Is it OK to Eat Honey When Pregnant?

close-up of a honey dipper over a bowl of cereal
Honey dipper over bowl of cereal. (Image: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

If you are pregnant, you probably feel very protective of your unborn baby. You may worry that drinking diet soda, consuming mercury in fish or even dyeing your hair could negatively affect your pregnancy. Since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that infants under 1-year-old should not eat honey, you may also wonder if eating honey could hurt your developing baby. Fortunately, if you like honey, there are good reasons to continue consuming it during pregnancy.

Honey's Benefits

Honey -- a food substance composed mainly of fructose, glucose and other sugars -- provides a variety of health and nutritional benefits. It boosts immune system functioning, helps minor burns and wounds heal faster, eases sore throats and reduces heartburn by neutralizing stomach acid. These antibacterial and antioxidant properties may result from the trace amounts of at least 181 different substances -- including vitamins, minerals, amino acids and enzymes -- that honey contains.

Honey's Risk

Despite its health benefits, honey can pose a risk to infants under 1-year-old. Approximately 10 percent of honey samples contain botulism spores, reports Dr. Alan Greene. In an infant's immature digestive system, these spores -- which are very difficult to kill -- can develop into bacteria that produce botulinus toxin, the poison that causes infant botulism. The highest risk period for infants is between 2 and 4 months, though younger and older babies can also be affected. While some cases of infant botulism are mild, the illness can sometimes be fatal.

Honey and Pregnancy

Pregnant women can safely eat honey. An adult's intestines are more acidic than a baby's and contain beneficial bacteria that prevent the spores from developing into botulism-causing bacteria. Adults -- including pregnant women -- are frequently exposed to botulism spores without becoming ill. Since any botulism spores present in honey will be killed in a pregnant woman's intestines, they can't reach her bloodstream or be passed on to her baby.

Pasteurized Honey

Some doctors recommend that pregnant woman avoid unpasteurized honey to reduce their risk of being exposed to botulism spores. However, pasteurization won't necessarily kill all botulism spores in honey, since the spores can survive even if boiled for several hours. Pasteurizing honey may also damage the fragile enzymes and other beneficial substances the honey contains, reducing its health and nutritional benefits. Since both pasteurized and unpasteurized honey may contain botulism spores, not all experts agree that it is necessary to avoid unpasteurized honey during pregnancy.

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