It’s a quandary all new moms scratch their head about. When they’re introducing food, why can’t babies have honey? It’s because of botulism—an illness caused by bacteria—that puts your baby’s digestive system at risk. Raw honey is unsafe because it contains Clostridium botulinum, a bacteria that’s actually found in soil. The good news: It’s safe for your baby to eat as soon as they hit the one-year mark. We talked to Dr. Dyan Hes, medical director at Gramercy Pediatrics, to find out more about the disease.
What is infant botulism?
It’s actually most critical for babies who are between three weeks and six months old. (That said, all babies are at risk until they turn one.) The spores of Clostridium botulinum, which are found in dirt and dust, make their way into the honey and contaminate it. If an infant ingests it, the spores can multiply in the baby’s intestines, something that can cause serious illness when their digestive system isn’t yet equipped to combat it.
Still, Hes says the risk of infant botulism is very low. It’s also treatable. “If a baby contracts infant botulism and it is picked up early, it can be treated,” she says.
What are the symptoms and treatments?
“Babies present with constipation, drooling, weakness of the facial muscles and problems swallowing,” according to Hes. “The paralysis is descending and goes from head to toe.”
Treatment for infant botulism usually involves intubation to prevent respiratory failure and anti-toxin, says Hes. Care is also typically given in the intensive care unit.
What should you do if your infant ingests honey?
Don’t panic, just keep an eye on your baby to see if any symptoms develop. “Botulism is very rare and usually only occurs from raw honey,” Hes says. “If your baby starts to show any of the signs and symptoms, take them to the nearest emergency room. It can be diagnosed from a stool test in babies.”
Are there any honey substitutes you can offer your baby?
Babies should not be offered food with added sugars and sweeteners, Hes says. Instead, it’s best to give them naturally sweet foods such as fruits and vegetables (say, bananas and sweet potatoes). “There is no danger in offering a baby food with table sugar or fructose (fruit sugar), but there is no need for it. Just remember, if they’ve never had it, they will not miss it. The taste of sugary foods is addictive and then babies will begin to refuse other foods that are not as sweet.”
When is honey safe to eat?
As soon as your baby turns one, it’s fine to put honey back on the menu. The bacteria found in Clostridium botulinum spores doesn’t pose a risk past that point because a baby’s digestive system has matured enough so it won’t cause any harm.
Hey, the more you know.