Does breastfeeding reduce the risk of ear infection?

Breast milk contains antibodies that can help fight infection, and studies show that breastfed babies are at lower risk for ear infections. As a result, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) lists breastfeeding for at least one year and exclusively for six months as an effective strategy for reducing ear infections. 

There is a “dose-response” relationship between breastfeeding and lower risk of ear infections; the more you breastfeed, the stronger the protection, but even partial breastfeeding or breastfeeding for a shorter duration makes a difference.

Other recommendations to reduce ear infections include:

  • Keep your child’s hands clean. Wash hands thoroughly before eating, after handling used tissues, and frequently during cold/flu season.
  • Limit the use of pacifiers. The AAP recommends giving babies pacifiers at nap/bedtime to reduce the risk of SIDS; however, they recommend discontinuing pacifiers at 6 months of age. For breastfed infants, delay introduction of pacifiers until breastfeeding is well-established, usually after 4–6 weeks.
  • Confirm good hygiene is used in childcare settings. Children should wash their hands upon arrival and throughout the day at childcare centers, especially before eating and after using the bathroom. Staff should routinely—and frequently—wash their hands. Hand sanitizer is an inadequate substitute for handwashing. Toys should be wiped down often.
  • Keep your child away from tobacco smoke. Second and thirdhand exposure to tobacco smoke is believed to increase the risk of ear infections.
  • Position your baby carefully. If bottle feeding, hold your baby at a 45-degree angle and never prop your baby's bottle on a pillow or other support, always hold it in your hand. Feeding while laying down can cause formula or other fluids to flow into your baby's Eustachian tubes, potentially introducing bacteria or viruses into the middle ear. 
  • Keep your child's immunizations up to date. Providing protection against viruses and bacteria that can cause other serious illnesses like the flu and pneumococcal, can also help prevent ear infections.

For more on ear infections, click here

Last updated December 29, 2021

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