Anotherone wrote a very good node above describing the three types of ear infections and just how painful a middle ear infection is. I’d like to expand a bit on infantile ear infections.

Middle ear infections are one of the things we know FOR SURE are prevented by breastfeeding. In other words, to put it more realistically; formula feeding raises the risk that a child will suffer repeatedly from this painful condition.

In our modern, formula feeding culture we have gotten to the twisted point where we think frequent colds and ear infections are to be expected in an child’s first few years. This is nonsense. Breastfed infants rarely suffer from these problems.

Breastfeeding is not just the optimal nutrition for an infant. It also provides a normal immune system. Formula fed infants have compromised immune systems and catch viruses and bacterial infections that breastfed infants are not susceptible to.

Colds, other viruses and bacterial infections lead to swollen tissue in the nasopharynx, (the place behind the nose where the nose and throat join) which in turn closes the Eustachian tube and prevents air from entering the middle ear. Air still gets out via the porous bones near by but can no longer get back in. This leads to a vacuum in the middle ear. If air can’t get in, fluid will. Remember the maxim...s nature abhors a vacuum. Fluid in the middle ear provides a lovely buffet for the germ party as well as causing hearing and pressure problems just from having fluid where air belongs.

Sometimes the fluid doesn’t get infected but may still lead to partial hearing losses. They may be temporary but they are occurring at the same time the child is developmentally trying to acquire language. This in turn can affect the development of speech as well as lead to increased frustration for parent and child. This may be part of the reason why formula fed children have more speech problems than breastfed children.

All of this is magnified by the anatomy of the Eustachian tube in infants. “A child's Eustachian tube is smaller than an adult's, and, because of differences in facial shape and structure, a child's Eustachian tube is much more prone to obstruction than an adult's.” We make an attempt to compensate for this with the instruction to always bottle feed with the infant upright and with angled bottles but these are just band aid solutions.

The real problem is, more infants in American day care group situations are receiving formula than breastmilk. Now not only is their immune system compromised but they are exposed to a concentrated and likely antibiotic resistant germ soup on a daily basis.

Breastfeeding develops the musculature of the face and jaw in a normal way. This is why formula fed infants have increased needs for orthodontia. Their muscle and bone development suffers from the lack of muscularly demanding breastfeeding. Muscles control the Eustachian tube opening. Underdeveloped muscles don’t do it as well.

Formula is a perfect medium for growth of bacteria. When bits of it sit in the little back pockets of the mouth or in the Eustachian tube the germs have a party . Breastmilk has living cells and other factors that prevent bacterial growth as well as factors that enhance epidermal growth.

Ear infections and colds in infancy are not normal. They are in large part caused by abnormal feeding patterns and compromised immune systems. They are also not trivial, they cause extreme pain, speech and hearing deficits, overuse of antibiotics and sometimes surgery.

Breastfeed your babies.
This web page is the source of the quote above and also has a nice illustration of the anatomy.