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Poppy seed for baking is not a soporific for infants

12/2005, 29.04.2005

BfR issues a warning about serious damage to health

The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) has warned against using home remedies with poppy seed for baking when infants or small children do not sleep through the night. In old recipes and even in more recent cookery books, parents exhausted from the night-time crying are advised to give their infants the strained milk from baking poppy seed which is said to encourage them to sleep through. "Because of qualitative fluctuations, baking poppy seed may contain differing amounts of the alkaloids morphine and codeine", says BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel. "In infants these alkaloids may lead to serious health damage ranging from breathlessness to respiratory arrest."

A recent case confirms the fact that old home remedies to encourage infants to sleep through are still used today. A mother had given her six-weeks old infant the strained milk of baking poppy seed with the very best of intentions to help it sleep better. She had taken the recipe from a baking book. Just a few hours later the infant had to be taken by ambulance to hospital. The child was suffering from breathing disturbances, it was not fully conscious and scarcely reacted at all to pain stimulus. Since there was a threat of respiratory arrest, the infant had to be ventilated with an oxygen mask. Because of the suspicion of opiate poisoning, the child was given an antidote.  A urine test, which revealed high levels of the alkaloids morphine and codeine, confirmed the suspicion.

According to the poison control centre, which reported the case to BfR, the mother had given her child 75 ml strained milk made from a mixture of 200 g poppy seed in 500 ml milk to which honey had been added. This home remedy had actually even recommended the two-fold amount of 400 g poppy.

The seeds, which are rich in oil and are used as baking poppy for foods, should not contain almost any alkaloids. However, tests have shown that, depending on where they come from, poppy seeds may contain very different amounts of these natural constituents. The morphine level may vary by factor 100.

This concrete case underlines the fact that home remedies to help children fall asleep and sleep through harbour hidden dangers. When infants and small children suffer from sleep disorders, parents would be better advised to seek the advice of a paediatrician.

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