You Can Reduce Your Child's Risk
Some factors that make your child more prone to getting ear infections are out of your control. For example, being male (although doctors don't know why), living with more than one sibling (lots of germs), and having a family history of ear infections all raise the probability. Fortunately, there are specific ways you can help.
Protect him from secondhand smoke. A number of studies, including one that was recently published in the Medical Journal of Australia, strongly link childhood ear infections with exposure to cigarette smoke.
If you're making a decision about child care, choose a smaller setting. "The more children there are in a room, the more germs and colds there will be for your child to catch," says Dr. April. "Although ear infections themselves aren't contagious, the upper respiratory illnesses that can lead to ear infections are. Also, when your child is with a larger number of other kids, who are probably going to be taking a lot of antibiotics, she's more likely to be exposed to drug-resistant bacteria."
Breastfeed for at least six months. Long recognized as an immunity booster, breast milk can even protect children who are particularly susceptible to ear infections (such as those who've had three or more ear infections within six months), according to a study at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. "This protection probably lasts well after a child has stopped breastfeeding," says Dr. Dempsey.
Limit pacifiers. Binkies may introduce bacteria into the mouth, which can then travel to the ear. Research in Finland has found that if you give your child a pacifier only at naptime and bedtime, you can lower his chance of getting ear infections by 33 percent.
Bottle-feed your baby in an upright position. When a baby drinks from a bottle while she's flat on her back, the formula (or pumped milk) tends to pool in her mouth, increasing the chance for liquid to flow into the middle ear and cause infection. Breastfeeding is thought to be less risky because the nipple is farther back in a baby's mouth, which prevents milk from pooling, and the flow of milk is more controlled and slower than it is from a bottle.