Eating honey has many benefits for an adult but not for an infant. A child under the age of 12 months should never be fed honey, according to Alan Greene MD, FAAP, because it can result in infant botulism. An infant should not be given any kind of honey, including raw honey.
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Raw honey is different from commercial honey that has been filtered and heated so that it looks smoother and cleaner. Once honey is heated, some of the enzymes, yeast and aromas are destroyed. Raw honey will look milky and contain flecks and particles of honeycomb bits, bee pollen and broken bee wing fragments. It will also contain fine textured crystals. In addition to avoiding raw honey and commercial honey, also avoid comb honey, which is raw pure honey sections that have been taken directly from the hive, as well as liquid and creamy honey. Remember that no form of honey is safe for a baby to consume.
Honey contains bacterial spores that produce Clostridium botulinum bacteria which, when ingested by children, can result in a form of food poisoning that is called infant botulism, according to Dr. Jay L. Hoecker of the Mayo Clinic.
These spores can germinate inside an infant’s gastrointestinal tracts, which are immature, and begin producing botulinum toxin, which is considered the most poisonous natural substance in existence. Even a tiny amount can cause paralysis of the breathing muscles and result in death.
Other Sources of Spores
Infant botulism can also be caused by breathing in spores from soil or dust (including vacuum cleaner bag dust) but the main cause of it is ingestion of honey, which is easily preventable. Don’t give your child corn syrups, which may be another source of botulism contamination, according to the AAP Red Book, 2000.
Infant botulism most commonly occurs in the first six months of a baby’s life, although it can occur anytime during the first year, according to the Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics; Saunders 1992.
Symptoms of infant botulism include constipation, which can crop up from three to 30 days after the baby has ingested spore-containing honey. This will be followed by a weakened cry, decreased appetite and listlessness. If the infant doesn’t receive medical treatment, the baby may start drooling from the mouth and her sucking and gagging reflexes decrease. She may lose control of her head. Respiratory arrest can occur.
If this condition is caught in time, the infant will make a full recovery. The fatality rate among infants who were hospitalized with botulism is less than one percent.