Last updated on 2 June 2010

Parents reminded: 'Honey is not suitable for babies'

baby sucking its finger

The Food Standards Agency is reminding parents not to feed honey to babies who are under a year old. This follows a case of the rare but serious illness, infant botulism.

Although it might be tempting to give honey to your baby to ease coughs, infant botulism is a very serious illness and it simply isn’t worth the risk.

There have only been 11 confirmed cases of infant botulism in the past 30 years, but three of these have occurred in the past year and all have had possible links to honey. The most recent case involved a 15-week-old baby.

Honey is safe for children over the age of one, but a younger baby’s gut is not sufficiently developed to be able to fight off the botulism bacteria. This is why parents are advised not to give babies honey until they are one year old.

Sam Montel, nutritionist at the Food Standards Agency, said: 'For around the first six months babies only need breast milk or infant formula and although it might be tempting to give honey to your baby to ease coughs, infant botulism is a very serious illness and it simply isn’t worth the risk.

'Once introduced to solid foods, it’s always best to avoid sweetening your baby’s food or giving them sugary snacks and drinks, this will help stop them developing a sweet tooth and tooth decay.'

Science behind the story

Botulism is caused by a germ which normally lives in a dormant form in soil and dust and occasionally gets into honey. If the germ gets in to a baby’s intestine it can grow and produce a toxin or poison, leading to infant botulism, this is because babies under one year old do not have sufficiently developed guts to fight off the bacteria.

Although infant botulism is incredibly rare, it is a serious illness that causes muscle weakness and breathing problems, often resulting in hospital treatment. Although recovery can be slow, almost all babies recover fully.

Related Items