Although honey is a natural food with many health benefits, you should avoid giving it to your child until they are a year old. This is because there’s a small chance that it could contain spores of a bacterium called Clostridium botulinum. This produces toxins in babies’ intestines, and can result in infant botulism: a serious form of food poisoning.
Unfortunately, it’s not possible for manufacturers to destroy the bacteria without caramelising the honey, which makes the sweet stuff unsuitable for babies under one. Although the British Honey Importers and Packers Association advises its members to print on honey labels that it’s not suitable for babies under 12 months, it’s not compulsory, and not all products will carry the warning. So it’s up to you to remember not to add honey to your baby’s food or give it as a cold remedy, and to avoid foods flavoured with honey (such as some breakfast cereals, yoghurts or puddings).
What if your baby has eaten honey?
If your baby does accidentally have some honey, don’t panic: infant botulism is very rare. But be aware of the signs, which include constipation, listlessness, lack of appetite and breathing difficulties and should always be reported to your doctor.
Although you may feel your baby’s food could do with a spoonful of honey for sweetness, it’s a good idea to avoid giving her too many sugary tastes. Offering too many sweet foods could mean that your baby develops a sweet tooth and becomes fussy about eating savoury foods and vegetables. And don’t forget even baby teeth are at risk of decay.
If, however, adding sweetness to certain foods helps widen your baby’s palate, there are plenty of alternatives to honey without you having to use sugar. Fruit purées can be added to yoghurt or cereal. Or try mashed banana, gently stewed berries or low-sugar jams spread on fingers of toast or in sandwiches. You can also sweeten the flavour of sharp or sour fruit such as rhubarb by adding sweeter purées like stewed eating apples or pears.
Introducing honey safely
Once your baby is over a year old, it’s safe to introduce honey. By this time, a child’s intestines have matured enough to process the dangerous bacteria without allowing it to grow. However, because honey is a type of sugar, nutritionists still advise you should limit the amount you give to avoid dental problems later on.