Not Breastfeeding Increases The Risk Of Ear Infections: Study

Not Breastfeeding Increases The Risk Of Ear Infections: Study

Breastfeeding is important for many health reasons. Not breastfeeding, on the other hand, increases a baby’s risk of illness through infection, including the risk of gastrointestinal and respiratory infections.

According to Australia’s leading health organisation, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), not breastfeeding increases a baby’s risk of gastrointestinal infection by 178%, and the risk of being hospitalised for lower respiratory tract infection in the first year by 257%.

In addition, the NHMRC indicates that not breastfeeding increases the risk of ear infection by 100%.

New Research: Not Breastfeeding Increases Ear Infection Risk

Supporting previous research, a new study has further established the increased risk of ear infection in babies who are not breastfed. In this new study, 491 surveys completed by mothers were analysed.

The study found, after accounting for demographic and other related factors, that 1 month of breastfeeding was associated with a 4% reduction in the odds of ear infection, and a 17% reduction in the case of babies breastfed for 6 months. This is how the authors in the study chose to present this information.

Since breastfeeding is the biological norm, another way to present this information could have been to refer to the increased risks associated with not breastfeeding rather than showing how breastfeeding reduces the risk.

This study also found that feeding a baby with expressed breastmilk in a bottle for the first month, compared with direct breastfeeding for the first month, increased the risk of ear infection by 14%. And, that feeding expressed breastmilk in a bottle for the first 6 months, compared with direct breastfeeding for the first 6 months, increased the risk of ear infection by 115%.

How Does Bottle Feeding Increase The Risk Of Ear Infection?

But how does bottle feeding (formula or expressed breastmilk) increase the risk of ear infection?

For babies who are formula fed, the lack of the many anti-infective, anti-inflammatory, and immune modulating factors in breastmilk, which help promote optimal immune function,  increases their risk of infection.

Also, bottle feeding could result in a negative pressure being transferred to the middle ear during feeding, increasing the risk of ear infection in bottle fed babies.

According to one of the authors of the study, Sarah Keim, “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. This negative pressure is then transferred from the bottle to the middle ear of the infant during feedings, which may precipitate ear infections”.

These days, with the increasing practice of exclusive expressing and bottle feeding a baby with expressed breastmilk, research such as this highlights the importance of differentiating between breastfeeding at the breast, bottle feeding expressed breastmilk, and bottle feeding formula.

There are many ways to make bottle feeding more like breastfeeding, which you can read more about here.

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Renee Kam is a mother of two daughters, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), a physiotherapist, author of 'The Newborn Baby Manual' and an Australian Breastfeeding Association Counsellor. In her spare time, Renee enjoys spending time with family and friends, horse riding, running and reading.

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