|: Honey Should Not Be Given To Babies
DEAR DR.PAUL: I have heard that giving babies honey is dangerous. Is this true and if so why?
This is a common question. Although many people seem to know that there is
some problem with giving honey to young babies they do not know exactly what the
problem is. Honey itself is a natural product that is generally thought to
be very healthy for people. However, there have been some cases of a very
serious disease that had been traced to honey. This is "infant botulism", which
is a type of food poisoning caused by a bacteria called Clostridium botulinum. According to Health Canada, only 7 cases of infant botulism have been seen in Canada since 1979. In three of the seven cases the child had been given honey. In the USA there are about 70 to 90
cases of infant botulism yearly(not necessarily all due to honey).This
bacteria forms spores which when swallowed by a baby will start to
produce a poisonous toxin in the baby's intestines. This toxin, known as
botulin causes the various muscles in a baby to be paralyzed. The symptoms then
develop because of this paralysis including, poor sucking, weak cry,
irritability, lack of facial expression(i.e. cannot smile because the facial
muscles are paralyzed.The most dangerous part of this infection is that
if the diaphragm, our main breathing muscle, becomes paralyzed, than the baby will have trouble breathing.
The treatment is to hospitalize the affected babies and to help them breath and eat properly. This "supportive treatment" may be required for a few days or up to even a few weeks until all of the toxin has left the body. Most babies do recover completely and this, without any antibiotics or specific antidote or antitoxin treatment.
Why is honey a source of botulism? It is not very well understood because
we know that most homey produced in North America is not contaminated with the
botulism bacteria. Experts think that the honey gets contaminated by the spores
from the dirt. The bees pick up these spores from the soil and then bring it
to the hive, contaminating the honey that they produce.
How can infantile botulism be prevented? Although infant botulism is
very rare, it is better to be safe and not take chances. For this reason,
parents and caretakers should not give honey to babies less than one year
of age. Also honey should never be added to baby food nor placed on a baby's
Let me list the symptoms of infantile botulism:
Baby is too weak to cry or suck as usual
Baby does not have any bowel movements and has weak muscles
The baby's neck is quite week and so the head is wobbly
The arms and legs are weak
Baby is unable to swallow
If your baby develops any of these symptoms, call your doctor.
On a final note, light or dark corn syrup is often used to help babies with
constipation. The American Academy of Pediatrics warns that due to the
potential theoretical risk of botulinum contamination babies should also
not be given corn syrup that has not been pasteurized(sterilized) or declared "botulism spore free".
The information provided in this site is
designed to be an educational aid only. It is not intended to
replace the advice and care of your child's physician, nor is
it intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment. If
you suspect that your child has a medical condition, always
consult a physician.
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