Many parents know not to give honey to a baby under 1 year old, but it’s not always common knowledge for new parents. If you accidentally gave your baby honey, you might be wondering what to do.
If you accidentally gave your baby honey, you should watch for any allergic reaction and monitor them for signs of infant botulism for the next 18-36 hours. Signs of infant botulism include weak cries, loss of head control, loss of appetite, breathing difficulty, and muscle weakness. Although infant botulism is rare, reach out to your pediatrician if you have any concerns.
Whether you didn’t know babies shouldn’t eat honey or your baby ate honey on accident, it’s important to stay calm. Continue reading to learn more about what you should do if you accidentally gave your baby honey.
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What happens if you accidentally gave your baby honey?
You may have heard from your child’s pediatrician that little ones shouldn’t have honey before their first birthday. After hearing about infant botulism, you become hyper-aware of anything that may or may not contain honey. Then one night while you’re eating out, you order some cooked carrots for your little one to munch on without realizing the restaurant used honey in the recipe. You may be tempted to call the doctor right away or even rush to the ER – but don’t panic!
In my experience as a parent, these types of slip-ups do happen, but it’s important to stay calm. If you accidentally gave your baby honey, they will most likely be okay. Let’s look at why babies under 1-year-old shouldn’t eat honey in the first place.
Why can’t babies have honey?
Honey probably isn’t the first food you considered giving your infant due to its sticky texture, but there may have been a time when you considered mixing it in with their food or giving your baby something cooked with honey. However, after learning about infant botulism, you’ve likely avoided any food with the word “honey” included at all costs. Still, you might be wondering, what’s so bad about honey anyways?
The main reason babies can’t have honey is the risk of infant botulism. Botulism is a rare illness caused by a bacteria called clostridium botulinum. Botulism spores can become the toxin that causes botulism, which is sometimes present in dirt and improperly canned foods. Botulism spores are present in honey, and although older children and healthy adults can usually ingest these spores without any consequence, some infants get botulism after ingesting them. Since an infant’s digestive system is too immature to prevent the botulism spores from developing, you should never intentionally feed your baby honey.
There is also a slight risk that your child will develop an allergy to honey. This is usually due to the pollen the honey is made from rather than the honey itself, but since honey is a potential allergen it is best to introduce it slowly and monitor for an allergic reaction.
It’s a good idea to alert your pediatrician if you accidentally gave your baby honey so they can help you be aware of symptoms and let you know what to do if any symptoms occur. When it comes to infant botulism, swift diagnosis and treatment is extremely important.
What are the chances of infant botulism?
Infant botulism is extremely rare. Only about 250 cases of infant botulism occur in the United States each year and only about 15% of these occur due to honey consumption (the other cases likely occur due to exposure to contaminated soil). The majority of cases occur in California, Utah, and Pennsylvania.
However, C. botulinum spores have been found in approximately 25% of honey products. In order to err on the side of caution, the CDC recommends that honey not be given to infants younger than 12 months.
This still means that the risk of your child actually getting botulism from honey is rather low – especially if you follow the recommendation and only the occasional, accidental consumption of honey occurs. Even so, it is important for parents and caregivers to know the symptoms of botulism so they can monitor their child when accidental honey consumption does occur.
Symptoms of infant botulism
Once you’ve realized your baby ate honey, you might wonder if you need to take your baby to the doctor or call poison control. In most cases, the best thing to do is monitor your baby for any symptoms. However, be sure to alert your pediatrician if you have any concerns or questions. The symptoms of infant botulism usually occur within 18-36 hours after contamination.
The symptoms of infant botulism include:
- weak cry
- loss of head control
- loss of appetite
- breathing difficulties
- reduced movement of limbs and weakness.
How much honey can cause infant botulism?
Although only about 25% of honey products have been found to contain C. Botulinum spores, even a small amount of honey has the potential to carry enough spores to cause infant botulism. This is because the spores multiply in the intestines and the multiplication process releases the toxin which causes the disease.
Once babies have passed the 12-month mark, their digestive systems are likely mature enough to kill or suppress those spores inside the intestines before they can cause any problems.
Can babies have cooked honey?
Cooking is known to kill most common bacteria. However, C. Botulinum spores can only be destroyed through extremely high heat – higher than what is produced through normal household cooking. Therefore, even cooked honey is not considered safe for infants.
What is the difference between raw honey and regular?
Raw honey isn’t typically processed- instead, it is simply strained and then bottled – leaving all of the beneficial nutrients intact. However, this also means that it runs a slightly higher risk of containing C. Botulinum spores.
Meanwhile, regular honey may go through a variety of filters and heating (pasteurization) although these processes vary by brand. Pasteurizing the honey breaks down beneficial enzymes and removes pollen, but this does not guarantee the removal of C. Botulinum spores.
As a result, parents should avoid giving babies under the age of 12 months either raw or regular honey. After that age, there is no reason to avoid raw honey over regular.
What about honey ham, honey bread, honey grahams, or honey nut cheerios?
Unlike homemade foods, commercially processed goods, such as honey bread, honey grahams, and honey nut cheerios are usually processed at much higher heats and therefore pose less of a risk.
However, they are not guaranteed to be free from C. Botulinum spores. To err on the side of caution, it is best to hold off on these foods until your baby is older. If you accidentally gave your baby honey or a product with honey in it, remember to monitor their symptoms for the next couple days and when in doubt, contact their pediatrician.
When can babies have honey?
It is best to avoid giving babies honey before their first birthday to give their digestive tract time to fully mature. The acids in the digestive tract of older children and adults are generally able to prevent the Botulinum spores from multiplying, thereby preventing infection.
As with any new foods, introduce honey slowly and wait a few days to make sure your child does not develop any allergies or conditions. Also, if your child has other gastrointestinal issues, it may be best to continue withholding honey until those issues are resolved.
How to safely add honey to your baby’s diet
Like other potential allergens, always monitor your baby closely for any signs of illness or allergic reaction after they try honey for the first time. Since it is typically a pollen allergy that causes the reaction rather than the honey itself, your child may be able to eat some types of honey and not others. Once your baby is old enough to consume honey, you may consider adding it to your child’s diet due to its many health benefits, including:
- Vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants
- Liver protection
- Supports healing
- Helps digestion
- Helps soothe sore throat, stomachache, and toothache
- Helps with asthma and allergies (particularly locally farmed honey)
Keep in mind that honey is high in sugar and should be used sparingly to prevent unwanted weight gain and dental problems. But it can be used as a healthier alternative to processed sugars.