Written by Editorial Team
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 Botulinum 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.
In This Article
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, though it does not support any bacterial life, it does support C. Botulinum spores, which can be dangerous to the baby.
Simply put, it is a type of food poisoning that can be fatal for the baby. Botulism is caused by ingesting Clostridium Botulinum spores, 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 convert to a toxin, then interrupt the ability of nerve endings to transmit the signal to other nerve-related muscle contractions. 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 fight bad bacteria and keeps stomach upsets and other illnesses away. But if bad bacteria dominate, then one suffers from stomach-related problems. Babies below 12 months have not yet developed immunity or enough good bacteria to fight off the Clostridium Botulinum spore.
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 Botulinum bacteria can be found in soil, dust, and a few food items such as honey.
So care should be taken so that your baby does not come in direct contact with any of these. Pediatricians around the world clearly advise against feeding any form of honey, raw or pasteurized, diluted or direct to an 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.
If a baby has ingested honey, immediately inform the doctor and watch her closely for at least 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.
When caring for infants, it’s 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.
The spores of Clostridium Botulinum can be destroyed by heat. However, it is not advisable to feed foods such as honey dissolved in hot milk or pudding because the heat may not be sufficient to kill the bacteria. Botulism spores are resistant to household cooking methods and temperatures.
On the other hand, ready-made cereals of high quality that contain honey may be safe, but this should be confirmed with a pediatrician. As a result of being exposed to high temperatures, the chances of Clostridium Botulinum spore survival are eliminated, which is an argument in favor of consumption.
Considering other foods made with honey, especially at home the heat to which they are subject cannot guarantee the removal of Clostridium Botulinum bacteria. Some products are made of corn syrup, maple syrup, and molasses which may not have been sterilized and hence contain Clostridium Botulinum 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 a preference for sweet foods, which can be a cause of many diseases later in life.
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.
As the digestive system of a baby develops, it gets better equipped to handle bacteria. Doctors around the world stress the fact that honey may be given to babies past 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!
With a rich experience in pregnancy and parenting, our team of experts create insightful, well-curated, and easy-to-read content for our to-be-parents and parents at all stages of parenting.Read more.
Swati C Sharma
May 22, 2015
Hi Shivani, Water should not be given to babies younger than 6 months as a thumb rule, as breast milk suffices all the needs of the baby. For more information check http://www.beingtheparent.com/introducing-water-to-infants/
May 20, 2015
Is water is safe for infants ?
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