My daughter has just turned one and I have to say I had been quite looking forward to her tasting honey for the first time. I even considered making a honey cake for her birthday to celebrate the fact she would be finally ‘allowed’ it but I decided against as there would be babies under the age of one at her party.
So, I gave her a small spoonful of honey the other day and to my surprise her reaction was close to nothing. She was more interested in the piece of bread I was holding in the other hand and hardly registered the fact I had put something in her mouth. I thought she would love its sweet taste…Oh well, I am glad I don’t have to keep checking ingredients and I can be a bit more relaxed about her having honey from now on.
So can babies not have honey before the age of one?
I was quite surprised when I first heard that babies under 12 months shouldn’t consume honey. Honey seems like a natural and nutritious food, so why do you have to be so strict about this?
There is a universal warning against feeding babies honey because of the rare but potentially fatal risk of infant botulism.
Honey can contain spores that can germinate in a baby’s immature digestive system and cause the disease.
You’d think that it would be fine if the honey has been cooked but it isn’t. The warning stands for raw as well as honey in baked and cooked goods. The spores can survive even when heated.
Most shop bought honey isn’t raw anyway, it will have been heated and pasteurised. This still doesn’t make it safe for babies. It does also mean that a lot of the nutrients present in raw honey have been lost in the heating process.
One of my friends got really worried when she found out her husband had been giving their 7 month old daughter honey with her morning porridge without realising she shouldn’t have it. My friend managed to scare herself into thinking that her daughter could have botulism. So, should she have been so worried and is it really that dangerous?
I decided to look into the facts. The word ‘botulism’ sounds scary and the fact that it can be a deadly disease was enough for me to follow the guidelines and make sure my daughter would not ingest honey in any form before the age of one.
However when I looked into it a little more I found out that most babies over the age of six months would probably have a digestive system mature enough and the guideline says 1 year as a preventative measure. This article in the guardian is a good read and explains: “For one thing, botulism almost exclusively affects those under six months, who, on current advice, shouldn’t be consuming anything other than milk”
From the research I have done it looks like honey can’t always be linked as the cause of infant botulism anyway, it can come from other things such exposure to certain reptiles like turtles or even soil.
I then wondered, does all honey contain botulism pores?
No, International surveys have shown approximately 2 to 7% of honey samples contain C. botulinum spores. It’s relatively small amount but enough to warrant the warning as a precautionary measure. The percentage of affected honey differs by country and is a lot higher in California for example were up to 15% of honey can contain the spores.
If we look at the UK in particular since 1978, there have been 13 cases of infant botulism in England and Wales. None resulted in death. In most cases of infant botulism, the specific cause has never been identified.
Still, the mortality rate of infant botulism is about 1.3% and even if infant botulism is rare it can be very serious.
Even if the cause cannot always be linked to honey we do know that honey can be contaminated with Clostridium botulinum spores and as botulism is a potentially fatal illness I personally think it’s not worth taking the risk.
But for all those who have discovered that their baby has ingested some honey before their first birthday just like my friend did you can see that the chances of your baby being taken ill because of honey are very low.
Still I’m not saying you shouldn’t avoid it before your little one’s first birthday, better be safe than sorry, but I think I will worry about it less next time round!
Now that my daughter has turned one I am looking forward to using honey as a natural sweetener again. It is definitely better than processed sugar. Some people claim honey has a great number of health benefits. We all know honey can be a good natural remedy when you have a sore throat. Apparently buckwheat honey in particular ; ‘A recent study has shown buckwheat honey to be more effective than over-the-counter cough syrup at treating childhood cough’ (Wikepedia)
I recent years there has been a huge hype surrounding Manuka honey, claiming it has fantastic healing properties such as antiviral and antibacterial actions. It’s hard to know if these claims are founded but honey in general has been know for centuries to contains powerful antioxidants with antiseptic and antibacterial properties.
Honey is definitely a superfood!
Research & Links:
honey & botulism
Difference between raw and shop bought honey & health benefits: