Not So Sweet

Why can't babies have honey? A honey stir stick drips honey over a full jar.
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Why Can’t Babies Have Honey? Experts Explain The Risks

Honey Nut Cheerios are also out of the question.

There are so many nuances when it comes to feeding your baby. They can’t have cow’s milk until they turn 1, but yogurt is safe (and actually a really great first food for young babies). Meat might seem like a questionable option — can’t they choke, and what if it’s undercooked? — but it’s considered a safe food too. So of all the menu items out there, why can’t babies have honey?

While the sweet stuff inside the plastic bear certainly seems harmless, for a developing baby, it can pose a very serious risk.

Why can’t babies under 12 months have honey?

If you’ve heard that babies younger than 1 year old shouldn’t have honey because of the risk of botulism, that’s not an old wives’ tale. It’s a legitimate risk, experts say.

“Babies cannot have honey before age 1 because honey has been known to contain spores of a bacteria called Clostridium botulinum that may cause botulism,” says Stephanie Mitchell, pediatric clinical dietitian at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

Adults and older children can eat honey because their bodies are developed enough to combat the bacteria, but infants’ organs need time to develop before they can break them down.

“They still need to develop their kidneys and their digestive tract,” says Katherine Shary, RD, LD, registered dietician from Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s Strong4Life program. “Those bacteria spores cannot be fully processed by a baby’s underdeveloped digestive tract. So, what can happen is, if a baby under 1 has honey, these bacteria spores can make them sick and cause what we know as botulism.”

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Can babies have Honey Nut Cheerios?

Honey comes in lots of “cooked” forms: baked into graham crackers, granola bars, or pastries, and used as a coating for Honey Nut Cheerios and other cereals. While you might think that heating up the honey during the baking process kills off any bacteria, but alas, these tasty snacks are still not baby-friendly.

“Honey in general, whether it’s raw honey or cooked honey, is a no for babies under 1 year of age,” Shary says. “The the thing about honey, even if you bake it or cook it, it does not kill off those bacteria spores. So no honey graham crackers, no Honey Nut Cheerios. You really just need to offer the baby the plain options of those items.”

Why is honey OK after age 1?

It might seem strange that suddenly, the day your baby turns 1, it’s safe for them to eat honey. In reality, experts picked this age as a safety benchmark because they’re confident babies’ digestive tracts can safely process the botulinum bacteria by then.

“Babies can eat foods that contain honey after age 1, but under age 1, their immune and digestive systems are underdeveloped and the body cannot protect itself from this normally harmless bacteria,” Mitchell says.

“Age 1 is really that marker that we’ve given their bodies enough time to develop their digestive tract, so their body can actually handle processing those bacteria spores,” says Shary.

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What happens if a baby eats honey?

Infants who eat honey are at risk for contracting botulism. When the Clostridium botulinum spores enter the digestive tract but aren’t broken down, they can colonize a baby’s intestines and start releasing neurotoxins, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“According to the CDC, a little over 100 cases have been reported annually in the United States,” Shary says. “If it’s detected early, the prognosis is good and most children survive as long as it is treated.”

Mitchell says experts estimate that closer to 250 cases of infant botulism happen each year in the U.S.; many cases go unrecognized or are misdiagnosed as other illnesses, she says.

How long after eating honey do babies get botulism?

Honey can be used as in ingredient in foods you don’t expect, Shary says, so it’s important to read labels closely before giving what’s inside to your baby. If you’re worried your baby may have eaten honey, she says to watch for symptoms closely for the next few days.

“If by chance, because accidents happen, a baby does get served honey, [we need to be] looking for the signs and symptoms. Usually they’re going to occur within a day or two.”

According to the CDC and Mitchell, symptoms of infant botulism include:

  • Constipation
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Lethargy
  • Low appetite
  • Poor muscle control and decreased muscle tone (overall “floppiness” of the body)
  • Ptosis (drooping eyelid)
  • Sluggish pupil reactions
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Weak cry

While it’s rare, the CDC says infant botulism is a medical emergency. If you think your baby may have botulism, call 911 or take them to your nearest emergency room immediately. Once your baby turns into a toddler, then you can let them have all the honey-flavored snacks you want once you’re confident they don’t have a sensitivity to it.


Katherine Shary, RD, LD, registered dietician from Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s Strong4Life program

Stephanie Mitchell, pediatric clinical dietitian at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles