Breastfeeding is already known to offer a number of health and developmental benefits. Predominantly breastfeeding an infant for at least 6 months offers significant protection against the development of ear infection until at least age 3, Nigerian Tribune reports.

Still, researchers say the protective effect of breastfeeding against ear infections may be compromised when mothers breastfeed in a lying position. In fact, children that lay down flat whilst breastfeeding end up with more ear infections.

“It’s supposed to be protective but we now found out in a few studies, especially in this environment that mothers who were breastfeeding their children tend to have more children with an ear infection known as, otitis media.  And we now discovered that it was the technique of breastfeeding; when mothers breastfeed the child while lying down,” said Dr Adekunle Daniel, a consultant Ear, Nose and Throat Surgeon at the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan.”

According to Dr Daniel, “When breastfeeding the child lying down, there’s a possibility that when the child regurgitates, it goes into the ear.  The enzyme that helps to break down protein in the stomach called renin has been found in the middle ear because of this regurgitation that the child has. The sugar in the milk causes germs to grow.”

Children are more likely to suffer from ear infections than adults for two reasons. Their immune systems are underdeveloped and less equipped to fight off infections. Also, their Eustachian tube (the tube that connects the middle ear to the nose and the back of the throat) is smaller and more horizontal, which makes it more difficult for fluid to drain out of the ear.

Ear infections in babies and toddlers are extremely common. In fact, a study to determine the prevalence of ear infection in children aged 6 months – 10 years attending a primary health care facility in Samaru, Zaria, observed the infection to be higher in children in the age range, six months to two years.

Fifty swabs from ear discharge and imparted wax were obtained from the study subjects regardless of whether they were presenting with symptoms of otitis media or not. Information on certain symptoms, as well as demographic and risk factors, was obtained through the use of questionnaires. It was in the 2021 edition of Ife Journal of Science.

Dr Daniel said it is important that babies after breastfeeding be allowed to burp before laying them down to sleep so that they do not regurgitate and the milk finds its way into their ear and predisposes them to develop an ear infection.

Much more, he declared that when children sleep in an overcrowded room that is not properly ventilated, they tend to have a higher incidence of ear infections.

“Again, children exposed to smoke during indoor cooking, especially with kerosene stoves, have the tendency to have ear infections more than others. Also, if the child is in a room with an individual who smokes regularly, the child can also have a higher incidence of ear infections. Those are the things that we know apart from the breastfeeding technique that can predispose children to an ear infection.”

Studies show that children who are exposed to secondhand smoke are up to three times more likely to develop ear infections than those who don’t have those exposures.

In addition, babies also get ear infections when they have a sore throat, cold, or an upper respiratory infection, which causes the lining of the Eustachian tube to swell, become congested and accumulate fluid. Common signs that your baby has an ear infection include crying, irritability, tugging at the ear, difficulty feeding, ear drainage, and fever.

The good news is that most ear infections go away on their own and those that don’t are typically easy to treat. “If you bring the baby early, there is help. The physicians can treat but of course, if the child returns to that environment, there is a possibility that it can repeat itself,” he added.

Simple steps can also be taken to reduce a child’s risk of developing ear infections such as vaccination. Children who are up-to-date on their vaccines get fewer ear infections than their un-vaccinated counterparts. The 13-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13) protects against 13 types of infection-causing bacteria. Wash of hands with soap and water frequently is also the best way to protect a child against cold and flu.

Many parents are concerned that an ear infection will affect their child’s hearing irreversibly—or that an ear infection will go undetected and untreated.  But, the importance of exclusive breastfeeding and good personal hygiene cannot be emphasized to ensure children are free from an ear infection.

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