Honey and babies

Parents have been seeking some sweet advice from me as to when it is safe to introduce honey into their infant or toddler’s diet.

Let me “bee” sure to provide some information on this topic.

Honey is a natural sweetener, and some people think it is healthier than sugar with its vitamins, minerals and other metabolites.

To get the benefits of these nutrients, however, you need to eat far more honey than is recommended due to honey intake being very high in calories.

Please do not give honey or processed foods that contain honey to an infant under one year of age.

Why is this so important?

Because honey may contain spores of a certain type of germ or bacteria called clostridium botulinum that can also be found in soil or dust and gets into honey.

If honey is eaten by an infant and it contains the clostridium spores, these bacteria can release a poison or toxin in the baby’s digestive system that can result in a disorder called botulism. This is characterized by muscle weakness, a weak cry, constipation and trouble breathing to the point where it can be life-threatening.

Older children over one have more mature digestive systems to move these toxins through their body before they can cause harm which is why it is safe to give honey to children from toddlerhood on up to adulthood.

Treatment of infant botulism requires hospitalization to support a baby’s breathing and overall weakness. This usually takes place in an ICU until the effects of the toxin wear off, which may take weeks to months.

Be aware that even jars that say the honey has been pasteurized may still be contaminated with the clostridium bacteria.

Even other liquid sweeteners like molasses and corn syrup may carry a risk for botulism so avoid these in babies under one year of age as well.

If your child is over a year of age, they can eat honey and unlike some raw foods, raw as well as pasteurized honey is safe to eat in moderation.

Are there benefits to honey in older children?

There are some studies that say honey can be an effective cough suppressant in children over the age of two with a cold or upper respiratory infection.

Honey has also been shown to be effective in treating some wounds and burns but more research is needed in both areas.

Hopefully, tips like these will not sting when it comes to “bee-lieving” the importance of not giving your baby honey in their first year of life.

Lewis First, MD, is Chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and NBC5.


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