Giving babies honey is dangerous

Although many people seem to know that there is some problem with giving honey to young babies they do not know exactly what the problem is. Honey itself is a natural product that is generally thought to be very healthy for people. However, there have been some cases of a very serious disease that had been traced to honey. This is “infant botulism”, which is a type of food poisoning caused by a bacteria called Clostridium botulinum. This bacteria forms spores which when swallowed by a baby will start to produce a poisonous toxin in the baby’s intestines. This toxin, known as botulin causes the various muscles in a baby to be paralyzed. The symptoms then develop because of this paralysis including, poor sucking, weak cry, irritability, lack of facial expression(i.e. cannot smile because the facial muscles are paralyzed.The most dangerous part of this infection is that if the diaphragm, our main breathing muscle, becomes paralyzed, than the baby will have trouble breathing.

The treatment is to hospitalize the affected babies and to help them breath and eat properly. This “supportive treatment” may be required for a few days or up to even a few weeks until all of the toxin has left the body. Most babies do recover completely and this, without any antibiotics or specific antidote or antitoxin treatment.

Why is honey a source of botulism?

It is not very well understood because we know that most homey produced in North America is not contaminated with the botulism bacteria. Experts think that the honey gets contaminated by the spores from the dirt. The bees pick up these spores from the soil and then bring it to the hive, contaminating the honey that they produce.


Although infant botulism is very rare, it is better to be safe and not take chances. For this reason, parents and caretakers should not give honey to babies less than one year of age. Also honey should never be added to baby food nor placed on a baby’s pacifier.


Botulism results from a protein called botulin, produced by a particular strain of bacteria. Once inside the body it blocks the nerve cells that cause muscles to contract, resulting in paralysis. At worst, botulin can cause total paralysis leading to death.

Since botulism bacteria cannot survive in oxygen, they form spores that lie dormant until they’re in an oxygen-free environment. For example, the oxygen-free insides of canned goods are prime breeding grounds for botulism. Unless such cans are heated properly to destroy the spores, they will awaken and contaminate the food inside. That’s why many cases of botulism occur after the victim has eaten canned food.

When can kids eat honey?

When bees collect nectar from flowers, they incidentally pick up botulism spores that get mixed into their honey. Since adults and babies more than a year old have fully developed immune systems and intestinal bacteria that destroy the spores, eating honey is no problem. Lacking these safeguards, a baby that eats honey provides a perfect environment for the spores to activate and unleash their toxin. So keep your baby away from honey. Chances are she’s already sweet enough just as she is.

The general warning is that you should not feed honey to infants under twelve months of age. It should be fine for a two year old, and I have heard of using a daily teaspoon of raw honey as a treatment for allergies. It has something to do with the pollen and other substances in the raw honey helping the patient to build up some immunity to whatever they are allergic to, but you would think that it would trigger their allergies and make them worse until that happens. If not, then great, maybe give it a try.

Honey is also being used as a wound dressing in Australia because of its antimicrobial properties, sometimes working better than topical antibiotics against difficult to treat bacteria.

Breast feeding, though, is a great way to prevent or decrease allergy symptoms. Breast feeding and minimizing your daughter’s being exposed to potential allergens are the best ways to serve your goals of reducing her allergies and her allergy symptoms. These measures will benefit your daughter now, and the benefit will last for years to come.

For a child under twelve months of age, there is a risk of botulism from eating honey and it should be avoided. The spores of the Clostridium botulinum bacteria can be found in honey, and when ingested by an infant, the spores can release a toxin that causes botulism.

Sources: Amos Indiana, Pediatric

No related content found.