Here’s the situation. Honey is delicious. It’s natural and seems like it would be very baby-friendly, however, honey can also carry some dangerous passengers.
The issue with honey and babies: Infantile Botulism
Tiny Clostridium botulinum spores can occur naturally in honey, and release a toxin that immature digestive systems aren’t old enough to tackle.
Symptoms of infantile botulism include constipation, difficulty sucking or swallowing, and floppy movements. If left untreated, it can be fatal.
Common questions we’ll cover:
- How common is infant botulism from honey?
- Does all honey contain botulism?
- Can babies have cooked honey?
- Is pasteurized honey safe for babies?
- Can babies have Honey Nut Cheerios?
- How do I know if my baby has infant botulism?
- What if I accidentally gave my baby honey?
- Is it safe for me to eat honey while I’m breastfeeding?
- Is honey in nipple cream safe for babies?
- Why is 12 months the magic number for honey safety?
How common is infant botulism from honey?
There are generally about 100 cases of infant botulism reported across the US annually. Some of these can be from other sources (dirt and inhalation of dust particles), but honey is the most common cause.
Does all honey contain botulism?
According to one study done in Poland in 2018, of 240 multifloral samples of honey, 2.1% carried botulism spores. With that said, honey is the most common cause for infantile botulism, which is why the recommendations to avoid it are so strong.
Can babies have cooked honey?
The spores that cause botulism are tough as hell and must be boiled for 10 minutes to be killed. Baking honey doesn’t allow it to reach temperatures high enough to kill the spores, so unless the recipe calls for a hearty 10-minute boil, it should be avoided.
Okay, what about pasteurized honey?
This one is also not recommended because the stakes are so high, and pasteurization isn’t 100% guaranteed to kill the spores. This isn’t such a big deal in older kids and adults who have fully formed immune systems, but with it being potentially fatal in babies, it’s best to just avoid honey until 12 months.
Can babies have Honey Nut Cheerios?
Products that use honey (like Honey Nut Cheerios, honey graham crackers, honey oat bread, honey Greek yogurt – basically anything with honey in the name) should be avoided. As we discussed above, these products don’t get hot enough during the cooking/baking process to ensure the spores are killed. Avoiding them is safest.
How do I know if my baby has infant botulism?
Constipation is usually the first sign. Other symptoms include muscle weakness and floppy movements, drooping eyelids, drooling, lethargy, difficulty feeding, and irritability. Obviously if you’re concerned about any of these symptoms, a call to your medical provider is the next step.
What if I accidentally gave my baby honey?
Don’t worry. This happens to the best of us, and in the vast majority of cases everything is fine. Give your medical provider a call and keep an eye on your kiddo for concerning symptoms.
Is it safe for me to consume honey while I’m breastfeeding?
Yes. A fully developed immune system can deal with being exposed to botulism, and spores aren’t transmitted through milk.
What about honey in nipple cream?
It looks like there’s a wound dressing called MediHoney paste that can be used as nipple cream. This honey is irradiated to kill the spores, making it sterile and safe for breastfeeding. The instructions still recommend wiping it off before feeding, so that’s something to keep in mind when trying to find something that works with your lifestyle, but that’s no different than several other products that don’t contain honey.
As for other honey-based products, it’s best to do your own research before using them.
Why is 12 months the magic number?
By 12 months of age, your baby’s immune system has developed enough to kill the spores before they release enough toxin to make them sick. I suspect that the age threshold is probably lower but experts chose one year to be fully in the clear.
To sum up: honey and babies don’t mix
While honey isn’t the only way babies can contract infantile botulism, avoiding it is the easiest way to prevent infection. Admittedly this can be tricky, but a quick check on the labels of frequent offenders like cough syrups and your favorite Greek yogurt can help prevent a (possibly panicked) round of 2am Googling later.
So there you have it. When it comes to the sweet stuff, there is no safe amount of honey for babies under the age of 12 months.