Honey During Pregnancy: Safety, Benefits, and Side Effects

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During pregnancy, it is common for mothers to search out healthy alternatives to their favorite foods.

Honey is one such alternative, often advertised as healthier than conventional table sugar and other sweeteners.

It is fairly widespread information that babies shouldn’t be given honey to eat, however, there is a lack of consistent information when it comes to babies still in the womb.

Is honey or honey flavoring beneficial and is it safe for pregnant mothers?

While honey is not safe for babies to eat, the US, UK, and AU/NZ governmental health agencies all agree that honey is safe during pregnancy. Some honey varieties are safer than others, however, so it is important to shop wisely.

While honey is generally considered safe during pregnancy, where your honey comes from and how it is processed does matter. Take a look below to find out more.

Is Honey Safe During Pregnancy?

Most parents are aware that it’s not safe to feed their babies honey until they’re at least one (1) year old.

This is because honey can be contaminated with spores of Clostridium botulinum, and the small immune system of babies isn’t yet strong enough to stop the infection.

Unlike babies, botulinum spores in honey aren’t a concern for adults.

Botulinum spores are only dangerous when they are allowed enough time to grow and multiply.

Adult immune systems are usually much stronger than the immunity of babies and are therefore able to fight off the infections and stop any botulinum spores from multiplying and causing disease (source: StatPearls).

Even during pregnancy, when a woman’s immune response is lowered, her immune system is still much stronger than a young child. But when it comes to pregnancy, the health and safety of both mom and baby must be considered.

In the UK, the National Health Service (NHS) and Public Health Scotland advise that eating honey while pregnant is safe (source: NHS).

Other national health agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US, and Food Safety Australia and New Zealand, don’t explicitly state that honey is safe for pregnant mothers, but honey does not appear on any nationally-recommended list of foods to avoid (source: FDA).

Honey is a safe sweetener to use, even during any trimester of pregnancy.

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.

honey in a jar

Is Raw, Unpasteurized Honey Safe During Pregnancy?

Raw honey is a popular item in natural food stores and at locally-made shops, such as farmers’ markets.

This type of honey isn’t pasteurized or filtered- it just goes straight into the bottle or jar for sale.

Many “raw” or unpasteurized products are advised against as they are not safe while pregnant. However, there is no official guidance on whether or not raw honey is completely safe during pregnancy.

As with all unpasteurized foods, there is some risk, particularly if the honey ferments. Preventing fermentation and crystallization is actually the main reason honey is pasteurized (source: Ontario Beekeepers Association).

The risk for bacterial contamination in raw honey is fairly low due to the lack of moisture, and sickness in adults is rare, but it’s still best for pregnant women to choose pasteurized varieties.

The Centre for Food Safety, located in Hong Kong, put out some helpful guidance when it comes to raw honey.

They reported that raw honey can carry certain toxins, which get into the honey because of the kinds of plants the bees feed on.

These toxins are usually diluted to safe levels when honey is “batched together” and honey from multiple sources is combined prior to bottling.

In the case of toxins, honey that is from single-sources or smaller bee farms may not be adequately diluted (source: Centre for Food Safety).

Out of an abundance of caution to avoid any potential toxins, you may consider steering clear of small-batch and raw honey during pregnancy.

Pregnant or not, it is best to buy honey only from trustworthy sources.

Most major grocery stores, even Amazon, have their own “house brand” of pasteurized honey.

It can be difficult to tell which honey is pasteurized and which is raw, so check out the clarity in the bottle.

Because it’s meant not to crystalize, pasteurized honey is translucent and easy to see through.

honeycomb with raw honey

The Benefits of Honey During Pregnancy

As I mentioned earlier, honey is a go-to for many moms searching for an alternative sweetener to replace the typical table sugar.

While it may be thought of as the better-for-you version of sugar, the human body only recognizes the sweetness for what it is: glucose.

Glucose is the body’s necessary fuel – what it uses for energy. Because conventional sugar and honey are both made of glucose, the body uses them the exact same way.

One nutritional difference between honey and sugar is its effect on blood sugar levels after eating.

According to research established back in 1990, honey increases the blood sugar less than regular sugar and also tastes sweeter (source: Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics).

For women concerned about their blood sugar levels, honey’s lesser effects may be a good reason to make the swap.

While honey isn’t any more worthy of being a part of your diet just because it’s made by bees, it does come with some additional benefits.

Honey is known to be antimicrobial, which makes it a popular ingredient in things like mouthwash, skin treatments, and lozenges.

Its antimicrobial action comes from enzymes and small amounts of acids, incorporated into the honey by the bees that make it (source: Molecules).

Another important benefit of honey is its function as an antioxidant.

Because honey comes from plants, it has been shown to calm inflammation. This is another reason honey has been incorporated into topical skin soothers.

Honey has even been shown to decrease biological indicators of exercise-induced stress and LDL cholesterol! (source: Molecules).

Overall, honey isn’t vastly different than good old sugar, but it does boast some impressive extra benefits.

Is Manuka Honey Safe When Pregnant?

Manuka honey is a honey made from one particular source, the manuka bush.

It’s widely known for being especially antibacterial, more so than honey from other sources (source: AIMS Microbiology).

One difference with Manuka honey is that, while it comes from a single source, it is not known to carry risk of toxins like other single-origin honeys.

This is because the non-Manuka honey may come from bees feeding on plants that produce toxins, but the Manuka bush does not produce these harmful compounds.

While Manuka honey has not been specifically tested for safety during pregnancy, the same considerations as other honeys apply here as well.

Pasteurization is important to ensure a contaminant-free product. A study from 2011 found that both processed, or pasteurized, honey and raw honey have antibacterial effects (source: Biotechnology Research International).

While this study was not done specifically with Manuka honey, the results still enforce that all pasteurized varieties are a safe and effective choice for pregnant women.

unpasteurized jars of honey

What Are The Side Effects of Eating Honey When Pregnant?

Honey is a relatively safe food, and it generally does not have any undesirable side effects.

Like I mentioned earlier, honey can decrease indicators of stress and LDL cholesterol, but for most, if not all, women these might be a nice bonus.

Because honey tastes sweeter than traditional table sugar, it can be easy to overdo the serving if you don’t ordinarily sweeten your foods and drinks with honey.

If this sounds like you, start by adding a little honey at a time to build up to your preferred sweetness level.

Common Honey Dishes and Pregnancy Safety

Just as honey is a popular item on the grocery shelves, it’s also a very popular ingredient in many common foods.

I did some research to see how the safety of these honey-containing foods stacks up:

Honey in Sauces and Salad Dressings

Honey is often found in dressings and sauces, such as honey mustard. You can read more in-depth about the safety of honey mustard during pregnancy in our article here.

If a salad dressing contains honey, it’s worth mentioning that killing off botulinum spores requires cooking to a much greater temperature (250F / 121C) than other bacteria, which is much hotter than you’d normally cook any dressing (source: Food Safety Authority of Ireland).

However, as I mentioned earlier, adults with good immunity don’t need to worry about the spores – including pregnant women.

Since pasteurized is best during pregnancy, always check to make sure the honey used in the dressing was pasteurized.

Honey Roasted Nuts (usually Peanuts or Almonds)

Honey roasted nuts are a game-day favorite. Like with many honey-flavored or coated snacks, the honey used in honey roasted nuts is typically going to be pasteurized as it’s a cheaper ingredient than raw and unfiltered honey.

Usually, a lot of honey is needed to make the snacks, so it’s probably not small-batch honey either, making this a good choice for women who want to avoid any potential for plant toxins.

Honey coated nuts can make a good, protein-rich snack, but be aware of the extra sodium, sugar and calories and try to eat them in moderation during pregnancy.

Honey Flavored Products

Honey flavored products, such as Graham crackers or Honey Nut Cheerios offer a little sweetness to satisfy pregnancy cravings, without being a full-on dessert for a snack.

These foods are also perfectly safe to enjoy while pregnant.

Honey is typically fairly low on the ingredients list though, so you probably won’t be seeing any of honey’s health benefits.

honey baked ham, carved

Honey Baked Ham

Nothing says “happy holidays” quite like honey-baked ham, sometimes called glazed ham.

Like with all meats, the ham should be cooked thoroughly to 165°F and served “steaming hot.” We have a complete guide to ham, including Christmas and honey-baked hams right here.

In addition to temperature, check to make sure the honey used was a pasteurized version.

Honey Menthol Cough Drops or Cold Remedies

Cough drops and similar products are not a prescription medication, so there’s no pregnancy warning on the label.

Likewise, there’s no research into their use during pregnancy, but cough drops are generally regarded as safe to use (source: Women’s Health Center of Virginia)

One consideration is the herbs used in “natural” branded drops, as many contain a variety of herbal remedies that may not be safe during pregnancy.

When it comes to honey cough drops, it’s not always specified whether or not the honey is raw or pasteurized, but the amount of actual honey per drop is likely minimal.

Are Drinks with Honey Safe During Pregnancy?

Honey drinks are a common way to soothe the stomach or take care of a sore throat without using over-the-counter medicines.

This includes drinks such as:

  • Honey and lemon (usually hot)
  • Milk and honey
  • Honey water
  • Tea with honey

All of these are generally safe during pregnancy. If you’re also adding lemon to your honey drinks, you might want to read our guide to lemons in pregnancy, too.

If you’re adding honey to tea as a sweetener, you should check the caffeine level, as well as check the ingredients of herbal teas, as not all of them are safe (source: APA).

One of the few honey drinks that isn’t safe in pregnancy is the “hot toddy” as it is an alcoholic drink and no amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy.

The main consideration when it comes to any honey drinks is that the pasteurization of the honey, in order to avoid any potential illness.

A secondary consideration is sugar content. While honey raises the blood sugar less than table sugar, there is still an effect.

Drinking more than a glass or two of honey drinks will add up, especially if you already have difficulties controlling blood sugar.

If blood sugar is a concern for you, or if you have diabetes, it is best to keep an eye on your honey intake, even in drinks.

Overall, honey is a popular alternative to sugar during pregnancy. In addition to raising the blood sugar less than sugar, honey is also known to be antimicrobial and an antioxidant.

While bacterial contamination with botulinum isn’t a concern for adults, even during pregnancy, women should still choose pasteurized versions from reputable sources as these are the safest option for the sweet treat.

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