Why you shouldn't give your baby honey: A mum's story
Kelly Tager got infant botulism from honey when she was just 6 months old. She lived to tell the story, and now she wants all parents to take heed.
It’s exciting times when a baby graduates from a milk-only diet to solid food, at around six months of age. But, it can get quite confusing for parents when it comes to what to feed their baby. There’s the advice they get from professionals. Then there’s also advice from well-meaning family and friends. And sometimes, what the latter recommend might not always be safe for your baby. Like honey. Infant botulism from honey is a rare but real health threat to babies under the age of one.
Remember the case of the little Japanese baby who died after he contracted botulism after being fed honey? Now, one mum shares her own story about infant botulism from honey. Except that this time, it happened to her and she lived to tell this very important tale.
Infant botulism from honey: Mum lived to tell the tale
Kelli Tager has a scar on her neck. Growing up, she recollects she had to beat off questions about the “hole in her neck”.
But today, as a mum, it carries significant weight with regard to a rare, yet very serious condition little ones can get if they’re fed honey too soon: infant botulism from honey.
You see, Kelli got infant botulism from honey when she was just six months old. In an article on Scary Mommy, she recounts what happened:
“Six months old is when parents can finally introduce tastes of ‘real’ foods to their babies and my mom (being the groovy hippie 1970s mom she was) blissfully began to introduce me to a world of tastes from oatmeal, to yogurt, to mustard, to (yes) honey.”
But soon, Kelli’s mother noticed her daughter “seemed a little listless.” The doctor brushed it off as the The doctor said it was a cold. However, when Kelli’s mum was trying to nurse her, she noticed milk flowing out of her mouth and realised that Kelli could not swallow.
“I was rushed to the hospital and immediately given a feeding tube up my nose and a tracheotomy.
“I had become paralyzed from my head (including my eyes) all the way to my feet. My mother says I looked like a rag doll.
“I couldn’t move. I couldn’t swallow. I couldn’t breathe.”
Doctors struggled to diagnose the condition
It’s only quite recently that there’s more awareness about infant botulism from honey. So when Kelli was almost dying from it, the doctors struggled to find the cause.
She continues in her article, “half the doctors thought I had a brain tumor. Obviously, my parents weren’t too pleased with this diagnosis, but fortunately, half the doctors thought it might be something else, they just didn’t know what.”
She also had to go through occupational therapy because “they didn’t believe I would ever walk.” Kelli’s fine motor skills also suffered badly. However, against all odds she kept fighting. And won.
It was only two years later that the doctors discovered the cause was infant botulism from honey.
Kelli has an important request for all parents
Parents are now more aware about the dangers of giving honey to babies under the age of one. Also, some honey manufacturers place warning labels on their products. Further, honey is pasteurized, usually killing the spores that may cause infant botulism.
However, Kelli feels there’s still not enough awareness about just how deadly infant botulism from honey can be.
“I hear stories of people putting it on pacifiers because no one told them otherwise at the hospital. My baby cookbook simply lists honey as part of the “one year and up section” along with fish and citrus fruits. Giving a baby a taste of an orange is not the same risk as giving them a taste of honey. An orange can cause a bad rash, not botulism.”
“Spread the word. I’m not asking for cyber-fame from my almost-death. All I’m asking is you spread the word to your friends, your family, your parent groups, and so forth that feeding honey to a child under one year’s old can actually be fatal.”
What is botulism in babies?
Infant botulism is an illness that can happen when a baby ingests bacteria that produce a toxin inside the body.
It is caused by exposure to Clostridium botulinum (C. botulinum) spores. Bacteria from the spores can grow and multiply in a baby’s intestines, producing a dangerous toxin.
The condition can occur in infants up to 12 months of age, because young babies have immature digestive systems.
Signs and Symptoms of Botulism in Babies
Symptoms of botulism begin between three to 30 days after an infant ingests the spores.
Though infant botulism can be treated, it is important to get medical care as soon as possible. Take your baby to the doctor right away if you spot any of these warning signs.
Constipation is often the first sign of botulism that parents notice. It is typically accompanied by floppy movements, weakness, and difficulty in sucking or feeding.
Other symptoms of botulism in babies include:
- Flat facial expression
- Poor feeding (weak sucking)
- Weak cry
- Decreased movement
- Trouble swallowing with excessive drooling
- Muscle weakness
- Breathing problems
Preventing Botulism in Babies
One important way to reduce the risk of botulism in babies is to not give infants honey or any processed food containing honey before their first birthday.
Honey is a proven source of the bacteria Clostridium botulinum. These bacteria are harmless to older kids and adults because their digestive systems are more mature.
It is best to pressure-cook home-canned foods to reduce the risk of contamination with C. botulinum spores. Boil home-canned foods for 10 minutes before serving them.
Also, Clostridium botulinum spores are everywhere in the environment. They’re in dust and dirt, and even in the air. Avoid infant exposure to potentially contaminated soil or dust. Exposure to contaminated soil occurs most often near construction and agricultural sites or other areas where soil is disturbed.
Source: Scary Mommy