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Infant Botulism – Why Babies Can’t Eat Honey

You’ve probably heard that feeding an infant honey is a no-no. Have you ever wondered why it’s not safe to feed babies honey? The reason is infant botulism – a rare but serious illness that may cause constipation, weakness and loss of muscle tone, a weak cry, weak suckling, and respiratory distress. In rare cases, babies with botulism can suffer from paralysis and even death.

Infant botulism is no laughing matter, and it’s caused by spores of the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. Botulism spores are found in honey products, soil, untreated water, and on the unwashed surfaces of fruits and veggies that are unpeeled. Unfortunately, these spores are hard to kill, because they are resistant to heat and some spores can survive boiling.Botulism spores are usually harmless to children over age 1. That’s because the microorganisms normally found in your intestine keep the bacteria from growing. A baby has an immature digestive system, which makes your infant’s intestines the perfect environment for the spores to grow.

When a baby accidentally swallows botulism spores, the bacteria can germinate into bacteria that colonize your baby’s intestines. As the bacterium multiplies, it produces a toxin, which is absorbed and causes infant botulism.

Signs and Symptoms of Infant Botulism

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, 90 percent of the world’s cases of infant botulism are diagnosed in the U.S. It’s estimated that over 250 cases of infant botulism occur in the U.S. every year, but many cases go unrecognized.

Infant botulism usually occurs in young babies, between 6 weeks and 6 months old, however babies up to one year old can be infected.

Common signs and symptoms of infant botulism include:

  • Weakness and floppiness
  • Poor feeding
  • Constipation
  • Lethargy, or decreased activity
  • Weak cry and irritability
  • Respiratory and breathing problems
  • Seizures

Symptoms usually appear between 3 and 30 days after the baby has ingested the spores. Constipation is usually the first sign that parents notice.

When infant botulism is treated in the hospital, the baby is given an antitoxin, called Botulism Immune Globulin Intravenous (BIGIV). In most cases, the infant makes a full recovery. In rare cases, permanent paralysis and death can occur.

Tips to Prevent Infant Botulism

While you can’t completely avoid the risk of infant botulism – because the spores can also be found in dirt, you can do your best to prevent your baby from ingesting it. One of the best ways you can protect your baby is by not feeding him any honey or honey products.

To be even safer, don’t cook with honey. Don’t feed your baby honey until he is at least one year old. Don’t use it any baked breads or pudding, and don’t use it any homemade baby food that you may make.

Researchers don’t know why some babies get infant botulism, while others don’t. But you’ll want to keep your baby healthy by avoiding any honey products for the first year of your infant’s life.

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About the author: DP Nguyen is founder and editor of Hip Chick’s Guide to PMS, Pregnancy and Babies. She’s an expert pregnancy and women’s health blogger. She is NOT a medical doctor and does NOT offer medical advice. Connect with her on Google+, Twitter and Facebook.

{ 11 comments… add one }
  • Angela T. May 21, 2013, 1:37 pm

    Thanks for the information, I’m hoping one of these days they’ll be able to find out more about at what temperature botulism spores are killed and exactly what honey-based products are okay for babies. Good thing honey isn’t a necessity, it’s more of a luxury!

  • Madeline Jones January 19, 2011, 10:48 pm

    I’m following back ! M @ Professionally Insane M . I LOVE LOVE your blog by the way…… I have been on here for half an hour reading about baby swinging ( horrifying! ) and this article 🙂 Thanks for the awesome posts!

  • Savvy and Sassy January 19, 2011, 11:32 pm

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    now following 🙂

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  • Donna January 18, 2011, 5:47 pm

    Great information – I knew honey was bad but had forgotten they why.

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