Why can't babies have honey? Find more answers about infant food risk.

When can babies have peanut butter? Why can’t babies have honey? When can babies eat eggs? These are big questions for parents concerned about food allergies and food dangers for their children 12 months or younger. Some foods, like peanuts and eggs, are potential allergens, whereas other foods, like honey, pose food safety risks.

Allergies in Children and Infants

About 4 to 6 percent of kids have food allergies, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and 90 percent of the most serious allergic reactions in the U.S. are to these eight foods: peanuts, milk, eggs, fish, soy, wheat, tree nuts, and crustacean shellfish. Reactions range from mild to severe and can start at any age, even if the food was easily tolerated before.

Allergic reactions to food occur when the immune system treats a specific food as harmful to the body. In response, the body heightens its natural defenses, producing allergy symptoms. Symptoms can include hives, difficulty breathing, an upset stomach, a rash, swelling, and nausea.

However, steadfastly avoiding any potential food allergens can seriously — and possibly unnecessarily — restrict your child’s diet. And by gradually introducing your child to potential allergens, like peanuts, they can develop immunity.

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When Can Babies Have Peanut Butter?

The peanut allergy is one of the most common food allergies, and it can be life-threatening. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases used to recommend not feeding peanuts to babies. Now, instead of waiting until their children become toddlers, parents can start introducing peanut-based foods earlier, when their children are around 4 to 6 months old.

Of course, you want to make sure the peanut is not a choking hazard, so peanut butter might be a better choice. The New England Journal of Medicine published a study showing that introducing peanuts earlier into the diets of infants at high risk of developing peanut allergies lowered the frequency of peanut allergies.

When Can Babies Have Cow’s Milk?

Dairy and lactose are also common allergens. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a milk allergy is usually discovered in a baby’s first year. The AAP recommends breastfeeding to prevent or delay a potential cow’s milk allergy, though a baby can react to cow’s milk from a breastfeeding mother’s diet.

Of course, not all mothers can or want to breastfeed. Traditional baby formulas contain cow’s milk proteins, but there are alternatives, including soy-based formulas. A pediatrician can advise you on these alternatives. The CDC recommends beginning to transition from formula to cow’s milk when the child is between 12 and 24 months old, though a baby may also eat other dairy products during their first year.

When Can Babies Eat Eggs?

As with peanuts, the AAP says a parent can introduce eggs to a baby’s diet in the first four to six months of their life, when they begin eating solid foods. Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to feed your baby eggs, and they’re easy to chew and swallow. Notably, the AAP also says that if a baby is allergic to eggs, they may be unable to receive certain vaccines as well, since eggs are sometimes used in vaccine production.

Why Can’t Babies Have Honey?

Though milk and peanut products are fine for most babies in their first year, babies less than 12 months old should not be given honey, according to the AAP. The risk does not concern an allergy, but botulism. Botulism spores found in honey can replicate in a baby’s intestines, making them sick. Children 12 months and older can have honey, since their systems are more developed.

You should introduce new foods to your baby one at a time, a week or two apart, to watch for allergic reactions. As with all food issues, it’s a good idea to talk to your pediatrician about any concerns. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call the UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh at 412-692-6438.

About UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital

For more than a century, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital has provided high-quality medical care to women at all stages of life. UPMC Magee is long-renowned for its services to women and babies but also offers a wide range of care to men as well. Our patient-first approach ensures you and your loved ones get the care you need. Nearly 10,000 babies are born each year at Magee, and our NICU is one of the largest in the country. Our network of care – from imaging centers to hospital services – provides care throughout Pennsylvania and Maryland, giving you a chance to get the expert care you need close to home. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recognizes UPMC Magee as a National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health, and the Magee-Womens Research Institute is the largest research institute in the U.S. devoted exclusively to women’s health and reproductive biology.