Why is Honey Dangerous for Babies?
And just why can’t babies eat honey? Well, it’s because as the CDC explains, honey actually contains spores from the bacteria that causes botulism. In adults, those spores aren’t enough to do any damage to us, but for babies under one, it’s a different story. The risk is highest for babies between the ages of 3 weeks to 6 months old, but lasts through the entire first year. Formula-fed babies have a slightly higher risk as well, which may be due to the different “good” bacteria that breastmilk provides.
Perhaps due to the fact that babies’ digestive system are still developing and growing, those spores can grow and produce the botulism toxin inside a baby’s digestive tract if they get in. The CDC notes that scientists still aren’t even completely sure why those spores can develop in babies, but with confirmed cases of infant botulism, we know it’s a real risk.
Symptoms of infant botulism include:
- Constipation—this is usually the very first sign of botulism in babies
- Lack of facial expression
- Poor feeding
- Decrease in activity, such as weak cry and movement
- Trouble swallowing
- Excessive drooling
- Breathing problem
- Muscle weakness
While infant botulism from honey is a real risk, it’s also important to note that it’s a very rare one. According to John Hopkins Medicine, less than 100 cases of infant botulism are reported in the U.S. per year.
If you do suspect that your baby could have infant botulism, or know that they have consumed honey, call your doctor or seek medication ASAP. The condition is treatable if caught early enough.
Why Can’t Babies Have Cow’s Milk?
If you’re wondering when babies can have milk, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that babies do not start consuming cow’s milk until they are at least one year old. This is due to the fact that babies under one may not be able to digest large amounts of cow protein.
Some babies may also have an allergy to cow’s milk protein, which means that they will need a non-dairy formula if you’re formula feeding. If you notice that your formula-fed baby has diarrhea, any blood in his stools, or is unusually fussy, schedule a check-up with your pediatrician.
Instead of cow’s milk, the AAP recommends feeding your baby exclusive breast milk or formula for the first 6 months of life, followed by slow introduction of solids. Once your baby is over the age of 12 months, cow’s milk can be used, or you can use a toddler formula if you desire or if your pediatrician recommends it. At one years old, babies should have about 16-24 ounces of whole milk per day, according to the AAP.
If you are interested in giving your baby a non-cow milk alternative, speak to your doctor about what milk would be best to ensure your baby is getting all the nutrition she needs. The AAP does not recommend one type of plant-based milk, so it’s best to discuss your own baby’s needs and preferences with your doctor.
First Foods for Babies
So, if honey and cow’s milk are out for the first year, what foods are safe for your baby? The AAP notes that exclusive breast milk or formula is recommended for the first 6 months of your baby’s life. After that, you can begin to introduce solid foods for your baby.
Aside from honey, cow’s milk, and any foods that are obvious choking hazards (like peanuts, popcorn, or hot dogs), you can feel free to introduce your baby to a variety of foods. Some families may prefer to start with pureed baby foods, while others may do a version of baby-led weaning and start with small versions of the foods that the rest of the family is eating.
A few good first foods for babies include:
- Mashed bananas
- Cooked sweet potato
- Mashed avocado
Unless you have a family history of allergies, the AAP also says you don’t have to avoid allergen foods for your baby (like eggs) and even then, some studies have found early introduction may actually lessen the risk of allergies developing, so talk with your pediatrician about a plan if you are concerned about food allergies.
Frequently Asked Questions
What about honey that’s baked into foods? Is that still unsafe?
Essentially, experts say that they aren’t 100% sure about how safe honey baked into food is. It depends on a lot of variables, like how much honey is used, how it’s cooked, and what temperature it’s baked at. Without clear guidelines or oversight, it’s recommended that you simply avoid giving your baby under 1 any foods containing honey at all. (Goodbye, Honey Nut Cheerios—we shall meet again someday!)
I’m breastfeeding my baby—can I have honey?
Yes—it’s completely safe for breastfeeding moms to eat honey. The spores can’t be passed through breast milk, so there’s no risk to your baby if you eat honey. Just be sure you wash your hands thoroughly after you’ve had contact with raw honey.