baby

Honey For Babies: Why You Should Never Give Infants Honey Before Their 1st Birthday

Christin Perry LitteThings writer by Christin Perry
Christin is a mom and editor specializing in lifestyle content. She also hides cookies like a boss.

If you’ve got a little one under the age of one, you probably already know that it’s not safe to give her honey. Yes, it’s true; honey is bad for babies, and this doesn’t fall under the “everything in moderation” umbrella either. Honey is dangerous for babies to consume, even when it’s eaten in tiny amounts or mixed with other foods.

So, what is in honey that makes it bad for babies? Honey often contains clostridium botulinum spores, which can lead to botulism in infants.

Even though most parents know that honey for babies is a strict no-no, many don’t have a clear understanding of why it’s so dangerous. After all, honey boasts tons of benefits for the rest of us; it’s a natural sweetener, it’s got antibacterial and anti-fungal properties, and it’s a champion sore throat soother. Perhaps that’s why there’s a great deal of misinformation out there about honey for babies under one year old.

Below, we’ll walk through all the latest buzz about honey, like what’s up with that one-year cut off? We’ll also answer whether babies can consume cooked honey or baked goods made with it, and what to do if you suspect your baby has contracted botulism.

Why Babies Can’t Have Honey

Taking baby's hand away from honey
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

You may be wondering, “why can’t babies eat honey?” Well, as healthy as it can be, raw honey often contains botulinum spores that it picks up while still in the hive. According to a study conducted by the University of Florida, “the spores are a rare accidental contaminant carried into the hive on dust, water, or pollen from the environment.” When adults consume honey, the spores simply travel right through our digestive tract and exit our body along with other waste. However, according to Dr. Jill McCabe, medical director of pediatric emergency services at Loudoun Hospital in Loudoun County, VA, “young babies are particularly prone to getting botulism from the spores in honey, and even small doses can make infants sick.”

This occurs because babies under the age of one year don’t have a fully developed large intestine. Since the spores aren’t able to be effectively flushed from the body like they are in adults, they begin to produce toxins which can cause botulism in infants. According to kidshealth.org, “very young babies haven’t developed the ability to handle the spores yet. So if an infant ingests them, the bacteria germinate, multiply and produce a toxin. That toxin interferes with the normal interaction between the muscles and nerves and can hamper an infant’s ability to move, eat and breathe.”

Infant Botulism

C. botulinum spores affect baby's nerves
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Infant botulism is a rare but serious gastrointestinal condition caused by exposure to Clostridium botulinum (C. botulinum) spores.” As the toxins multiply, they begin to affect the baby’s nerves, beginning in the face and mouth and continuing downward into the baby’s extremities. The nerves of the diaphragm can also be affected, which can lead to an inability to breathe.

Let’s take a look at some of the other classic infant botulism symptoms.

Symptoms Of Infant Botulism

No expression on baby's face
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

Botulism in infants is a serious illness that must be treated immediately, especially since it can affect your baby’s ability to breathe. If you notice any of the following infant botulism symptoms in your baby, whether or not you have given her honey, go to the emergency room immediately for treatment:

  • Constipation (for an extended period; often more than 1 month)
  • Lack of facial expressions
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Loss of limb and head control
  • Weak or poor feeding

What To Do If You Suspect Infant Botulism

Doctor preparing shot
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

If a diagnosis of botulism is made, your baby will be treated with an immune globulin called BabyBIG. According to infantbotulism.org, “Infant botulism is treated with meticulous supportive care with special attention to feeding and breathing needs. In the United States the orphan drug BabyBIG® is also used to shorten hospital stay and reduce complications.”

The good news is that once treated, nearly all infants make a full recovery with no long-lasting effects from the toxins.

Why Is Honey Safe For Babies Over Age One?

Baby celebrating 1st birthday
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

Since there’s only one day that separates a one-year-old from a baby under the age of one, the “no honey for babies under one” rule can seem a bit arbitrary. Does a birthday really make honey for baby suddenly safe? Of course not, but it’s still a good rule of thumb to follow. McCabe tells us, “the AAP is usually pretty conservative in its recommendations,” so they use the one-year mark as a threshold in order to be extra cautious. Even though honey for a 10-month-old baby may technically be safe, there’s no reason to take the chance.

And honeybeesuite.com agrees, saying, “Although the vulnerable stage is short, to be on the safe side, it is recommended that parents wait until a child is at least one year old before feeding honey.” By the time a baby’s first birthday rolls around, her intestines will be developed enough that any botulism spores will travel right through her, just like they do in older children and adults.

Once your baby celebrates that super-important first birthday, you can safely introduce honey. Is honey good for babies over one? Yes! Aside from being a tasty natural sweetener, honey is an amazing throat soother and cough suppressant. And often, it’s your only real option if your baby is suffering from a bad cough, so don’t be afraid to use it. According to McCabe, “[Pediatricians are] very cautious in our recommendation of any over-the-counter cough medicines. (They’re strictly forbidden for children under the age of 4). One thing that can help and is safe to give is honey. You can give honey over the age of one to help soothe a cough.”

Can Babies Eat Heated Or Cooked Honey?

Heated honey on toast
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

Most dangerous foodborne toxins can be eradicated by cooking at high heat — but botulism spores are an exception. According to honeybeesuite.com, “Both the actual Clostridium botulinum bacteria and the toxins it produces are easily destroyed by boiling for several minutes or by holding them at lower temperatures for longer times. The spores, on the other hand, are extremely resistant.”

What About Store-Bought Snacks?

Eating honey crackers with baby
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

Just like raw honey, boiled honey or honey used in baked goods and other foods should be avoided for the first year of a baby’s life. Honey-flavored processed foods are probably safe, since honey flavoring is often just that: flavoring, rather than actual honey. However, babies under one year of age shouldn’t be consuming much, if any, processed food anyway.

Alternative Sweeteners For Babies

Different sweeteners safe for babies
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

So, what’s the best way to sweeten something that you’re planning on sharing with your baby? There are a few alternatives that are still much healthier than white sugar, but keep in mind that at this age, you really have very little reason to sweeten your baby’s food at all. McCabe says, “be wary of any type of sweetener for babies under one. You want to establish a good palate for them so they have a lifelong appreciation for healthy food. The best way to sweeten anything at this age is to use some type of fruit.”

Mashed or pureed fruit, like bananas or applesauce, are a great honey substitute in baked goods, and according to Momtastic, “Brown rice syrup is considered to be one of the healthiest sweeteners in the natural food industry, since it is produced from a whole food source and is made up of the simple sugars.”

Maple syrup is also safe to use, both in cooking and on pancakes, which make a great early food for baby to enjoy.

Did you learn more about why honey is dangerous for babies? Please SHARE this article with anyone who could benefit from this information!