Infant botulism

Infant botulism

Infant botulism is a very rare condition. Honey is a known source of the bacteria spores that cause botulism so babies should be at least 12 months old before they eat honey.

Key points to remember

  • infant botulism is a very rare condition 
  • it can happen when an infant swallows spores which grow in the intestines
  • the bacteria that have grown then produce a neurotoxin which is absorbed into the bloodstream and affects muscle strength
  • babies up to 6 months old are more likely to get infant botulism but it can occur in babies up to 1 year old
  • honey is a known source of the bacteria spores that cause botulism
  • babies should be at least 12 months old before they eat honey

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms can begin 3 - 30 days after the spores are swallowed.

The first symptom is constipation lasting 3 days or more.

This can be followed by:

  • reduced facial expressions
  • poor feeding (weak suck)
  • weak cry
  • lethargy (being unusually sleepy and not easy to rouse)
  • floppiness

Later symptoms include:

  • trouble swallowing saliva, which causes excessive drooling
  • generalised muscle weakness
  • breathing difficulties

These symptoms can develop over about a week.

Infant botulism is a very rare condition. Constipation and poor feeding in babies will almost certainly have another cause, but medical advice should always be sought for these symptoms.

When should I seek help?

If you are concerned that your child might have infant botulism please see your family doctor or after hours medical centre urgently, or go to your local emergency department.

Call Healthline on 0800 611 116 if you are not sure what to do. 

This page last reviewed 22 September 2015.
Email us your feedback


On this page