Honey is a sweet, viscous food substance collected from beehives and it is one of the common foods for human consumption. Honey is widely used in our food preparation, i.e in baking, cooking, and beverages. A lot of parents or caregivers may not be aware that honey can be harmful to babies that are less than 12 months old. Some parents give honey to children if they are constipated and some believe honey can treat colic. In Mexico, people are selling pacifiers filled/coated with honey and FDA warns us to be cautious about giving products with honey to children.
Why can’t babies have honey? According to a Pediatric study in 2013, 80% of mothers do not aware of the danger of honey to their babies. In the Asian community, honey is used as a traditional herb and medicine, due to its medicinal value since a long time ago. It is used in the treatment of wounds or skin burns, it is also believed to be able to relieve coughing in children and some studies have also been carried out to find out its antibacterial properties to treat human disease.
The question here is can we feed our babies drinking water that contains honey or add it to your cooking when babies start their solid food since it has some health benefits? No, if babies are less than 12 months old.
Why Can’t babies have honey
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), it is only safe to give honey to babies above 1 year old. Honey can cause infantile botulism which is a food poisoning caused by Clostridium botulinum spores, a type of bacteria that can cause neurotoxin botulinum. This bacteria can grow and release toxins in an infant’s intestines, causing botulism toxicity. Babies who are less than 12 months old are more susceptible to botulism because they have yet developed immune systems which can fight against microbes. The good news is infant botulism is rare but taking the risk is not recommended until babies are above 1 year old. Here are some of the symptoms of infant botulism:
- Lack of facial expression
- Poor feeding
- Loss of head control
Some babies will develop early symptoms like constipation 18-36hours after consuming spores- contaminated honey. Some babies will show the symptoms 14 days later. Some babies will need respiratory assistance and need longer hospitalization for treatment. If infant botulism is left untreated, fatality can happen due to difficulties in breathing as a result of paralysis.
What are Clostridium botulinum (C. botulinum) spores?
Honey is made by honeybees or other related insects that collect nectar and honeydew from flowers and store them in the honeycomb. C.botulinum spores are commonly found in environments such as soil, dust, river, and seawater. C. botulinum bacteria can produce heat-resistant spores and they can survive under adverse conditions. Honey may likely be contaminated by these spores. For infant botulism, honey is the known source of disease-causing spores where they get from. Besides honey, corn syrup and other sweeteners also may contain spores.
These spores are harmless to humans but young babies who are less than 1 year old have weaker defenses to fight against them. C. botulinum spores will not grow in highly concentrated sugar solution but once they are diluted under low oxygen and low acid digestive systems in an infant, they will grow and produce a neurotoxin. A toxin that can affect our baby’s nerve systems and severe one can cause paralysis.
However, as soon as babies start eating solid food, their digestive systems will become more acidic for these spores to grow. Therefore, a baby after 1-year-old is safe to take honey.
Avoid giving babies, who are less than 12 months old, any honey or baked goods with honey will prevent them from getting botulism.
Treatment for infant botulism
Babies who have symptoms or are suspected to have botulism shall be treated and hospitalized immediately. Severe botulism can cause paralysis and respiratory assistance is needed to prevent mortality.
Generally, these patients will be treated with antitoxin therapy and usually, they will recover after weeks or months. Prevention is always better than cure. Avoid giving them honey too soon is the solution.
Benefits of honey to children
Even though experts say babies can enjoy the food/drink with honey after they reach one year old. A young child who is less than 2 years old is not advised to take added sugar at all including honey not because of botulism but other issues related to a higher risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. So, it is best to start giving honey after they turn 2 years old.
Honey is not just a natural sweetener, some people think it is better than refined sugar, and it can be used as a medicine and energy booster. Just name a few:
Coughing is common for children and it is greatly affecting the quality of sleep for both parents and children. There are over-the-counter medicines for children treating coughing which may not always be effective and pose side effects such as drowsiness and insomnia. Honey is proven to be effective and it is a natural home remedy for treating cough in children! It will help to relieve coughing and discomfort after being administered a single dose of honey for few days. (Not recommended for treating coughing for babies less than 1-year-old).
Most parents have hard times feeding their children with any medicines when the children are sick. All children are born sweet tooth! Parents will find it easier to give honey as it is sweet like candy.
Treat wound or skin burns
Research showed that honey has antibacterial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties which can promote wound and burns healing. Not all grades honey have the healing power as it may be diluted with syrup and processed one may also reduce the antioxidant properties. There is a study showing Manuka honey is proven to be effective for treating the wound and burns. Some people said raw honey is better as it contains bee pollen and bees propolis which contribute to the natural honey’s ability to heal wound and burns.
Honey is basically high in carbohydrates content ~ 82%. which consists of sucrose and glucose, in short it is a natural sweetener. Glucose in honey can absorb our body faster and giving the children immediate energy boost.
If you add a little honey in your child’s milk, it will not only add a little flavor to it but this combination will help to improve sleep quality. All you need to do is to add a tablespoonful of honey into a glass of warm milk before bedtime. The body converts serotonin into melatonin (a chemical compound that regulates the length and quality of sleep). It is not only good for children but for adults who find them difficult to get to sleep, can try this remedy too.
As a conclusion
Honey is good for human health but be aware not to give to young babies who are less than 12 months old any food or drink contain honey due to botulism. Your children may enjoy honey if they reach more than 1 year old but give them moderately as honey is still high in sugar content.
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