Opposing Views about Honey Being Safe to Give Infants
The general recommendation is for babies "under 1 year" not to have honey. However, there are two sides to this issue. It seems like there is no strong evidence as to why this is the recommendation. More evaluation is definitely needed on honey and babies, but let's look at what is known.
What is in Honey that Infants Can't Have?
Honey may have the spores from bacterium Clostridium botulinum (C. botulinum) in it. These spores are much like seeds they cannot grow properly unless they have an ideal environment. If these spores head into a vegetative state and begin to grow inside of an infant, the infant's digestive system is not developed enough to fight off the toxin the spores produce while growing. This can affect the baby's neurological functioning.
Infants, especially newborns, do not have the micro flora that older kids and adults have to keep them from becoming ill after consuming C. botulinum.
In fact, around half the cases reported on this infant botulism occurs in infants under two months old. It is thought that by six months old a baby's intestinal tract has enough micro flora for it to build up a resistance to the C. botulinum.
However, the CDC (Center for Disease Control) adds on another six months on its warning about the dangers of honey and infants.
Symptoms for Botulism in Infants
You can tell if a baby is suffering from infant botulism by the following symptoms:
- A weak cry
- Droopy eyelids
- Sucking is weak
- Relaxed body
If infant shows any signs of these symptoms, consult the doctor immediately. The baby will fully recover if treatment is given early enough to prevent neurological damage.
Is Honey the Only Thing that Contains C. Botulinum Spores?
Honey is not the only thing that contains the C. botulinum spores. These spores are in dust, water and soil.
This means that infants could develop infant botulism from exposure to contaminated surfaces or other foods besides just honey.
That is why it is important to provide the infants with the best environment possible to eliminate as many risks as possible.
Is There Information to Prove the Recommendation of the CDC is Valid?
As of yet there is no solid proof that any reported case of infant botulism is directly linked to honey. This is probably because it would be too risky to run studies that purposely fed honey with C. botulinum spores in it to infants. Then we have to ask if these spores are found in other foods and places than honey, then why is the CDC singling out honey for the warning?
The researchers discovered that many of the infant botulism the kids had not eaten any honey, but with some of the cases the infants had eaten honey sometime before becoming ill.
This fact along with the fact that around five percent of the many honey samples that were tested showed the C. botulinum spores establishes the risk factor of honey being fed to toddlers or babies under the age of 1 year.
This is why the CDC, other health organizations, and the National Honey Board make this recommendation.
The Other Side of Honey and Infants
Not all the experts agree this prohibiting honey with infants under 1-year old. A study held in Saudi Arabia by Nermeen Tayseer, M.D. and Mamdouh AbdulRhman, M.D. from 1998 - 2002 dealt with honey in regards to infant botulism.
They examined medical records, did lab testing and used a patient survey to collect their data.
At the end of the study, they felt that the traditional recommendation that honey is bad for infants under age 1 year needs more evaluating.
These researchers first looked at 221 samples of honey to see if they contained the C. botulinum spores in tightly controlled anaerobic conditions. There was honey from Saudi Arabia, Germany, United States and a number of other countries. Not any of the C. botulinum spores were present in any of the samples of honey.
Also, 719 randomly chosen mothers from the hospital records answered questions given to them.
The researchers asked the number of children had eaten honey prior to turning age 1 year, how old the children were when they first ate honey and if there was any serious illness or mortality from infant botulism with these children.
Their answers revealed that 545 of them gave their babies (a total of 1,525 babies) honey at least one time before 1 year of age without serious illness or mortality because of infant botulism.
These researchers additionally discovered no cases of infant botulism were reported during the years of 1995 to 2001 at three of Al Khafji's hospitals or to local health authorities.
A Mother's Choice
In the end, the you as a mother will have to choose whether or not to give your infant under age 1 year honey. There is a hard-to-find honey that could be a possible solution to the problem of C. botulinum spores, because it is gamma irradiated to destroy the spores. It is Manuka medical-grade UMF-rated honey. You may consider feeding infants honey too risky to proceed, and you may decide to wait until the child is older.