‘Honey, coconut water may trigger allergic reactions in neonates’

Medical experts have warned against giving coconut water or honey to a newborn within 28 days of birth (neonate), stressing that it is an unnecessary practice that may cause serious allergic reactions, infections and severe organ damage.

The warning is against the background of the traditional belief that giving coconut water to babies helps to stop colic.

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, a health-centred website, colic is when a healthy baby cries for a very long time and no obvious reason, noting that this is most common during the first six weeks of life and usually goes away on its own by age three or four months.

“Up to one in four newborn babies may have it. Colic is defined as when a baby’s crying lasts over three hours a day or happens more than three days a week or more than three weeks. It often begins suddenly, with loud and mostly nonstop crying.

 “Babies with colic are often fussy, gassy, and do not sleep well. But in most cases, they grow and gain weight normally. Colic will go away on its own. This often happens by age three months and in most cases by age six months.”

Speaking exclusively to PUNCH Healthwise in different interviews, Physicians warned that putting honey in the mouth of a baby under one month, especially during christening to proclaim that ‘its life will be as sweet as honey’, is a practice rooted in culture and tradition that lacks any scientific backing and not permissible in medical sciences.

They held that the only thing permissible by medical practice to be given to a neonate is breast milk and perhaps, medication in the event that such a baby is sick, noting that coconut water and honey may put the life of a baby at risk and could cause death.

A Consultant Paediatrician at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital, Nnewi, Anambra State, Dr Sylvia Echendu, noted that mothers are always ready to administer coconut water to their babies after delivery, saying that if the professionals are not firm enough, the mothers may prevail on them to give it to the babies.

She said, “We need to educate our people because they believe in a number of things that are not right. A woman after giving birth will tell you, ‘I have my coconut water.’ The women believe that coconut water, if given to a baby immediately after birth would eliminate the chances of having colic.

 “Coconut water is good and can be given to children but not to babies under six months. If given to a neonate, it may trigger a serious allergic reaction and lead to other serious medical conditions.

 “The only thing that we allow to be given to a newborn is breast milk and nothing else. Breast milk contains all the nutrients the baby needs all year round.

 “It has anti-allergy that would not allow for allergic reactions and infections. So, paediatricians and neonatologists advocate exclusive breastfeeding as the only thing to be given to babies under six months.”

 Shedding more light on this, a Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, NAUTH, Dr. Chukwuneme Okpala said, “Giving coconut water or honey to a neonate is dangerous because you are likely to introduce an infection to that baby, especially as the guts are not yet mature.

 “Neonates are not well prepared to fight infections, unlike adults that have developed the immune system against some disease conditions. Before now, they used to be protected in the womb but now, they are on their own and have not developed the immune system to fight infections.

 “Remember that whatever one eats through the mouth goes through the liver for metabolism and from the liver, to the bloodstream for the body to absorb whatever it needs. And after that, it goes to the kidney for excretion.

 “Now, babies’ liver and kidney are not well matured to undertake these tasks. If you now send chemicals into their system, their liver will overwork. And if this continues, there is the likelihood that their liver will be overwhelmed and fail.

“It’s just like giving a young child a heavy load to carry, you overwhelm that child. Some of these chemicals are toxic to the liver and for a young baby, the liver may not recover from it. The same goes for the kidney.

 “These are reasons we say don’t give anything else to a newborn, be it from natural fruit or anything. We even discourage water because breast milk contains enough water for the baby.”

 According to Okpala, breast milk is a complete meal for the baby as it contains things that the baby needs including antibodies that help to fight diseases and allergic reactions.

He added, “The mother’s breast milk has protective agents against infections. So, external things like coconut water, artificial milk or honey are not needed at this stage as they can cause problems for babies.”

Supporting the experts’ position, a study published in the National Library of Medicine, titled, ‘Coconut allergy revised,’ by Katherine Anagnostou and her team, discovered a case of coconut allergy in a child that was previously tolerant to coconut.

The child was regularly exposed via both the skin and gastrointestinal route, affirming that coconut water can trigger allergic reactions in neonates and babies under six months.

“What is interesting in our case is that coconut allergy developed in a child who was regularly exposed to coconut allergen previously without reaction. This involved skin exposure in the form of coconut oil from the age of two weeks and subsequently also via the oral route, tolerating coconut and coconut-containing products, until the age of six years.

 “This pattern of coconut allergy development has not been reported previously in children, to our knowledge and there is a need for further research on coconut allergy in children to preserve their lives.”

 Also published in the same National Library of Medicine, is a study titled, ‘Anaphylaxis caused by artisanal honey in a child: A case report,’ by Margherita Di Costanzo and others.

“Honey can cause severe systemic allergic reactions in children. In the paediatric age group, only a few cases have been reported in the literature. Honey allergy may be caused by pollen content or bee-derived proteins,” it stated.

Credit Gist New Today News in Newspaper Nigeria Headlines

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