Why Can’t Babies Have Honey?

Your Baby's Sweet Enough: Hold Off on Honey for Now

Is she too cold? Too warm? Is her soft spot closing? Is her head, somehow, too hard? Am I doing this right? New parents have enough to worry about without adding infant botulism to the mix. It's as scary as it sounds, and the seemingly harmless honey in your pantry is a potential cause. Your baby's digestive system isn't yet strong enough to process honey safely, so keep honey far out of her reach until she's at least a year old.

The Buzz About Honey

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The reason that honey is unsafe for babies is a kind of bacteria called Clostridium botulinum. It's found in soil but can also contaminate honey. If an infant ingests the bacteria, it can multiply in the intestines. The toxins that then build up can cause a life-threatening condition called infant botulism. Even a tiny amount of honey can be dangerous, which is why doctors warn parents not to give their infants any honey at all until they're at least 12 months old. At that point, their digestive systems have matured and developed enough for the bacteria to pass through without causing harm.

Avoid giving your baby anything containing honey during the first year of life. Read package labels before feeding her any processed foods, because some may contain honey. Make sure that all caretakers know that honey is off-limits.

The Dangers of Infant Botulism

Infant botulism is fairly rare. It's estimated that about 250 infants contract the disease each year in the United States, but many cases aren't properly diagnosed. Still, it's important to know the signs in case your infant accidentally ingests something containing honey.

The symptoms of infant botulism typically don't start appearing until a few days after the baby ingests the bacteria. Constipation is one of the first signs. Muscle weakness is another common sign, and may cause your baby to look and feel floppy. Other symptoms include difficulty latching or sucking, a weak cry and overall lethargy.

Call your pediatrician right away if your infant has been constipated for at least three days or if you notice any of the other symptoms of infant botulism. Call the doctor immediately if you know that your infant has ingested honey. Infant botulism can be treated with an antitoxin called botulinum immune globulin, but only if the condition is diagnosed in time.

Safe Honey Substitutes

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A baby younger than 12 months doesn't have a sophisticated palate and shouldn't object to eating unsweetened food. But if you're whipping up baby food for an especially picky eater, sweeten it by adding a bit of ripe banana, mashed sweet potato or applesauce. They should appeal to baby's sweet tooth while also delivering necessary nutrients.

Other Off-Limits Foods

Like honey, cow's milk is inappropriate for babies younger than a year old. Young infants can't process cow's milk properly, and it doesn't have the mix of fat and nutrients that a baby needs. Stick to giving your baby breast milk, formula and water until her first birthday.

Other foods are dangerous for babies because of choking risks. Don't give your baby chunks of hard foods like raw fruits and vegetables. Stringy foods, sticky things like marshmallows or globs of nut butters, whole grapes, hot dogs and nuts should also be avoided. Your baby won't know she's missing out on anything, and you'll breathe easily knowing that she can eat everything on her tray safely.