Honey has been used as a natural sweetener long before sugar became widely available. It is the perfect blend of sugar, trace enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. Honey is truly remarkable as it has many health benefits when consumed in moderation (1). But did you know that honey is unsafe for children who are under a year old? Read on to know more about how honey can cause infant botulism.
The first ever case of infant botulism was reported in Portugal. The child’s feces were examined, and the Botulism neurotoxin (BoNT) B was detected. Other than from breast milk, the baby’s parents had given him chamomile tea and honey (2).
Honey is one of the foods that can cause infant botulism as it contains botulism spores. So when a baby consumes honey, what you do not realize is that the bacteria is consumed as well. In infant botulism, if your baby had honey, the spores of bacteria then grow in the baby’s intestine. It then releases the neurotoxin. Botulism neurotoxin has been listed as a potential biological weapon (3). Though it is a rare disease, it is a serious gastrointestinal condition. It is caused by coming in contact with Clostridium botulinum (C. Botulinum) (4).
A baby’s large intestine is more vulnerable to spore germination than adults (5). Infant botulism affects the nerves of the body. The botulinum toxin blocks the nerve ending’s ability to signal the linked muscles to contract. This can cause weakness and loss of muscle tone (6).
Can Breastfeeding Moms Consume Honey?
Breastfeeding mothers might worry if it is okay for mommies to consume honey when they are nursing. Even if a mother consumes the botulism spores which are present in honey, the spores are too large to pass through the mother’s body or into her breastmilk. As botulism cannot be transmitted through breastmilk, you can safely enjoy honey without any worries. It is also recommended that you continue breastfeeding or giving expressed milk even when your child is diagnosed with infant botulism or is recovering from it, according to the Infant Botulism Treatment and Prevention Program. As breastmilk has the optimum amount of nutrients, it can only help in the recovery of the baby who has been diagnosed with infant botulism (7).
Signs And Symptoms
If you have given honey to your baby, look out for the first sign of infant botulism- constipation. The other signs and symptoms which usually accompany infant botulism are weakness, floppy movements, and difficulty feeding or sucking (8).
How Can You Prevent Your Baby From Infant Botulism?
We all know by now to not feed honey to babies if they are less than a year old. But there are also other things to watch out for to protect your baby from this condition (9):
- Keep your baby away from potentially contaminated dust or soil. It’s best to avoid taking your baby near a construction site or agricultural site where the soil is likely to be contaminated.
- Canned foods can also increase the risk of being exposed to C. Botulinum spores. So, you can pressure-cook home-canned foods to reduce the risk. It is also recommended to boil home-canned foods for approximately 10 mins before you serve them.
When it comes to soil, you cannot put a label on it and ask your kid to not touch them. Just be sure to avoid any exposure. The bacteria can be found in homes, like on the floor, carpets, and even the countertops (10). Hence it cannot be completely prevented. But when it comes to honey, the ball is in your court. You can avoid giving even a teensy bit of honey to your baby before he/she celebrates the first birthday. Also, look out for any change in your baby’s behavior or body movements and functions. You can also talk to your doctor before you introduce any new food in your baby’s diet to always be safe.