Can bottle feeding cause ear infections?

Many mothers have heard the above statement. The answer is yes, bottle feeding can cause ear infections in your baby. Here are the reasons why and how it can be prevented.

There is also an old wives’ tale that a baby will get ear infections if he is nursed while lying down. This is not true; in fact, breastfeeding actually reduces a baby’s risk of getting an ear infection compared to bottle-feeding.

Feeding ear infection usually occurs when milk flows into the baby’s ear, where the warmth of the ear combined with the moisture and sugar in the milk provide a perfect breeding ground for germs. This is true for both breast milk and formula milk. However, the mother’s nipple is wonderfully designed so that the milk will only flow when the baby suckles. Therefore, there is less chance of breast milk flowing into the child’s ear during feeding. However, bottle nipples are not as well designed and it is quite easy for milk to leak from the nipple even when the child has stopped sucking. This is what makes ear infections more common in formula-fed babies than in breastfed ones; it has nothing to do with milk but everything to do with mechanics.

So, if you are formula feeding your baby, you need to pay a little more attention to prevent ear infection. The first thing to keep in mind is that formula milk, unlike breast milk, is a foreign substance and generally contains a higher level of sugar; remember that heat, humidity and sugar are what feed germs. Also, even when feeding the baby sitting up, it is possible for the milk to reach the baby’s ear, so be aware of this. Most importantly, never leave the bottle in the baby’s mouth for long periods of time, allowing the baby to feed himself. This is a practice that some mothers often do when putting the baby to bed. Your baby is not supervised; it is quite easy for milk to enter the ear. This habit can also lead to something called bottle-feeding tooth decay. Lastly, it is important to remember to be extra careful with infections when bottle feeding. Breast milk is full of the mother’s own antibodies: formula milk has none of these. And it is these antibodies that help your baby avoid infection.

Bottle feeding isn’t the only thing that can cause an ear infection. Other causes are exposure to cigarette smoke, allergies, the use of a pacifier, being in day care and therefore being around other children who may have ear infections. Like most aspects of responsible parenting, it’s just a matter of being aware of the dangers.