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Is honey bad for babies? The not-so-sweet truth

Honey has always been associated with a lot of health benefits. However, many experts don’t recommend feeding it to your baby. Find out why honey is often considered harmful for babies below 1.

The birth of a baby all around the world is a reason for celebration. In India, there are certain rituals and ceremonies that mark every auspicious occasion. One of these is feeding the baby a little honey, sometimes as early as two hours after birth. The reason behind this age-old tradition is the belief that it gives your little one a sweet start in life. 

Recently, however, there have been many concerns raised about the safety of honey for babies. So should you stop sweetening your baby’s food with a little honey? After all, Ayurveda says that honey has numerous health benefits for babies. Here is all you need to know to decide.

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The bad news about honey for babies

Medically, many experts advise parents to skip honey until their child is at least a year old or older. The scientific reason behind this is that honey can contain botulism spores, which are very dangerous for infants. These spores are usually dormant in honey and cannot be removed even during processing. This means that both raw ‘pure’ honey and the bottles of processed honey you can find on your store shelf are equally bad for your little one. Honey is also often found in pre-packaged baby foods, so make sure you read the ingredient label carefully before buying them. It’s always safest to make your own baby food recipes with a complete baby food chart so you have full control over what goes into your baby’s food. 

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How do botulism spores affect your baby?

Your baby’s immature gut does not have any defense against botulism spores. Their stomachs are not acidic enough to kill these spores. Clostridium botulinum spores find it easy to germinate, multiply and release toxins that can lead to a dangerous condition called infant botulism or food poisoning. But is honey dangerous for babies of all ages? The answer to this is, no. Toddlers and older children have had time to build up defenses that inhibit the germination of these spores.

Some might argue that babies have been fed honey for hundreds of years with no serious consequences, so what’s the harm now? The answer to this is that honey today is more likely to be contaminated with pesticides and herbicides. Honey is not a regulated food and does not follow any set standards. To be on the safe side, it is always best to remember that the minimum age for honey to be given to babies after they are a year old.

Symptoms of infant botulism

Since honey is a thick liquid and does not contain protein, the spores will remain dormant in it, ready to spring into action when the environment is right. The symptoms of infant botulism take about 8 to 36 hours to appear. Some of these symptoms of botulism include:

  • Constipation, often accompanied by lethargy
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Lolling head i.e loss of control of their head movement
  • Reduction in sucking reflex
  • Drooping eyelids

Infant botulism is a serious condition and needs immediate medical care. Do not try any home remedies to treat it; you need to consult your paediatrician on an emergency basis. One of the most common reasons for constipation is food poisoning. If your baby experiences this after consuming honey, you should consult with your paediatrician. Your doctor will usually administer a dose of botulism immunoglobulin to counteract the symptoms. It works immediately and prevents the onset of any further complications. 

It is also advisable to continue to breastfeed as it is the safest nutrition for your baby. But remember that the embargo against honey is only for your infant baby. Breastfeeding mothers can safely have honey as the spores are too large to pass into milk.

Also read our blog on Most Common Foods That Cause Eczema in Babies and How to Treat It

Health benefits of honey for babies under 2 years old

Honey is a wonder food for many reasons. While the minimum age for honey for babies is when they cross a year, older children can avail of its health benefits. The following are the most noted benefits of honey for babies under 2 years and older. 

1. Instant relief from cold and cough

If your baby has a persistent cough, then a dose of honey is one of the best home remedies for cold and cough in children. It contains a cough suppressant which is the ingredient in many over-the-counter cough syrups.  Mix one-third of a teaspoon of honey in warm water. Repeat it twice a day for the best effect. One teaspoon before bedtime will coat and soothe your baby’s throat and help in increasing salivation. This will inhibit mucus production and reduce the urge to cough. 

2. A good source of vitamins and minerals

Honey is rich in vitamins like thiamine and niacin as well as minerals such as calcium, magnesium, sodium, and zinc. Children older than a year can have honey either in its original form or as a sweetener(you can use it to sweeten porridges and other food items).

3. Heals wounds

Honey has amazing healing properties and can be applied to small wounds or burns for immediate relief. A scientific study has shown that honey has antibacterial, wound cleansing and healing properties.

4. Improves metabolism and increases energy

As parents of energetic infants, you might wonder why they need more energy! There are three kinds of sugars that honey contains. Glucose and sucrose get absorbed quickly by the bloodstream, while fructose remains longer. Longer burning sugars are always good for little children as they give them a slow and sustained release of energy.

There are many more benefits of honey such as helping children with asthmatic problems and protecting the liver from the effects of paracetamol. As long as you feed your baby honey only after the age of 1, they should be able to enjoy its full benefits! For more advice on child nutrition and health, download the mfine app and schedule an instant consultation with your city’s top paediatricians!


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