MAY 26, 2016 08:17 AM PDT

Babies Fed At Breast Have Decreased Risk of Ear Infections

Infants have a less mature immune system It's only natural that infants and toddlers get ear infections. Their immune systems are less mature, so they're more likely to catch colds and the flu, both which could lead to ear infections. Plus, their auditory tubes are positioned at a less steep angle than adults' auditory tubes, so the tubes can’t drain secretions from the middle ear as effectively.

Approximately one-half of all infants have their first ear infection before they are 6-months old. By the time they’re 2, about 90 percent of them have experienced at least one ear infection. Untreated ear infections can cause life-threatening illnesses, such as meningitis. Thus, it’s pivotal to treat the infection immediately. The best way to avoid these illnesses, however, is to avoid the ear infection altogether. 

Now, researchers from The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital found that feeding infants directly from the breast significantly reduces the risk of developing ear infections.

The researchers, led by principal investigator Sarah Keim, surveyed 491 mothers. Three out of four mothers said they would feed their baby using a combination of direct breastfeeding, pumped milk, and formula in the first 12 months. The other fourth said they would purely bottle-feed their child. The latter mothers were not included in the study. 

The researchers found that after one month of breastfeeding, there was a four percent reduction in the risk of developing an ear infection. The odds were reduced by 17 percent if the infant was fed from the breast for the first 6 months. 

There was a 14 percent increase in experiencing an ear infection for infants who were fed pumped milk for one month. Infants who were fed pumped milk for 6 months had an 115 percent increased risk of developing an ear infection. 

"While it is not completely clear why ear infections may be related to bottle feeding, it could be because bottles can create a negative pressure during feeding,” Keim said. “This negative pressure is then transferred from the bottle to the middle ear of the infant during feedings, which may precipitate ear infections.” 

The researchers also found that infants fed with breast milk for 6 months, by either from the breast or pumped milk, had a 25 percent reduced risk of experiencing diarrhea. Infants fed directly at the breast for 6 months had a 26 percent reduced risk.

The research was published last week in the Journal of Pediatrics

Sources: email communication with The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, the Journal of Pediatrics, press release via EurekAlert! ,
About the Author
  • Julianne (@JuliChiaet) covers health and medicine for LabRoots. Her work has been published in The Daily Beast, Scientific American, and MailOnline. While primarily a science journalist, she has also covered culture and Japanese organized crime. She is the New York Board Representative for the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA). • To read more of her writing, or to send her a message, go to
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