I get asked all the time “when can my baby have X food” from parents starting weaning. The truth is, there aren’t many foods that babies CAN’T have once they start weaning. However, honey is one of the foods that ISN’T recommended for babies under 1 year. In this blog, I’ll cover what you need to know about feeding your little one honey.
You can read more about what foods you can feed your baby and when in my blog.
Why is honey not recommended before 1 year?
The primary reason why honey is not recommended for babies under 1 year is because of the risk of contracting a condition called infant-botulism. This is a very rare, but extremely serious condition that can be caused by ingesting bacteria found in contaminated food or soil.
A bit more about infant botulism…
The bacteria that causes infant botulism can also be present in soil or dust, however honey is the one food source that has been identified as a risk for carrying the bacteria. The bacteria produce toxins that can attack the nerves, brain and spinal cord.
In babies, symptoms may include:
- feeble cry
- poor sucking reflex
- feeding difficulties
- decreased gag reflex
- droopy eyelids
- loss of head control
- muscle weakness (arm, neck, leg)
- floppy baby syndrome
Please remember that this condition is extremely rare and, as a result, the research into it is quite limited. However, it’s thought that in an infant’s digestive system, the conditions are ideal for the bacteria to grow and produce toxins. Research has shown that adults are not affected in the same way by the bacteria. The exact reasons are not yet clear but, among other potential reasons, it is thought to be linked to increased diversity in gut bacteria.
From around the age of 1 year, babies’ immune systems become more mature, and their gut bacteria more diverse, meaning they are more able to fight off the toxins produced by any bacteria present in the honey. The highest risk is believed to be in babies up to 6 months of age, but by age 1, it is considered safe to offer honey to babies.
Therefore, it’s NOT recommended to feed babies honey, either on its own or as an ingredient in other foods, until after the age of 1. Not all forms of cooking and processing can destroy the bacteria, so it’s also not recommended to offer cooked honey to babies under 1.
If you are breastfeeding, it is safe to have honey, as the toxins produced by the bacteria cannot pass through breastmilk.
Should I give my baby honey after 1 year?
Once your baby is around 1 year of age, whilst you no longer need to worry about the bacteria in honey, it isn’t necessarily an ideal food for babies. Honey often gets labelled as being a “healthier” alternative to regular sugar, but this isn’t really the case.
It’s true that honey does contain some vitamins and minerals, which regular sugar doesn’t, but the amount that your baby would need to eat to get any benefit is far higher than the recommended amount of sugar that babies should have. This means that honey is very similar to sugar in terms of its nutritional value and therefore isn’t recommended for babies and young children. For more about the different types of sugar and recommendations for babies, check out my blog on sugar.
Many people often ask if maple syrup is the same as honey. Whilst you don’t need to worry about any bacteria in maple syrup, the same recommendations apply in terms of its sugar content, and it also wouldn’t be recommended for little ones.
Comparing the calories of honey, maple syrup and table sugar
The table below shows a comparison of the calorie and carbohydrate content of regular sugar when compared to both honey and maple syrup. The carbohydrate content in all 3 is made up of only sugars, and as you can see, it’s very similar for all of them. Therefore, none of them is going to be “better” in terms of the sugar content, and should ideally be avoided or limited where possible for babies and young children.
|Calories (per teaspoon)
|Carbohydrates / Sugar (per teaspoon)
What about other health benefits of honey?
Honey is often linked to certain health benefits, and so parents may wonder whether they should give honey for their health. Many of the purported health benefits lack evidence but there is some evidence that honey can be an effective remedy for coughs, both in adults and children. The NHS suggest that, if your little one (1+ years) is suffering with a cough, a warm lemon and honey drink may be offered as a first-line treatment. However, it’s important to remember that honey shouldn’t be offered regularly and so it’s best to speak to your health care professionals about other treatments if cough symptoms persist and rather than using honey as a regular remedy!