Q&A: What is infant botulism, and why is honey dangerous for babies?
What is infant botulism? My friends keep telling me that I shouldn’t dip my son’s pacifier in honey because it can lead to it, but my mother-in-law says she used to do this with her babies. What gives?
Infant botulism is a very dangerous condition. Botulinum spores are bacteria that can be found in dust and mold, and sometimes on unwashed fruit and vegetables. They can also be found in honey. Infants are particularly susceptible to the dangerous properties of these bacteria, and if they get some into their systems, the results can be deadly.
The intestinal tracts of babies are immature. Once botulinum spores enter their systems, they can produce a substance called botulinus toxin. After release, this toxin is absorbed into the blood stream through the intestinal tract.
Babies are at risk for the first year of their lives, but seem to be particularly susceptible between 2 and 4 months. If adults ingest these spores, once in the intestinal tract, the normally existing bacterium that is present can take care of the spores and not allow them to proliferate.
Signs and Treatment of Botulism
Some of the symptoms may include:
- Constipation—caused by a slowing down of the intestinal tract
- Weak cry
- Poor head control
Once diagnosed, treatment in the hospital can take between three and 30 days. The diagnosis is made through blood and stool samples. It is treated with a substance called botulinum antitoxin.
Why Is Botulism a Concern Now?
This disease was discovered in 1976, so that may be why your mother-in-law remembers giving honey to her babies without concern. Some honey is pasteurized (heat treated) and may be free of the spores, but there is no guarantee. These spores are stubborn and tough to kill.
Honey has many known health benefits, but it is best to wait until you baby is old enough to eat it safely. Talk to your pediatrician if you have questions or concerns about your baby’s diet.