Child health and nutrition experts have warned that many complications are associated with feeding babies forcefully.
They noted that the worrisome practice, which is still prevalent in Nigeria, has to be stopped.
Describing the practice as a child abuse, the experts warned that besides the risk of choking to death, force-feeding predisposes babies to asthma and that most people are ignorant of this.
They further noted that choking is common in children below five years and the very elderly (above 65).
Infants, they noted, have a relatively narrow airways and thus, can easily choke on small objects, including small food particles.
Speaking on the dangers of force-feeding infants, a Consultant Paediatric Haematologist and Oncologist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Idi-Araba, Professor Temiye Edamisan told Reportr Door Healthwise in an exclusive interview that the practice is totally wrong and unacceptable.
He cited ignorance as one of the factors that fuels the practice in the country, adding that impatient parents were guilty of the harmful act.
He said, “I don’t know why you should force-feed a baby. It is dangerous and can lead to death. So, it shouldn’t be done. Children have died from respiratory diseases as a result of force-feeding.
“When you force the food into their throat, they cry and while struggling to swallow, the food can enter their lungs and it can lead to death. The practice should be discouraged except if the person wants to kill the child.”
Besides the risk of dying, a nutrition expert, Professor Ignatius Onimawo, said there is a possibility that a child that is being force-fed can come down with asthma due to the constant irritation of the trachea.
He said, “The implications of force-feeding are many. When the mother closes the nose of the child and forces food into the mouth, the child will now be breathing through the mouth. Once that happens, the child will be forced to swallow whatever that is being forced in.
“In many cases, particles of these foods will enter the trachea. That is why you see them coughing and vomiting after being force-fed.
“And if that is done for a long period, the trachea gets irritated because food particles have no business getting there in the first place. These are some of the things that could later predispose to asthma.”
Cleveland Clinic, an online health portal described the trachea as a long, U-shaped tube that connects the larynx (voice box) to the lungs.
It noted that the trachea is often called the windpipe and it is a key part of the respiratory system.
“When you breathe in, air travels from your nose or mouth through your larynx. It then passes through your trachea to your bronchi. Your bronchi carry the air to your lungs.”
The portal noted that when foreign materials like food or drinks enter the wind pipe (trachea), it is known as aspiration.
It states that when this happens, the body’s fight-or-flight response triggers an outpouring of adrenaline, which boosts the heart rate and blood pressure.
“A gag or cough reflex will start automatically and often fixes the problem,” says a pulmonologist, Bohdan Pichurko, MD.
“This is often brief if we promptly expel the aspirated material,” he says, adding, “However, at the other extreme, it may follow eventually with fever and reduced oxygen level, requiring medical attention for possible pneumonia.”
Prof. Onimawo described asthma as a killer disease and urged parents not to turn the period of feeding their children, which should ordinarily be a time of enjoyment, to a period of war.
“Again, when a child is being force-fed, he or she would keep crying. So, you are giving the impression that the period of feeding should be that of war. I have a case of a seven-year-old from Imo State that stopped eating because of force-feeding. Anytime he sees food, he knows that it is a very bad experience. He never saw food as a pleasurable experience and became so malnourished because of this.
“The mother didn’t know what to do because mealtime had turned to war and fighting time. That is what has been registered in the boy’s psychology. Each time he sees food, he will start to cry.
“Eventually, he started eating after I told the mother to always pet and not shout at him. After petting him for some time, he developed interest in food again. He started eating and gained weight.”
Prof. Onimawo noted that force-feeding also has psychological implications.
“Psychologically, the child does not see food as a period of enjoyment rather, as that of war. These are some of the practices we must discourage.
Naturally, when a child is hungry, he will eat. But mothers are no longer patient when feeding their babies. That is why some of them still use feeding bottles for their babies. Feeding bottles are a potential danger and if not well sterilised, can cause infection,” he said.
Recall that in 2017, a 73-year-old Nigerian nanny, Oluremi Adeleye was convicted of murder in the U.S. and sentenced to 15 years in prison for causing the death of a baby she force-fed formula.
According to Washington Post, the septuagenarian was found guilty of child abuse and second-degree murder by Prince George’s County Circuit Court, Judge Karen Mason.
“While I don’t find the defendant to be an evil-intentioned baby slayer, I also don’t find that her actions were accidental,” Mason said before handing down the sentence.
Prince George’s County prosecutors explained that the nanny unscrewed the lid of a baby bottle and poured nearly eight ounces of milk down the throat of eight-month-old Enita Salubi.
Adeleye, in her own defence, said she was “cup-feeding” the baby to ensure she does not go hungry, noting that was a custom in her home country.
Meanwhile, she and her attorneys explained that there was no intention to hurt the child and that Enita’s death was a “tragic accident”.
In a study published by ResearchGate, an online journal, researchers said coughing and difficulty in breathing were the most commonly experienced adverse effects of forced feeding.
“The prevalence of forced feeding among mothers and caregivers was high. This practice was particularly more among mothers in the higher socio-demographic strata.
“Relevant government agencies should be encouraged to formulate and enforce policies that discourage force-feeding.
“In addition, there is a need for intensification of campaigns against the practice among mothers and caregivers.”
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