April 23, 2024/Children's Health

When Your Baby Can Have Honey

In babies under 12 months, honey may cause a serious illness called infant botulism

Caregiver spoon feeding baby in highchair at the table

For adults, honey is a delicious natural sweetener and a suitable stand-in for sugar in mugs of tea, homemade baked goods and bowls of morning oatmeal. But did you know that honey isn’t safe to give to children under the age of 1?

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Pediatrician Kimberly Churbock, MD, explains why honey isn’t safe for babies, the risks associated with it and when it is safe to introduce honey into their diets.

Why babies can’t have honey

Honey may contain spores from the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. These spores can cause infant botulism, a type of severe food poisoning that produces toxins that affect nerve function and can lead to skeletal muscle paralysis.

“Though this isn’t an issue for adults, who have more mature digestive tracts, it can cause serious health problems in babies,” Dr. Churbock warns. Symptoms of botulism in infants may include:

  • Constipation.
  • Difficulty sucking.
  • Droopy eyelids.
  • A weakened cry.
  • Muscle weakness or floppiness.
  • Breathing trouble.

It’s important to note that botulism is rare, with an average of 110 cases in the U.S. each year. But when it does occur, it can be life-threatening.

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If your baby has eaten honey and you begin to notice any of these symptoms, contact your healthcare provider right away.

"If they’re experiencing significant or severe symptoms, call 911 or seek immediate medical evaluation in the emergency room," Dr. Churbock stresses.

Can babies have cooked honey?

If you typically use honey instead of sugar in your baked goods, you may be curious whether the heat renders it safe for your baby to eat. But don’t risk it.

“I generally recommend avoiding all honey, both processed and raw, for babies, even as an ingredient in baked and processed foods,” Dr. Churbock advises. “This is because Clostridium botulinum spores are relatively heat-resistant.”

In simpler terms: Nope. No honey for babies, no matter what.

When is it safe to give honey to babies?

After your child’s first birthday, it’s considered safe to start introducing them to honey. Most cases of infant botulism occur in babies under the age of six months, so waiting until they’re 12 months old provides a buffer of time that allows their digestive tracts to more fully mature.

That said, your baby doesn’t need honey. In general, it’s best to avoid giving babies foods with added sugars and sweeteners.

“They’re unnecessary and may lead to excessive weight gain and tooth decay,” Dr. Churbock notes. “Plus, babies already have ample opportunities to experience sweet flavors found naturally in foods like fruits.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics advises not giving foods with added sugar to kids under age 2. So, cut up some strawberries or grapes for your little one instead, and consider this an excuse to keep those baked goods to yourself!

Tips on introducing kids to honey for the first time

Once your child is old enough to try honey, you can introduce them to it the same way you would any other condiment — in a small amount, added to some other food they already enjoy.

You may want to:

  • Add it to yogurt.
  • Drizzle it onto toast or cereal.
  • Use it as a dip for apple slices.
  • Mix it into oatmeal.
  • Top waffles or pancakes with it.

As a plant-based, natural sweetener with some antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, honey can be a better choice than regular sugar. But it’s still sugar. Keep it out of your child’s diet in the first year of their life — and from there, use it sparingly to make life slightly sweeter.

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