When Can a Baby Have Honey?

You may have heard about some of the benefits of honey. Parents looking for an alternative to sugar often turn to honey as a more natural choice. However, you should not give honey to your baby if they are under the age of one. Honey can cause botulism, which is a type of food poisoning, in babies under one year old. Babies should not have honey in any form, even cooked in baked goods.

Learn about the dangers of giving honey to babies and when it's safe for your baby to eat honey. When given at the right age, honey can be a part of your child's healthy diet. 

Symptoms of Botulism

Giving honey to babies under 12 months has been associated with a rare, but serious, condition called infant botulism. Infant botulism is caused by exposure to the spores of a bacteria. Clostridium botulinum bacteria spores can grow and multiply in your baby's intestines. This produces a dangerous toxin that causes infant botulism. 

Infant botulism occurs most often in babies under six months old. Most adults and older children have defenses in their intestines that prevent the spores from germinating and reproducing. Honey is not the only source of the spores that cause botulism. These spores can also be present in soil or dust. The symptoms of infant botulism can be mild or severe and can include: 

  • Overall weakness or floppiness
  • Slow feeding
  • Constipation
  • Loss of facial expression
  • Reduced gag reflex

Nutritional Information About Honey

Because honey is a natural sweetener, many people think it's healthier than sugar. Honey does contain trace amounts of:

  • Vitamins
  • Minerals
  • Electrolytes
  • Enzymes
  • Amino acids
  • Flavonoids

However, to get the benefits of these nutrients, you would have to eat far more honey than is healthy. Honey is a sugar and is high in calories. Honey is considered an added sugar, so it should be eaten in moderation.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that you not give children under the age of 2 any added sugars at all. The sugar that naturally occurs in fruits, whole grains, beans, or dairy is not considered added sugar. These natural sugars are necessary for your baby to grow and develop. Added sugars may be labeled as sucrose, dextrose, and, yes, honey. These are associated with a higher risk of insulin resistance, prediabetes, and type 2 diabetes

Once your toddler is two, the AAP recommends they have no more than 25 grams, or 6 teaspoons, of added sugars daily. Honey can be used in place of sugar as long as it doesn't exceed the recommended amount. 

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Benefits of Honey

Cough suppressant. One clear benefit of honey is how effective it is as a cough suppressant. In a study of 105 children ages 2 to 18 who had upper respiratory infections, honey was more effective at relieving nighttime coughing than cough medicine. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the AAP recommend honey as a natural and effective cough suppressant. 

Wound healing . Honey has also been shown to be effective in treating some wounds and burns. Honey has anti-oxidant, anti-bacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties. Some studies have shown honey to be as effective as conventional treatments for acute wounds and superficial partial-thickness burns. However, more studies will need to be done to recommend it for medical use. 

Types of Honey

There are over 300 types of honey. You can buy honey that is either raw or pasteurized. Unlike some raw foods, raw honey is considered safe to eat for children over 12 months old. Raw honey is the least processed type of honey and probably has the most nutrients. Honey's flavor and color change depending on the type of plants that bees used to make it.  

Some of the different types of honey include: 

  • Acacia honey. This light honey has a floral scent but doesn't change the taste of foods you use it in.
  • Clover honey. This is the most common type of honey in the US. It's a light honey with a sweet taste. It has a bit of a bitter aftertaste. 
  • Buckwheat honey. This is dark, full-flavored honey that is good in marmalade. This is also the type of honey that was used in the study as a cough suppressant. 

Manuka honey. This is a dark honey that is made from the Manuka bush in New Zealand. It contains antioxidants, along with antibacterial and antifungal properties. It has been used topically to treat burns, cuts, and sores. 

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on March 10, 2021

Sources

SOURCES:

Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine: "Effect of honey, dextromethorphan, and no treatment on nocturnal cough and sleep quality for coughing children and their parents."

Cleveland Clinic: "The Benefits of Honey + How to Incorporate It Into Your Diet," "What to Do When Your Child Eats Too Much Sugar."

Healthychildren.org: "Botulism."

Jundishapur Journal of Natural Pharmaceutical Products: " Evidence for Clinical Use of Honey in Wound Healing as an Anti-bacterial, Anti-inflammatory Anti-oxidant and Anti-viral Agent: A Review."

Mayo Clinic: "How can I protect my baby from infant botulism?"

Time Magazine: "Is Honey Healthy? Here's What Experts Say."

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