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Babies, Honey, Botulism. Babble.com’s Parental Advisory.

What’s up with honey and babies? We went to dinner at my in-laws for the Jewish holidays and someone tried to put an apple dripping with the stuff into my nine-month-old baby’s hand. I know it’s dangerous, but I couldn’t exactly say why. Please help me explain, I think I offended my husband’s grandmother! – How Sweet It Isn’t 

The reason honey is on the do-not-serve list for babies younger than twelve months old is because it contains botulinum toxin spores. These spores (the same stuff used in botox shots) don’t affect adults or older kids, but can cause botulism food poisoning when exposed to the immature digestive tract.

In a recent study, botulinum spores were found in 5-10% of honey samples. The spores are not reliably killed by cooking or even pasteurization, so honey in any form is not recommended. Botulinum can also be found in maple syrup and corn syrup, as well as undercooked foods. The chance of spores is lower in these other foods – no botulism cases from corn syrup have ever been reported, so it’s only a theoretical risk. Doctors still suggest that you not feed your baby corn syrup unless it’s been pasteurized or says specifically that it’s “spore-free.” Yum.

Botulism is a serious illness, but it usually treatable if it’s caught in time. Babies with botulism first become constipated, and then may act listless and lose muscle strength, including the ability to suck. Almost all babies will recover from botulism if it is diagnosed and treated effectively, but a serious case will require a hospital stay ranging from days to months.

Once your baby is over a year old, the botulism risk goes way down, which means that you and your relatives can dip and drip freely next year. But while you’re explaining this all to grandma, you might want to add, too, that apples are a choking hazard.

Have a question? Email parentaladvisory@babble.com

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