Moms, take note! Breastfeeding may lower ear infection risk in babies, says researchers

Washington: Moms, take note! Feeding babies at the breast rather than providing pumped milk from a bottle may reduce their risk of ear infection, a new study has found. Feeding breast milk compared with formula may also reduce the risk of diarrhoea, according to researchers from Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in the US.

A total of 491 mothers completed surveys as part of the study. Three out of four women used some combination of feeding from the breast, pumped milk and formula in the first 12 months of their children’s lives, researchers said.

After accounting for demographic and other related factors, researchers found that one month of feeding at the breast was associated with a 4 per cent reduction in the odds of ear infection, and a 17 per cent reduction for infants fed at the breast for six months of infancy.

Among infants who were fed only breast milk, either at the breast and/or pumped breast milk from a bottle, for the first six months, the odds of experiencing an ear infection increased by approximately 14 per cent for infants fed pumped milk for one month and by 115 per cent for infants fed with pumped milk for 6 months, researchers said.

“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,” said Sarah Keim from Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

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

Infants fed with breast milk by either mode for six months had an approximately 30 per cent reduced risk of diarrhoea, researchers said. Diarrhoea risk was reduced by 25 per cent for infants fed any breast milk for six months, and by 26 per cent for infants fed at the breast for 6 months, they said.

Infants fed formula for 6 months had a 34 per cent increased risk of experiencing diarrhoea. According to researchers, this finding suggests that the substance fed, rather than the mode of feeding, may underlie differences in risk of diarrhoea.

“This research begins to identify unique and separate associations of substance fed and mode of breast milk delivery, and demonstrates the importance of exploring these distinctive exposures in infant feeding research,” said Kelly McNamara Boone from Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

Mothers who fed their infants breast milk only were of greater socioeconomic status than those who fed their infants formula, researchers said. The findings were published in the Journal of Pediatrics.