Mention breastfeeding and you’ll find most mothers have a strong opinion about it, one way or the other. It’s an emotional topic. But it’s also a scientific one. Researchers have spent years investigating the effects of breastfeeding on newborns and infants. One question that has been asked is ‘does breastfeeding reduce the risk of ear infection in infants?’ The results are in.

The short answer, yes it does.

But let’s delve a little deeper into the facts and figures behind this.

First, let’s set the scene…

75% of infants have at least one ear infection by age one

Ear infections aren’t just uncomfortable for the infant and stressful for the parents, they can also have long-term consequences for the child’s hearing health. For example, severe and repeated middle ear infections can cause hearing loss. In children this can lead to delayed language development, which in turn can result in learning difficulties and trouble with reading.

Breast-fed babies have half the number of ear infections of formula-fed babies

The protective effects of breast milk mean that exclusively formula-fed babies lose out and as a result, have twice as many ear infections as exclusively breast-fed babies.

The evidence in support of the protective effects of breast milk is so strong that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months and continued breastfeeding for at least one year.

More breastfeeding means more protection against ear infections

In scientific jargon this is called a ‘dose-response’ relationship. The ‘dose’ being breastfeeding and the ‘response’ being the likelihood of getting an ear infection. Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months provides the greatest amount of protection, but even partial breastfeeding or breastfeeding exclusively for a shorter amount of time will provide some protection against ear infections, according to paediatricians.

So, when it comes to reducing the chances of ear infection, the old saying ‘breast is best’ applies. To protect your infant’s hearing, there are a few other things you can do:

  • regularly wash your and your baby’s hands to reduce the chances of them catching a cold
  • reduce the use of pacifiers
  • don’t smoke
  • keep you infant away from second-hand smoke.

Importantly, if you ever have any concerns about your infant’s hearing, contact an ear, nose, and throat health professional at Scottsdale Ear, Nose and Throat. We’re here to make sure that your child’s hearing stays sound.

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Dr. Debra L. Hamila, Au.D., CCC/A

Dr. Debra L. Hamila, Au.D., CCC/A

Debra Hamila received her master’s degree in audiology from Cleveland State University and her Au.D. from Arizona School of Health Sciences and has been a practicing audiologist for more than 33 years. She has worked in a variety of ENT offices, hospital and clinical settings.