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When is it safe to give a child honey?
Q: When is it safe to give honey to a child? I know that you need to wait until a child is at least 1, but it makes me so nervous I just avoid it. However, I worry that relatives might give it to my daughter.
A: Jennifer, thanks for your question about honey. You’re right that it is not safe to give honey to babies younger than 12 months. Actually, this is not because of a concern about allergies but rather that honey, because it is not pasteurized or sterilized, can carry spores from bacteria that can produce the botulism toxin, which is dangerous for babies. 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 even death. Although it is rare, there are approximately 70 cases of infant botulism a year in the United States, mostly in infants younger than 6 months of age. Therefore, it is recommended that babies not be fed honey until after 12 months of age.

Honey does have some vitamins and minerals that can be healthy for older children. It has also been known to calm upset stomachs. But remember that it’s mostly sugar in a form that can stick to children’s teeth and lead to tooth decay. If you start giving your baby honey after age 1, be sure to brush her teeth with a soft toothbrush afterward.

It’s always important to make sure your relatives and childcare providers are following the same safety practices with your baby. Be sure to talk with them to make sure everyone understands not to give your baby honey until after age 1.