Ask Dr. Marla: Why shouldn’t babies eat honey?

I’ve heard babies
shouldn’t eat . Why?


The issue with honey is a rare
disease called infant botulism that can be seen
in children under a year.

According to Health Canada, there have been
42 reported cases of infant botulism in Canada
since 1979. Three of these cases have been linked
to eating honey. Health Canada advises parents
and caregivers not to feed honey to infants.
Infant botulism is caused by the bacteria
Clostridium botulinum. When an infant swallows
spores of this bacterium, the spores grow and
cause the disease.

The bacteria is quite common in soil. The
spores have also been found in samples of
honey, which is the only food source that has
been linked to actual cases of infant botulism.

By the time children reach age one, they
have helpful bacteria in their gut. These good
bacteria act as a defence against the spores that
can cause infant botulism.

The most common symptom is constipation,
as well as general weakness, a weak cry, a
poor sucking refl ex, irritability, lack of facial
expression and loss of head control. In some
cases, the child may have trouble breathing due
to paralysis of the diaphragm.

Less than five percent of the honey produced
in Canada contains the bacterial spores,
regardless of whether the honey is pasteurized.
Pasteurizing honey prolongs the shelf-life of
the product, but the temperatures used are not
high enough to kill the spores that cause infant
botulism. The bottom line is that parents and
caregivers should not give honey to infants who
are younger than one year. Never add honey to
baby food or use honey on a soother.

Contact your doctor if your child:

  • is too weak to cry or suck as usual
  • does not have bowel movements and has weak
  • has a wobbly head because the neck is weak
  • has weak arms and legs
  • is not able to swallow

Got a health question? Submit it to Dr. Marla.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, May/June 2013.

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