Estimated reading time
10 minutes, 30 seconds
Experts agree Manuka honey can be safely consumed during pregnancy.
Infant botulism isn’t a risk, because the bacteria from botulism spores (sometimes found in honey) cannot be passed from mother to child through the placenta.
However, babies consuming honey directly are at risk of botulism, a serious disease. Never give honey to a newborn baby.
A recommended grade of manuka honey for pregnant women is UMF™ 5+ - UMF™ 20+.
Manuka honey can help nurse you back to optimal health after childbirth. It can provide relief for sore breastfeeding nipples, dull new stretch marks, and give you a natural energy boost when you’re most exhausted.
Are you pregnant and craving hot, crusty toast lathered with honey?
…or did you just glance at the person next to you…?
If you’re wondering whether pregnant women can eat honey, and if you should choose strawberry jam instead, we’re here to put your mind at ease.
We’re going to cover everything - from infant botulism to raw honey and the debate between pasteurized and unpasteurized.
Then we’ll look at why and how you should choose manuka honey, which grade is best, and the other ways it can nurture you back to health after birth.
Spoiler alert: experts agree it’s perfectly okay to eat honey when pregnant.
In this guide on manuka honey and pregnancy:
- Can pregnant women eat honey?
- What about botulism?
- Can babies have manuka honey?
- So, is honey safe during pregnancy?
- Is raw honey safe during pregnancy?
- The debate between pasteurized and unpasteurised
- Is manuka honey safe during pregnancy?
- What’s the best manuka honey for pregnant women?
- How much manuka honey can I have?
- When to stop eating honey while pregnant
- After birth: manuka honey can support you
- Manuka honey and breastfeeding nipples
- Manuka honey and stretch marks
- Manuka honey and recovering energy
- The best place to buy manuka honey
Can Pregnant Women Eat Honey?
Yes, go get that piece of toast!
The National Health Service (NHS) in the UK advises that it is safe to eat honey while pregnant.
While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t state that it’s healthy, it’s not on their list of foods to avoid.
It’s also not on the New Zealand guide to food safety in pregnancy.
Why it’s even a question in the first place is most likely due to the link between honey and infant botulism. So let’s address that.
What About Infant Botulism?
According to research, infant botulism is not a risk when pregnant women eat honey.
Botulism is a rare, but serious, disease.
It affects babies after they are born, but not in the womb.
It’s a type of food poisoning caused by botulism spores that produce a bacteria called Clostridium botulinum. Low-oxygen environments, like soil - and honey, allow these bacteria to grow.
Botulism can be categorized as either foodborne, wound, inhalation, or infant botulism.
While the bacteria is harmless to older kids and adults, it can be devastating for babies. Their digestive systems are simply not mature enough to handle it or process it, and they can get very sick.
“Honey can contain bacteria which can germinate in a baby's gut and cause infant botulism, a rare illness that can cause paralysis and is potentially fatal. Babies' intestines aren't mature enough to destroy the bacteria, so you'll need to keep honey away from your baby until they turn 1.”
Give infant botulism a wide berth by not feeding honey to your baby after birth.
Can Babies Have Honey?
Newborn babies are at the highest risk of botulism.
It’s strongly advised not to give a baby any type of honey.
Here’s what the experts say:
“Infant botulism occurs mostly in infants under 6 months of age… Although there are several possible sources of infection for infant botulism, spore-contaminated honey has been associated with a number of cases. Parents and caregivers are therefore warned not to feed honey to the infants before the age of 1 year.”
“The best way to try to prevent infant botulism is to avoid giving honey to a baby under the age of 1 year.”
“Babies get infant botulism after consuming spores of the bacteria, which then grow and multiply in their intestinal tracts and make toxins. The source of infant botulism may be honey, but it's more likely to be exposure to soil contaminated with the bacteria.”
When a substance can be so harmful to babies, it’s natural to ask whether it’s wise to consume it while pregnant.
So, Is Honey Safe During Pregnancy?
Honey is safe during pregnancy, yes.
Adult immune systems are strong and able to fight off infections and stop any botulinum spores from multiplying and causing disease.
Here’s the evidence from the experts:
“While the safety of the unborn baby is a strong concern, the mother’s immune system is enough to protect the baby from any possible botulinum contamination.”
“While it's not safe to give honey to babies under a year old, eating honey when you're pregnant won't harm you or your unborn child. That's because your grown-up stomach can handle the bacteria in honey that sometimes makes babies sick with a rare illness called botulism.
Even if the bacteria managed to make it past your stomach, research shows it's very unlikely that it could pass through the placenta to your baby in the womb. In rare cases where pregnant women have become ill with botulism, the illness wasn't detected in their babies.”
“For something in your system to harm your unborn baby, it has to enter through the placenta. The botulinum toxin has a high molecular weight, which makes it unlikely to pass through your placenta and reach your baby. That means that even if you eat honey that contains botulism spores, your baby should be protected.”
“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.”
Essential takeaway: Honey is safe during pregnancy, but should never be given to babies under one year of age.
Let’s look now at different types of honey.
Is Raw Honey Safe During Pregnancy?
Yes, it is according to experts.
Raw honey is only questioned sometimes because it is processed less than regular honey. It’s commonly known that cheese and meats that aren’t processed properly are a no-go for pregnant women.
“There are no studies on the safety of raw honey during pregnancy, but there's no reason to believe it's unsafe. Unpasteurized honey doesn't carry the risk of listeriosis you find with unpasteurized cheese and deli meats. In fact, because it's less processed than pasteurized honey, raw honey likely contains more antioxidants.”
It is important here to acknowledge that there are questions about whether pasteurized honey is ‘safer’ than unpasteurized honey.
So, is there a difference between pasteurized or unpasteurized?
The debate between pasteurized and unpasteurized
We’ve established that available research indicates a pregnant mother cannot pass bacteria from botulism spores through the placenta to her baby.
Therefore, there’s little difference between whether she eats pasteurized or unpasteurized honey.
“There is conflicting and confusing information on the web about unpasteurised honey (that comes straight from the beehive) and whether or not pregnant women can eat it. The perceived risk is that it could potentially contain botulism spores, but as an adult’s digestive process will kill off any bacteria during consumption, it is also safe to eat.”
It appears that some people prefer to avoid unpasteurized honey, but this may be exercising caution because of a lack of knowledge.
“Since both pasteurized and unpasteurized honey may contain botulism spores, not all experts agree that it is necessary to avoid unpasteurized honey during pregnancy.”
While it’s sensible to avoid eating things you might think are ‘risky’, it’s even better to seek answers and understanding.
When it comes to diseases, It’s important to stick to the facts.
We’re here to set the record straight and give you peace of mind.
A pregnant mother cannot cause infant botulism by eating honey.
So, you can eat honey, but which honey should you eat?
Let’s take a look at our personal favorite…
Is Manuka Honey Safe For Pregnancy?
Yes. Yes. Yes!
Not only is manuka honey good for pregnancy, it exudes a bundle of health benefits.
We know that manuka honey is great for the following:
- Boosting immunity (and here’s a delicious recipe for an immune strengthening drink).
- Balancing the digestive system.
- Enhancing your skincare by reducing redness, keeping you hydrated and giving you a natural, dewy glow.
It’s also been said to help with insomnia, vitality, and any coughs and colds during pregnancy.
With manuka honey, you’re eating the honey with the highest concentration of antibacterial properties on the planet. You’ll likely be better prepared to fight off any bacteria that you might encounter, speed your recovery, and prevent you from getting sniffly next time.
Eating manuka honey while pregnant is like bringing nature’s living systems to your own ecosystem.
The only question now is… which one should you get?
What’s The Best Manuka Honey For Pregnant Women?
Manuka honey comes in different strengths, and these are precisely measured.
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of fake manuka honey circulating the globe, so it’s important to pay attention to true quality markers.
The manuka honey industry is highly regulated by the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI). But it doesn’t stop there.
The most comprehensive and trustworthy rating of manuka honey is the UMF™ grading system. This measures the Unique Mānuka Factor of the honey, a system developed by the Unique Mānuka Factor Honey Association (UMFHA) to protect beekeepers and the authenticity of the industry.
A jar of manuka honey that is labeled with a UMF™ grade means that that particular batch has passed rigorous tests and is held to the highest honey testing standards in the world.
Read more: Why is manuka honey expensive?
Our UMF™ grades start at UMF™ 5+ and go up to UMF™ 26+.
Which strength of manuka honey should you eat during pregnancy?
We recommended choosing any strength between UMF™ 5+ and UMF™ 20+.
This is potent enough to feel the benefits, yet gentle enough to be introduced to your system easily.
Find out which UMF™ strengths are ideal for different uses.
Read more: Manuka Honey MGO vs UMF™ Calculator
How Much Manuka Honey Can I Have?
We recommend one generous spoonful of manuka honey per day.
This allows you to reap the benefits of it in a quantity that you can easily digest, without loading up on free sugars.
When to stop eating honey when pregnant
As always, it’s best to consume honey in moderation while you’re pregnant.
There are a few safety precautions to keep in mind.
It’s a good idea to stop eating manuka honey in the following circumstances:
- If you have gastrointestinal abnormalities
- If you’re taking heavy antibiotics
- If you have gestational diabetes
- Once your baby is born, don’t give it to the baby
Now that we’ve talked about eating manuka honey through your pregnancy, let’s have a look at how it can be helpful afterwards.
After Birth: Manuka Honey Can Support You
Just like your birthing journey doesn’t stop after pregnancy, neither do the beneficial uses of manuka honey!
There are three ways that it can be especially helpful.
Manuka honey and breastfeeding
Yes, the antibacterial activity of the honey can help soothe your tender nipples in your breastfeeding period.
Medical grade manuka honey is recommended by Birth Care NZ for mothers with damaged nipples from breastfeeding.
Applying high grade manuka honey on breast pads can help to soothe and repair damage. You can keep your manuka honey in the fridge if you’d like it to be cooling too.
This is what the experts say:
“A person with sore, cracked nipples will do absolutely anything to bring relief to the pain and heal the damage… Rich in antioxidants, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, manuka honey can be used between feedings to heal nipples fast.”
“Sterile, medical grade manuka honey is one of the most unique and beneficial forms of honey in the world. Rich in antioxidants, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, medical grade manuka honey helps to rapidly heal injured wounds, making it ideal for irritated and sore nipples.”
Manuka honey and stretch marks
Is it any surprise that growing a tiny human inside you might have stretched your skin in the process?
After you’ve recovered from your birth and been drenched in newborn snuggles, you can focus on your long-term road to optimal health.
A stretch mark is essentially a type of scar that forms when our skin stretches or shrinks quickly.
Manuka honey is effective on scars and stretch marks. The anti-aging properties can get to work on the scars and start to regenerate the tissue.
While you don’t end up scar free, the antibacterial properties of manuka honey can do an incredible repair job and leave you with less of a trace than if you weren’t using it. We can aid our skin with the incredible, natural process of healing.
Manuka honey and recovering energy
Manuka honey can also assist in getting your energy back.
The combination of giving birth and caring for a newborn is stressful, tiring, and disorientating to say the least.
If you’re looking for a natural way to get a bit of a boost in the morning, manuka honey could be the first thing you taste after getting out of bed (or before, if you keep it bedside!).
From stirring it into your tea, to licking it off the spoon, there are plenty of ways you can add manuka honey into your diet.
The Best Place To Buy Manuka Honey
Have you picked up on the fact that there are a few decisions to make when buying manuka honey?
We’re here to make it as simple as possible for you, and guide you to the right manuka honey for you (take our quiz here!).
Before you buy, have a quick look at our checklist. This ensures you’re getting the real deal when you buy manuka honey.
Read more: The Best Place to Buy Manuka Honey? Tick These 7 Boxes
Suggested further reading:
Source list (in order of appearance):
Eating well in pregnancy, NHS Inform Scotland
Food safety for pregnant women, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
Food safety in pregnancy, NZ Ministry for Primary Industries
Botulism, Mayo Clinic
Infant botulism (for parents), Kids Health
Is it safe to eat honey during pregnancy? Baby Center
Botulism, World Health Organization
Infant botulism: symptoms, prevention and recovery, Medical News Today
Botulism: symptoms and causes, Mayo Clinic
Bacterial spores, U.S. National Library of Medicine
Honey during pregnancy: safety, benefits, and side effects, Pregnancy Food Checker
Can I eat honey while pregnant? Very Well Family
Is it OK to eat honey when pregnant? Hello Motherhood
Is honey safe during pregnancy? Made for Mums
Manuka Honey Benefits [Guide], New Zealand Honey Co.
Natural immunity boosting drink with manuka honey, New Zealand Honey Co.
How to find the best manuka honey for your skin, New Zealand Honey Co.
5 reasons UMF manuka honey is good in pregnancy, Expect Nothing
Antibacterial activity of Manuka honey and its components: An overview, U.S. National Library of Medicine
Fake Honey: What you need to know about counterfeit honey (and how to avoid buying it), New Zealand Honey Co.
Mānuka honey testing, New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries
UMF™ honey and the UMFHA, New Zealand Honey Co.
Unique Mānuka Factor Honey Association
Honey jargon: A glossary of terms, New Zealand Honey Co.
How much UMF™ is enough? New Zealand Honey Co.
Care of nipples, Birth Care Centre NZ
Manuka honey for nipple damage, LA Lactation
The Rumina Difference, Rumina Naturals
Wound physiology, U.S. National Library of Medicine
What’s the best manuka honey for scars? New Zealand Honey Co.
176 ways to use manuka honey, New Zealand Honey Co.
Which manuka honey is right for you? New Zealand Honey Co.
The best place to buy manuka honey? Tick these 7 boxes, New Zealand Honey Co.