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Is it safe to give baby water sweetened with honey?
Q: I have been giving my 5-week-old baby boiled water that has been cooled, as I was told that it’s good to give them some water from the beginning. I add honey to it to give it some sweetness, and I find that my baby likes it. I heard that there are bacteria in honey that are unsafe for a child. Is that true?
A: Although some cultures recommend giving babies water sweetened with honey, we now know that this can be dangerous for babies. Because honey is not pasteurized or sterilized, it can carry spores from the Clostridium botulinum bacteria that can produce the botulism toxin. In fact, approximately 10 percent of honey tests positive for botulism spores. When infants eat or drink the spores, their immature intestines and immune defenses allow the spores to grow inside them and produce the botulism toxin. Botulism can cause weakness, nerve paralysis and sometimes death. Although botulism is rare, there are approximately 70 cases of infant botulism per year in the United States, mostly in babies under 6 months of age.

Health experts recommend not giving your baby honey until after 12 months of age. Explain to anyone who advised you to do this that we now know that it’s dangerous. They might say that they gave their babies honey and they were OK. Tragically, many babies have died from botulism in honey, and it’s not worth it for you to take the chance.

Talk with your baby’s doctor about whether you should give your baby extra water. Babies usually get enough fluids from breast milk or formula, and extra water is not needed. But if you give your baby a little water, don’t sweeten it with anything. In addition to honey, corn syrup is not pasteurized and could cause botulism.
Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician