Our introduction to honey came in the form of a spoonful mixed with tea or apple sauce for many of us. There is an additional question about feeding love to your baby for parents: can I feed my baby honey?
When introducing solids, parents learn about a host of off-limits foods, including choking hazards like grapes and hot dogs, hard-to-digest items like cow’s milk, and sugar-heavy desserts.
But unlike many of the other food restrictions during infancy, allergies and choking are not the issues with honey.
Can honey be healthy for your children? Yes! While deceptively sweet, this golden nectar is packed full of beneficial properties for growing kids.
Honey is naturally sweet, thanks to the hard work of pollinating bees. Ancient civilisations consumed this sweetener in Egypt, Greece, Rome, India, and more for its healing powers.
The ancient secret of honey’s medicinal properties is now well known, and your family can benefit from it, too.
While delicious, honey should never be given to children under one, and it’s not recommended for children under two years old.
Since 2008, many changes have been made to the rules of when babies can have certain foods.
You might be surprised to learn that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has reclassified many foods that used to be no-nos for babies until they were older as fine for babies after they begin eating solid foods.
However, that is not the case with honey or products made from honey.
Honey for Babies After Age One
The recommendation for when babies can have honey continues to be after age one. That includes both kinds of love in their raw form and foods cooked or baked with honey.
The AAP Pediatric Nutrition Handbook states, “Infants younger than 12 months should avoid all sources of honey.”
That statement makes it pretty clear that anything containing honey should be off-limits, including honey cereals.
The primary risk of introducing honey too soon is infant botulism. Babies under six months of age are at the highest risk.
While this condition is rare, most of the cases reported are diagnosed in the US.
A baby can get botulism by eating Clostridium botulinum spores found in soil, honey, and honey products.
These spores turn into bacteria in the bowels and produce harmful neurotoxins in the body.
Botulism is a severe condition. Some 70 per cent of babies who get botulism may require mechanical ventilation for an average of 23 days.
The average hospital stay for botulism is around 44 days. Most babies recover with treatment. Setbacks may follow many minor improvements.
The fatality rate is less than 2 per cent.
Other liquid sweeteners, like molasses and corn syrup, may also carry a risk for botulism.
Maple syrup is generally considered safe because it comes from inside a tree and cannot be contaminated by soil.
Still, some doctors do not recommend giving babies sweeteners until after their first birthday. It’s best to check with your pediatrician before offering sweeteners as part of your child’s diet.
Why Honey Is Considered Unsafe for Babies
The reason to delay honey is not because of a concern over food allergies or choking hazards but of a severe disease called infant botulism.
Infant botulism is caused when a baby ingests spores from a bacterium called Clostridium botulinum.
This bacteria produces a toxin inside the baby’s digestive tract that can be absorbed into the body and severely affects the baby’s muscle control.
In rare and extreme cases, the breathing muscles can become paralysed. If mechanical assistance is not provided, the baby could die.
Signs and symptoms of infant botulism include:
- Flat facial expression
- Lethargy in feeding or a weak sucking
- Weak cry
- Decreased movement
- Trouble swallowing or excessive drooling
- Muscle weakness
- Breathing problems
Symptoms typically show up within 12 to 36 hours of eating contaminated foods and often begin with constipation.
However, some infants with botulism may not show signs until 14 days after exposure.
Some of the symptoms of botulism, like lethargy and irritability, may lead to an incorrect diagnosis of other conditions, like sepsis or meningoencephalitis, so it’s important to let your baby’s doctor know if they’ve eaten honey.
Getting a proper diagnosis will ensure your baby receives the appropriate treatment.
If your baby has any symptoms of botulism and has recently consumed honey, you should treat it as an emergency. Head to your local emergency room as soon as possible.
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When Can I Introduce Honey?
The presence of botulism doesn’t mean our honey supply is contaminated. Indeed, these bacteria are harmless to adults and children over 1.
But it can make babies, whose digestive and immune systems are less developed, seriously (and possibly fatally) sick.
Pediatricians recommend waiting until your baby is at least 12 months before introducing honey.
It would help if you even stayed away from jars that claim to have been pasteurised since this process still can’t reliably remove all the bacteria. Also, avoid foods that contain honey as an ingredient.
Why Honey Is Considered Safe After Age One
Maybe you are wondering why honey is not safe for babies under age one but OK for everyone else.
The answer lies in the maturity of the baby’s digestive tract. Young babies do not have the intensity of acids in the digestive system, which helps fend off the bacteria’s toxins.
So while adults and children can handle small amounts of exposure, it is not the case with babies.
Benefits of Honey
Honey has been suggested to have several nutritional benefits that your baby can enjoy after 12 months of age. Honey contains trace amounts of:
- amino acids
It also contains modest amounts of B vitamins and vitamin C. The nutritional value of your honey depends on the sources, as there are over 320 varieties.
Honey is also sweeter than standard sugar. That means you can use far less of it than you would sugar and still get great flavour.
it Gives Them Long-Lasting Energy
Honey is primarily made of three types of sugar: sucrose, glucose, and fructose.
Each of these sugars is used by our bodies differently—sucrose and glucose are digested quickly and cause a spike in blood sugar.
Fructose in honey, however, remains in the system longer and gives your kids steady energy. This way, they’re alert but not bouncing off the walls like they are with other sugary snacks.
It Contains Needed Vitamins and Minerals
There aren’t many ingredients in a bottle of honey, but it’s packed full of needed vitamins and minerals that will benefit your growing children.
Honey also contains amino acids that help your kids grow and develop.
It Protects Their Liver from Damage
Honey acts as a shield for the liver against certain diseases and damage. It is proven to decrease the side effects of paracetamol doses, which can induce liver damage.
Paracetamol is found in regular pain relievers such as Tylenol and Panadol. If your child is sick, a spoonful of honey will help the medicine go down and protect them from harm.
It Helps Wounds Heal Faster
As unusual as that sounds, applying honey to your kid’s scrapes and cuts will help them heal faster.
Recent findings have shown notable healing effects of honey in comparison to wounds not treated. Honey speeds up the healing process and can help soothe irritated skin.
It Calms Down Coughs
Did your mom ever add honey and lemon to your tea when you had a cough as a kid? It turns out there is scientific evidence to back up this remedy.
Honey acts as a soothing agent on your child’s sore and irritated throat, silencing their cough. A spoonful of honey will also help if your child has difficulty swallowing because of a sore throat.
Other Possible Benefits Include:
- It may act as a cough suppressant but shouldn’t be used in children under 12 months.
- It may help with wound healing when applied topically. Again, this method should not be used in children younger than 12 months because botulism can enter the body through broken skin.
If you’re looking to get the nutritional benefits of honey, it may be best to stick with varieties that are not processed.
Even then, you’d need to eat quite a bit to get nutritional value truly. A tablespoon of honey doesn’t provide your body with many benefits beyond added calories.
So, this ingredient is best when used sparingly. Also, read your labels carefully, as some traditional varieties may contain added sugars and other components.
How to Introduce Honey
As with all added sweeteners, you don’t need to be in a hurry to give honey to your baby. If you want to introduce love, incorporating it may be as simple as adding a bit to their favourite foods.
As with any new food, it’s a good idea to introduce honey slowly. One method is the “four-day wait” approach to see if your little one reacts.
To use this method, give your child (if they’re older than one year) honey, and then wait four days before adding it to another new food. If you see a reaction, contact your pediatrician.
To add honey to your baby’s diet, try any of the following:
- Mix honey into oatmeal.
- Spread the love on toast.
- Mix honey into yogurt.
- Squeeze honey into a homemade smoothie.
- Use honey instead of maple syrup on waffles or pancakes.
If your child is too young to try honey, consult with your pediatrician. You may try using maple syrup as a substitute in recipes.
Agave nectar is another option that is similar to honey without the risk of infant botulism.
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You can also swap the honey for sugar in your favourite baking recipes; for every 1 cup of sugar called for in a recipe, substitute in 1/2 to 2/3 cups of love.
How much you use is up to you. Honey tends to taste sweeter than sugar, so you may want to start with less and add more to taste.
Here are some other tips for substituting honey for sugar:
- For every 1 cup of love you’re using in a recipe, reduce the other liquids by 1/4 cup.
- Add a 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda for each cup of love to help reduce acidity.
- Consider reducing your oven temperature by about 25°F and keep a close eye for browning.
Baked Goods Made With Honey
Baked goods made with honey are still off-limits too. Even the high temperatures of cooking and baking will not destroy the botulism spores.
For this reason, you shouldn’t give your baby baked goods or cooked foods containing honey either.
Honey as a Healthy Sweetener
White sugar, the overprocessed result of sugar cane stripped of all its nutrients, is now among the top three ingredients in nearly all packaged foods.
It contains very little nutritional value, promotes the growth of bacteria that cause disease, and seems to trigger swings in mood and energy levels.
Anyone who has ever seen their toddler on sugar and the crash that follows can attest to this!
Natural honey is different. Honey is a pure, natural product that is not refined.
It is naturally sweet, made from the nectar of flowers, containing carbohydrates and water, but also full of amino acids, vitamins and minerals.
As a natural sugar, your body converts it to energy more efficiently than white sugar, and it will not make your blood sugar spike as rapidly as processed sugars.
So hold the syrup at breakfast, and try topping your toddler’s pancakes with honey instead. It can also be substituted for sugar in beverages and baked goods.
Honey as a Cold Remedy
Most OTC cold and cough medicines explicitly indicate they cannot be used for children under four or even 6.
But honey for toddlers benefits not only their diet; it can also be a natural remedy for symptoms of cold and flu. A spoonful of honey coats their throat and offers instant relief.
Honey as an Immunity Builder
If you buy and consume raw honey local to your area, it can also build natural immunity to allergens.
Made from the nectar of local flora and containing pollen particles from the area, your body begins the process of naturally desensitising itself to the dust, mould and pollen in the air.
So if your toddler suffers from seasonal allergies, consider adding local honey to their diet.
Honey for Sinus Pressure
Honeycomb or raw liquid honey can also alleviate sinus pressure. When ingested, it can relieve sinus pressure quickly due to its antibacterial, antiviral and antiseptic properties and its ability to reduce inflammation.
So if your toddler shies away from the Nosefrida or can’t blow their nose, serve them a spoonful of honey to help clear their sinuses.
Honey as an Ointment
Honey’s antibacterial and antiseptic properties also make it excellent as a skin ointment. It keeps external wounds, like cuts and minor burns, free from infection and can help minimise scarring.
A nurse at our honey tasting even said they use medical-grade honey at her hospital to treat surgical wounds. Try it the next time your toddler skins their knee.
Honey for Digestion
Honey has been used as a mild laxative as far back as the ancient Romans.
It is believed to destroy certain gut bacteria, making it an effective treatment for upset stomach, gas, indigestion, diarrhea, stomach ulcers and constipation—one more great reason to add honey to your toddler’s diet.
What About Breastfeeding?
Infant botulism cannot be transmitted through breast milk. If your baby does contract botulism, experts recommend continuing to nurse or providing expressed breast milk while your baby is sick.
Arguments Against Waiting a Year
However, there are certainly those that would argue that these guidelines are overly cautious.
They might point to the fact that other cultures outside the United States introduce honey to babies regularly.
Further, they might point out that the incidence of infant botulism from honey exposure is a shallow risk.
Fewer than 200 cases are reported yearly in the US, and most infants recover fully after treatment.
If you consider introducing honey before your baby turns one year old, be sure to talk with your pediatrician and listen to what they advise.
But the statistics certainly do teach us that caution may be prudent.
Before guidelines for preventing infant botulism were advocated, 395 cases of infant botulism were reported to the Center for Disease Control from 1976 to 1983.
Most of those babies required hospitalisation to recover, and sadly 11 of the babies died.
Why risk something so severe yet so preventable? Have your baby wait until after their first birthday to enjoy honey and foods containing honey.
Is Raw Honey Better Than Other Types of Honey?
Raw honey is honey that hasn’t been filtered or processed in any way.
It comes directly from the beehive and contains all the natural vitamins, minerals, and other healthy compounds found in filtered and processed honey.
Raw honey may contain a slightly higher pollen count, so if you’re using honey to try to relieve seasonal allergies, raw honey may provide more benefits.
Raw honey can still cause botulism when consumed by babies under one year. Raw honey may also be more expensive than filtered or processed honey.
Honey can be an excellent addition to your baby’s diet, but it’s essential to wait until after 12 months of age.
Foods to avoid include liquid honey, mass-produced or raw and any baked or processed foods containing honey. Read labels carefully to see if processed foods contain honey.
If you have additional questions about infant feeding and when to introduce certain foods, contact your pediatrician.
Recommendations may change from year to year, and your child’s doctor should have the most up-to-date information.
Despite its sweet nature, honey can pack a healthy punch!
Including a serving of honey into your child’s diet can make them not only healthier but also feel better. With recipes that include love, your family will never be disappointed.
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