29 December 2011, by Tan Yi Lin
Earlier this month, I did something really bad to my kid.
I fed her honey.
Honey. Sweet honey. Nectar of the Gods. A wholesome substitute for sugar. Chock-full of vitamins and minerals. Anti-inflammatory properties. A natural antiseptic. An effective healer.
Little did I know that know that feeding an infant that sweet treat could have fatal consequences.
It all started when Coco stopped pooping on a daily basis and went poopless for a period of five days. She was grumpy, uncomfortable and was letting out super smelly farts. It was so bad that we would have to move away from wherever she farted, in search of fresh air.
“Why not give her a little honey water?” suggested my aunt on the morning of the fifth day. “We used to give you some when you were little. It will help her poop.”
Sounded like a good idea to me. I’m a sucker for doing things the tried and proven way. Want to sell me something? Just tell me that my mother gave that to me when I was young. I’m sold. After all, I turned out fine and healthy right? So whatever worked for me should also work for my child.
And it did. Or at least it appeared to. She pooped that very evening. She was relieved. I was relieved. Her mood lifted considerably and we were glad that she was back to her cheerful bouncy self.
Until a friend pointed out that infants below the age of one should not ingest honey as it could lead to infant botulism.
Infant what? Uh-huh. Exactly. I had never heard of infant botulism before. What the hell was that?!
The symptoms and consequences of infant botulism are just that – Hellish.
Although rare, the illness is incredibly frightening. Muscles degenerate, leading to paralysis, organ failure and death.
Didn’t we all drink honey water as kids? How did honey suddenly get so scary?
It was only discovered in the recent years in the United States that honey contains spores of Clostridium botulinum bacteria, also found in dirt, dust and expired canned food. When ingested, the bacteria germinates, multiplies and produces a toxin. The digestive systems of young babies below the age of 12 months are not sufficiently developed to handle the toxins produced by the bacteria. The toxin attacks the nerves and muscles, hampering the baby’s ability to move, eat and breathe.
It is essentially what aestheticians inject into people’s faces to paralyse their muscles and keep their facial skin taut and looking young.
Yes, it’s Botox. Toxin from the botulinum bacteria. Makes sense now?
Yeah. I friggin’ Botox-ed my 4-month old kid.
While treatable, infant botulism is a very severe illness and can be avoided by not feeding a young child honey. Thankfully, these bacteria are typically harmless to older kids and adults because their mature digestive systems can move the spores through the body before they cause any harm.
But I may have just as well fed my baby poison.
I felt crap awful that day. No better than a criminal.
I was angry at myself for not knowing better.
For not reading more widely on the topic of childcare.
For being negligent.
For being stupid.
How is it that another mother knew not to feed her baby honey but I didn’t?
Was I a bad parent?
Who knew what other dumb and dangerous things I was going to subject my poor child to?
Thankfully, the first obvious sign of an baby ill with infant botulism is constipation. Given that Coco was happily presenting us with poopy diapers on more than one occasion since drinking the honey, despite how sh*tty and worried I felt for what I did, I was pretty convinced that she was fine.
Even then, I confessed to the paediatrician two days later when we brought Coco for her vaccination that I had fed her honey.
The lovely doctor reassured me that I did not poison my baby so there was no need to feel bad for what I did. However, she did say that it was unlikely that it was the honey that made Coco finally ‘go’. It was probably because her bowel movements change as she grows and a little infrequent poop was nothing to be concerned about. True enough, till now, Coco only poops once every four days. The doctor’s advice was that if the interval starts stretching any longer, we should head back to the clinic and have a doctor administer a suppository to solve the problem.
So for the other first-time parents and parents-to-be out there, or those who are helping to take care of young charges, just so you know – it’s not a good idea to feed a baby honey.
I learned two lessons from this episode:
1) While certain things and actions may have worked in the past, they may have to be re-evaluated in the light of new discoveries and information. Our parents reared us the best they could without the benefit of the plethora of information that is now at our fingertips. As much as I don’t like to reinvent the wheel and I maintain a traditional “why fix it if it ain’t broken” attitude to childrearing, I guess I’ll have to accept that even things and ways that have proven to be tried and tested before may not be the best for my baby.
And the second lesson is:
2) Don’t beat yourself up for unintentionally putting your baby at the risk of harm. Just move on, don’t repeat the mistake and spread the word on what not to do so that other parents and caregivers don’t make the same boo boo with regards to the poo poo (or the lack thereof).
So spreading the word, I am.