You have probably heard that honey should never be given to babies under one year of age. The reason for this is that honey may contain bacteria that could lead to botulism. Once your baby reaches 12 months of age, his digestive system should be developed enough to kill the spores responsible for botulism infection.
We’ve received a few e-mails in the past from parents who have discovered this information after feeding honey to their babies, which – understandably – caused them a great deal of worry! If you do inadvertently give your baby honey, do bear in mind that – although botulism is a serious condition – it is rare.
The symptoms of botulism poisoning tend to appear within 18-36 hours – so if you gave the honey to your baby before then, it’s likely there will be no problems at all. If you gave it to him within that time frame, then the signs to look for include
- constipation (usually the very first symptom)
- difficulties in feeding – baby’s sucking action becomes weak
- lethargy and lack of facial expression
- weak cry
- breathing difficulties
- drooling more than usual
You should, of course, immediately consult your child’s doctor if any of these symptoms are present, or if you have any concerns.
Another question we are sometimes asked is whether or not it is safe to give babies cooked items containing honey, such as certain breads and breakfast cereals.
Our personal recommendation is to give these food items a miss until your little one is 12 months old. Opinion is somewhat divided on this issue -The National Honey Board, for example, states on its website
Spores are inactivated when manufactured food products (such as cereals or nuts) receive a roasting heat treatment. Graham crackers or cereal, for example, would not contain any viable microbial spores
However, other sources – including child health expert Dr Greene – state that
Because the spores are so heat-resistant, there is a theoretical risk for babies eating even processed foods containing honey.
Indeed, whilst honey may be cooked in the production of these products, it is not generally heat pasteurized, so botulism spores may still be present.
Our opinion in this situation is that the risk – however small – is not worth taking, since there are so many other wonderful foods that your little one can be consuming during his first year. Also, offering too many sweet foods – even those sweetened with honey – can lead to a preference for sugary flavours, which certainly isn’t a preference your little one is born with!
And if you DO need to sweeten any foods for your baby, then use a sweet fruit puree instead – our trust favourite is banana, which we use often to sweeten tart foods for our little one and which adds its own nutritious elements to the dish!