Why is honey not recommended for young children?
Honey is all right for children older than 1. Do not give honey to infants younger than 12 months. Honey may contain spores of clostridium botulinum, the bacteria that can cause botulism.
The spores themselves are not harmful because they are in a dormant or inactive state. In adults, the spores do not survive the acidity of the stomach and the presence of beneficial organisms that destroy the spores. That is not so with babies. Their digestive tracts are still very immature, since they were designed to digest only mother’s milk.
In the infant’s gut, the spores can grow into bacteria, and as they do so, they produce the toxin that causes botulism. Clostridium bacteria are very common in our environment and only a small percentage of infant botulism cases in this country have been linked to honey.
However, since the risk is avoidable and the disease is very serious, parents are advised to hold off giving honey until the baby is 1 year old. Infant botulism almost always occurs in babies who are 6 months old or younger. Some experts recommend waiting only until 8 months, but most counsel waiting a full year, to be on the safe side.
Infant botulism may cause paralysis of the muscles and nervous system. The baby may have trouble breathing. Botulism can be fatal and usually requires hospitalization. Signs that a baby may be suffering from botulism include constipation, inability or weakness while sucking, swallowing or crying and weakness in the arms, legs and neck.