When Can Babies Eat Honey?

Girl (8-10) putting honey on slice of bread
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The general warning is that you should not feed honey to infants under 12 months of age.

For a child under 12 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. When ingested by an infant, the spores grow and the Clostridium botulinum bacteria can release the toxin that causes botulism.

There are fewer restrictions on which foods infants can now eat, including that most babies don't have to avoid foods that were previously off limits as first foods (including allergy foods such as peanuts and eggs) when they start solids at around six months old. But there still are a few important rules for feeding babies, including:

And of course, no honey until after your baby's first birthday.

Infant Botulism

According to the CDC, infants with botulism "appear lethargic, feed poorly, are constipated, and have a weak cry and poor muscle tone," which may "progress to cause paralysis of the arms, legs, trunk and respiratory muscles."

There were 135 cases of infant botulism in the United States in 2013.​ Did all of these infants eat honey contaminated with Clostridium botulinum spores?​ Almost certainly they did not.

Unfortunately, "most infant botulism cases cannot be prevented because the bacteria that causes this disease is in soil and dust," says the CDC. "The bacteria can be found inside homes on floors, carpet, and countertops even after cleaning."

In addition to trying to keep your home free of soil and dust with routine cleaning, avoiding honey is another way to try to prevent infant botulism.

Although parents often know not to give their infants under 12 months of age plain honey, recognizing it as a high-risk food, they often overlook other foods that contain honey, such as:

  • Honey graham crackers
  • Honey nut cereals
  • Honey wheat bread

Although the honey in these foods may be processed, it may not be pasteurized, and so may still contain botulism spores and should be avoided.

If you feel strongly about giving these foods to your infant, call the manufacturer to make sure that they have been pasteurized and therefore are safe for an infant under one year old.

Kids and Honey

Older kids and adults can also get botulism, but not in the same way, and that's why it is okay for them to eat honey. They can get botulism from eating foods that are contaminated with botulinum toxin (improperly canned foods) and wound botulism.

You don't need to restrict honey after baby's first year. In addition to being a flavorful way to add a hint of sweetness to things like plain yogurt, oatmeal, and baked goods, there is some anecdotal evidence that small amounts of honey from local regions might help lessen seasonal allergy symptoms and coughs. Honey is also being used as a wound dressing because of its antimicrobial properties. It sometimes works better than topical antibiotics against difficult-to-treat bacteria.

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