When Can I Give My Child Honey?

Grandmother sitting beside granddaughter in high chair and holding pot whilst her granddaughter feeds herself from a blue plastic spoon
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Question: When Can I Give My Child Honey?

A reader asks:

When is it safe to give my child honey? My son just turned a year old, so is it safe yet? Also, what about corn syrup?

Answer: You may be looking for a more natural sweetener to offer your child, but if you find yourself reaching for the honey, take a step back. Honey can sometimes contain a bacteria called Clostridium botulinum which causes infant botulism.

When Can My Child Have Honey?

Before your toddler's first birthday, his digestive system is just not up to the task of eliminating this contaminant from his body before it has a chance to grow and cause harm. Why is this? Dr. Ari Brown explains in her book Toddler 411, "Once kids have been out in the world for a year, their guts are full of 'good' bacteria that can break down the botulism found in honey." So, adults and older kids may actually ingest the bacteria from contaminated honey, too, but generally are able to deal with these small amounts before it makes them sick.

Does All Honey Have Clostridium Botulism?

Not all honey contains Clostridium botulism. According to the FDA, studies have shown that just 10-13% of samples contained it and only low numbers of the bacteria. But in this case, it's better to be safe than sorry. The FDA, CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics currently all recommend against giving honey to children under 12 months of age.

How Do I Know if Something Contains Honey?

There are currently no laws in the United States requiring food manufacturers to disclose the same type of warning about honey that they must about common food allergens, though sometimes you might find a boldly lettered warning not to feed infants honey. Those warnings are completely voluntary.

The best route to finding out if a processed food contains honey is to read the entire list of ingredients. Common culprits include breads, cookies, crackers, yogurt and sweetened peanut butters.

Is Corn Syrup Safer Than Honey?

Corn syrup has sometimes been blamed for cases of infant botulism, but as for actual documented cases, there doesn't seem to be much to go on. According to a statement from a group consisting of the Canadian Paediatric Society, Dietitians of Canada and Health Canada, "Corn syrup has never been directly implicated in a case of infant botulism." They go on to say that, "The conflicting evidence implicating corn syrup in infant botulism is not strong enough to classify corn syrup as a risk factor and, as such, we do not recommend against feeding corn syrup to infants." An article published in 2000 in The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal also puts corn syrup in the clear. Pediatricians sometimes prescribe corn syrup to ease constipation in infants, though there is still some debate about not only the botulism issue but also its effectiveness. Still, with no reported cases, I'd say you should have none of the same worries about honey when feeding corn syrup to your child.

What Are the Symptoms of Botulism?

In young infants, the symptoms can include constipation, lack of head control, poor eating, a weak cry and difficulty breathing. In older kids and adults, botulism can cause difficulty swallowing and breathing, droopy eyelids and gastrointestinal problems like vomiting and diarrhea. If you think that your child has ingested honey and could have infant botulism, seek medical treatment immediately. It can be deadly if left untreated.

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