What is infant botulism?

Infant botulism is a very rare but dangerous condition. It is an infection from bacteria usually picked up from infected foods ingested by babies under 12 months old. At this age, babies' gastro-intestinal tracts aren't mature enough to deal with the spores that cause the bacteria to develop, leaving them at an increased risk of infection.

How do babies contract botulism?

The spores for botulism are kicked up by disturbed soil, as might be found around construction sites or agricultural areas. Babies can contract botulism through contact with an open wound. The spores are also present in infected foods and foods that are past their use-by date.

Although there have been no confirmed cases of honey-borne botulism in Australia, honey has been responsible for infant botulism in the United States.

What are the symptoms of botulism?

The symptoms of botulism are potentially life-threatening. The following are recognisable symptoms that your baby might have botulism:
  • Weakened or languid movement
  • Weakened vocalisations
  • Floppy head movements and a general lack of strength
  • Constipation
  • Paralysis i.e. no movement
  • Trouble breathing
  • Choking, difficulty feeding and swallowing

What can I do to prevent my baby getting botulism?

You can help to prevent botulism in your baby by taking a few simple precautions.
  • Until their navel cord stump has completely healed, keep your baby away from soil and outdoor areas where they might be exposed to airborne soil
  • Pay extra attention to the quality of your baby's food. Anything you would be hesitant about is certainly not safe for them
  • Avoid cross-contamination of foods, especially replacing foods to the fridge that have come in contact with saliva or other utensils and foods
  • Avoid home-preserved foods. The home process of preservation is not as stringent as that used by larger manufacturers in Australia
  • Avoid the risk with honey altogether and don't feed it to your baby while they're under 12 months old

What should I do if I suspect my baby has botulism?

Botulism is a medical emergency. The spores multiply inside your baby's intestines and release toxins that cause the above symptoms. To counteract these, your baby must be taken to hospital and injected with antitoxins whilst also given assistance with their breathing.

*The above should not be considered a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of trained medical professionals.