There are very few foods I recommend completely avoiding, however honey before age 1 is one of them. The issue with honey and babies is not nutritional, but safety. Babies are born with an immature immune system that develops over time. There is no magical change that happens at exactly 12 months, but it is around this age where most babies have a mature enough immune system to handle honey safely.
The Issue with Honey
Honey can contain botulism spores. Because they are spores and not live bacteria, they are not killed through traditional methods like cooking. The spores can survive and then cause problems when your baby eats them.
Our immune system is robust enough to kill off the spores and prevent them from causing issues, however your baby has an immature immune system and may not be able to handle the spores.
The botulism bacteria can produce a toxin that attacks the nervous system (1). It can lead to muscle paralysis, difficulty breathing, and even death. The spores that can be found in honey can also be found in improperly canned foods.
Raw Honey vs Clover Honey vs Honey
- Raw honey is honey that is extracted from the honeycomb then strained to remove anything solid. It doesn’t undergo any other kind of processing.
- Clover honey is honey specifically made from bees that get nectar from clover plants.
- “Regular” honey or honey that is otherwise unlabeled usually also goes through pasteurization and filtration. Pasteurization helps extend shelf life and kills contaminants. Filtration helps filter anything out of the honey and gives it a cleaner appearance. Many regular honeys won’t contain any pollen due to the processing.
Is honey safe during pregnancy or breastfeeding?
Assuming you are not immunocompromised yourself, you can have honey while pregnant or breastfeeding. It is recommended to get pasteurized honey to reduce any risk. Your digestive system will handle any spores found in the honey. They will not be able to pass through the placenta or into the breast milk.
Can babies have cooked honey?
Many parents ask if their baby can have honey nut cheerios or honey in bread and, unfortunately, the answer is no. It’s not recommended to have honey, even in cooked foods, until after 12 months. While the odds of botulism are low, the infection is incredibly risky and for most, the benefits of offering honey nut cheerios doesn’t outweigh the risk of infection.
Krystyn Parks is a Registered Dietitian and Lactation Consultant who specializes in feeding children. She has a Master’s Degree in Nutritional Science from California State University Long Beach. She is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and has been registered with the Commission on Dietetic Registration since 2013.