The other day I nearly gave my friend a heart attack when I (unassumingly) shared some of my son’s oatmeal with her son during a playdate containing some honey. Since I have been giving my son honey since he started showing interest in solids at seven months, I took it for granted that some parents are not comfortable with using this magic food with their own babies until they are well past their first year. I personally believe that the fear of using honey has grown out of proportion to its actual risks because of media hype, but it’s up to each parent to decide what they are comfortable with and I can respect that choice too. I thought I would at least share some of the reasons why I believe honey isn’t as dangerous as most people believe and offer some of the benefits that swayed me to its usage with my son.
To start, I LOVE honey. I have an ongoing love affair with this product; adding it to pretty much everything I eat myself. That and peanut butter are my staples, which is why I researched well into their risks and benefits before subjecting my son to them because I would die if I had to live without them if I accidentally caused an allergic reaction. To my relief, he has not reacted negatively to either and actually loves both products as much as I do. However I digress.
So how dangerous is honey really? That is the question.
Botulism is a serious but relatively rare disease to begin with, with only 27 cases of it confirmed from 1979 -2006 in Canada; two of which found in Alberta (Source). The majority of the cases are found in the States, mostly around California due to the more frequent spores found in the soil there, though only 10 percent of store-bought samples of honey contained the C.botulinum. Also, less than 5 percent of infant botulism patients contracted the disease from the honey, as researches have concluded that most have simply inhaled the spores from microscopic dust particles. (Source) (Source) This makes us relatively safe here in Canada, with the ability to reduce our chances even more by simply avoiding buying California produced honey. However, even if diagnosed with botulism, the infant fatality rate is less than 2 percent anyways, with a usual full recovery in most cases with proper treatment. These figures tell me that the chances of my son getting it are slim to none, and if even by chance that he does (and I am well versed in the signs just in case), our hospitals have the means to treat it effectively.
Another great way to naturally prevent botulism is by having a vaginal birth and breastfeeding, as botulism spores are unable to grow in more mature intestines because of the beneficial bacteria present (Source)– bacteria that moms pass onto their young through their birth canal and as immunities through their breastmilk. By the time babies are about six month old, their natural defences prevent the germination and growth of Clostridium botulinum to take hold, making the warning to avoid for the entire first year somewhat overkill anyways. (Source) I exclusively breastfed my son until he showed readiness for solids and we introduced healthy foods according to his abilities, abiding by the recommendations for introducing ‘allergy-prone’ foods naturally by following his lead. I trusted the immunities in my breastmilk to protect him from the majority of illnesses and so far this trust has not been misplaced.
The interesting thing is, spores can be found in a variety of foods anyways (Source) (Source) , and so sometimes parents who believe themselves to be vigilant on attempting to prevent botulism are still subjecting their babies to the 'risk' whether they feed them honey or not. A recent case in the United Kingdom was traced to C botulinum spores in powdered infant formula, and in a single instance in Canada not associated with illness, C botulinum spores were identified in an infant cereal. (Source) This tells me that there is far more risk in simply serving processed foods to our babies than giving them a dollop of honey with their oatmeal.
All this aside, honey is actually quite awesome. Not only is it delicious, it has many medicinal benefits. It contains sugars like glucose and fructose and minerals like magnesium, potassium, calcium, sodium chlorine, sulphur, iron and phosphate. It contains vitamins B1, B2, C, B6, B5 and B3 and several different kinds of hormones as well. It is an antiseptic, antioxidant and has cleansing properties. It fights infection and aids in tissue healing and correcting health disorders. It reduces inflammation and scarring and treats digestive problems such as diarrhea, indigestion, stomach ulcers and gastroenteritis. It helps with bad breath, athlete foot, hair loss, sleep disorder, arthritis, acne, and yeast infections. It also makes a great lotion for dry skin and is great as a hair conditioner. It essentially strengthens the immune system while providing awesome taste too!
The minimal risk of botulism just wasn’t enough to deter me from feeding it to my son because of all the medicinal benefits it offers. I rarely follow trends ‘just in case’ and would rather practice moderation instead. I am comfortable taking the ‘risk’ because I feel that I have done all that I can to boost his immune system through breastfeeding and eating wholesome foods regularly. It’s deliciousness was also a winning attribute too!
How do you feel about feeding honey to your children? What lead you to that decision?