Many parents have probably heard that honey can be dangerous for babies but might not understand why. This resource is for any parent that might have accidentally given their baby honey and are now worried about what might happen!
If you accidentally gave your baby honey you should watch for any allergic reaction and monitor her for signs of infant botulism for the next 18-36 hours. Signs of infant botulism include weak cry, loss of head control, loss of appetite, breathing difficulty, and muscle weakness babies under the age of 12 months have the highest risk.
Continue reading to learn more about the risks of giving a baby honey.
What happens if you give a baby honey?
You’ve likely heard from your pediatrician not to give your baby honey before their first birthday. You hear about infant botulism and become hyper-aware of anything that may or may not contain honey.
Then, one night, you are eating out and you order some cooked carrots for your little one to munch on without realizing that they 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!
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 that they can watch for those signs when accidental honey consumption does occur.
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 is a good idea to alert your pediatrician when your child has been exposed to honey so that they can help you be aware of symptoms and guide you to the appropriate course of action should any occur. Swift diagnosis and treatment is extremely important.
What is the difference between raw honey and regular?
Raw honey is not processed much. 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) – these processes vary by brand. Pasteurizing the honey breaks down beneficial enzymes and removes pollen. However, 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.
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. The multiplication process releases the toxins which cause 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.
How do I know if my baby has infant botulism?
The symptoms of infant botulism include:
- weak cry
- loss of head control
- loss of appetite
- breathing difficulties
- reduced movement of limbs and weakness.
Can babies have honey that has been cooked?
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 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. In order to err on the side of caution, it is best to hold off on these foods until your baby is older.
When can babies have honey?
It is best to avoid giving babies honey before their first birthday. This will 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 C. Botulinum spores from multiplying, thereby preventing infection.
As with any new foods, it is best to 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.
Benefits of honey for babies
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)
How to safely add honey to your baby’s diet
Like other potential allergens, it is best to introduce honey slowly and to monitor closely for any signs of illness or allergic reaction. 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.
Also, 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.