Honey has been widely acclaimed for its innumerable health benefits, and at the onset honey may seem to be like a nutritious food for your baby – but honey fed to infants before the age of 1 can have adverse effects. Spores of Clostridium Botulinium present in honey can grow in a young baby’s immature digestive system thus causing a rare but fatal disease called infant botulism.
No doubt infant botulism is rare nevertheless it is a fatal condition causing muscle paralysis that may require a month’s stay of your baby in the ICU for recovery. It can be even worse – causing death. Read below to know about infant botulism and the role of honey in it.
Honey For Babies And Infants
You must have heard about parents who dip their babies’ pacifiers in honey. Naturally sweet, it used to be a perfect way to keep the baby quiet. However, honey is not safe for babies and infants and should be avoided, and though it does it does not support any bacterial life, but it does support C. Botulinum spores which can be dangerous to the baby.
What Is Infant Botulism?
Simply put, it is type of food poisoning which can be fatal for the baby. Botulism is caused by ingesting Clostridium Botulinium spore which may grow in the baby’s intestine and become toxic. Now the baby’s digestive and immune systems are not strong enough to fight these spores. These spores that convert to a toxin then interrupts the ability of nerve endings to transmit signal to other nerve related to muscle contraction. Therefore symptoms involving muscle contraction such as sucking, facial expression and constipation are evident in cases of botulism. Botulism does not hamper cognitive abilities such as intelligence but may have an impact on breathing and muscle movement.
Our intestine also hordes a lot of bacteria, some good some bad. It’s the good bacteria that fights bad bacteria and keeps stomach upsets and other illnesses away. But if bad bacteria dominates then one suffers from stomach related problems. Babies below 12 months have not yet developed the immunity or enough good bacteria to fight off the Clostridium Botulinium spore.
Feeding Honey To Infants And Botulism
Due to its good, antiseptic properties as well as a likable taste, honey is given to babies, without realizing how much potential harm a spoonful of honey can do to them. The Clostridium Botulinium bacteria can be found in soil, dust and few food items such as honey. So care should be taken so that your baby does not comes in direct contact with any of these.
Pediatricians around the world clearly advises against feeding any form of honey, raw or pasteurized, diluted or direct to the infant below 12 months of age. Never give your baby deserts and cakes; biscuits and ice-creams that contain honey. Never add honey to your baby’s cereal, water or milk, no matter what until the baby crosses her first birthday.
If your baby is less than one year old never add honey to your baby’s food, water, or formula milk. Never dip your baby’s pacifier in honey. Honey, though full of medicinal properties, must not be fed to infants as a medicine.
What Are The Symptoms Of Botulism In Infants?
If a baby has ingested honey, immediately infom the doctor and watch her closely for atleast 36 hours. Symptoms of botulism can appear anytime between 8-36 hours after consumption of honey. If your infant shows any of the below signs after consumption of honey, do consult the doctor.
- Difficulty in swallowing and sucking can be observed since muscles used for contracting are affected
- Constipation for about three days after consuming honey
- Weak crying by the baby, the tone as well as the pitch will be slow
- Decreased appetite, the baby may show little or no interest in feeding
- Less facial expressions; the baby may not show interest in anything
- Breathing problems
- Decreased movements and activity levels
- Drowsiness and lethargy; hands, neck and legs may seem weak
- Excessive drooling
When caring for infants, its best to stay extra vigilant and if you observe any of the above signs after feeding honey or food items containing honey to your baby, immediately visit the pediatrician. If possible maintain a diary of foodstuffs given to your baby. This is not difficult because infants below 12 months mostly require mother’s milk.
Can My Baby Eat Foods Made With Honey?
The Clostridium Botulinium spores can be killed by heat. But still chances should not be taken to feed foods such as honey dissolved in hot milk or pudding since the amount of heat may not be sufficient to get rid of this bacteria. Botulism spores cannot be destroyed under household methods of cooking and temperatures. On the other hand, good quality ready made cereals containing honey may be safe- but the same should be double checked with the pediatrician. The argument favoring the consumption is that as these are exposed to high temperatures, the chances of survival of Clostridium Botulinium spores are nil. Considering other foods made with honey, especially at home the heat to which they are subject cannot guarantee the removal of Clostridium Botulinium bacteria.
Some products are made of corn syrup, maple syrup and molasses which may not have been sterilized and hence contain Clostridium Botulinium spore. So it’s safe to steer clear of honey or products containing honey till your baby is at least a year and has celebrated his first birthday.
Honey has also been recommended by some to comfort the infant during teething but consuming honey and foods containing honey are excessively sweet and harm the teeth. Moreover, babies should not be exposed to the sweet taste earlier as they may gain preference to sweet foods, which can be a cause of many diseases later in life.
Does Botulism Pass Through Breastfeeding?
Botulism is not passed on to the baby through breastfeeding, so those trying to reduce weight with honey and lemon can continue to do so without any worries! Remember, breast milk contains important nutrients and antibodies to protect your child from potential allergies and therefore do not skip this important feeding ritual
When to Introduce Honey to Infants?
As the digestive system of a baby develops, it gets better equipped to handle the bacteria. Doctors around the world stress on the fact that honey may be given to babies post the age of 1 year. The digestive system of the baby is more mature after 1 year and will absorb all the good qualities of honey without posing any threat to him.
Infant botulism is relatively rare but can be serious, therefore vouch for early signs and remember ‘Prevention is better than Cure’!