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 twelve months of age.

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. 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 you don't have to avoid allergy foods once you start your baby on solid foods when they are four to six months old, but there still are a few rules, including:

  • Don't switch to milk from breast milk or baby formula until your infant is 12 months old
  • Limit fruit juice - even 100% pasteurized fruit juice should just be offered in a cup, with 4 to 6 ounces being more than enough for the day, although no juice at all would be just fine too
  • Avoid choke foods until your baby is older

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. 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 simply an easy way to try and prevent infant botulism.

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

  • Honey Graham Crackers
  • Honey Nut Cheerios
  • Honey Wheat Bread

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

If you feel strongly about giving these foods to your infant, call the manufacturer to make sure that they are safe.

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.

It is typically fine for a two-year-old to eat honey, 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.

Keep in mind that honey, a sweetener, does have a lot of calories, just like other natural sugars.

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.

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Article Sources

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Botulism Annual Summary, 2013. Atlanta, Georgia: US Department of Health and Human Services, CDC, 2015.