please, Don’t force-feed children. Don’t 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. This cover-up is the main reason why people still find it hard to conceptualise, the extent of fatalities caused by force-feeding. Educate people on the dangers of it. Utilise other strategies. The guilt of killing your child, or not doing anything to protect a child, is not worth it.
Image is from Google images