Objective. Most infants with cleft palate suckle unproductively and require feeding by artificial means. Most also have unremitting otitis media accompanied by (usually) nonpurulent middle-ear effusion, a complication generally attributed to impaired eustachian tube ventilatory function. We observed two infants with cleft palate in whom one or both ears appeared effusionfree on more than one occasion, and who also were receiving or previously had received breast milk feedings. This prompted us to analyze the relation between middle-ear status and feeding mode in a large series of infants with cleft palate. Our objective was to determine whether in these infants the receipt of breast milk mitigated the otherwise virtually invariable development and continued presence of otitis media.
Methods. We reviewed and analyzed data concerning both feeding mode and the presence or absence of middle-ear effusion in 315 infants with cleft palate, as recorded systematically in the course of prospective studies at our Cleft Palate-Craniofacial Center. Analysis was limited to periods preceding the infants' receipt of tympanostomy-tube placement or palate repair, or their second birthday, whichever occurred first.
Results. Freedom from effusion in one or both ears was found at one or more visits in only seven (2.7%) of 261 infants fed cow's milk or soy formula exclusively, but in 17 (32%) of 54 infants fed breast milk exclusively or in part for varying periods (P < .0001). In virtually all instances, the breast milk had been harvested by the mother and fed to the infant via an artificial feeder. Baseline clinical and sociodemographic characteristics and surveillance in the two groups of infants were comparable.
Conclusions. Artificially fed breast milk provides variable protection against the development of otitis media in infants with cleft palate. This finding supports the likelihood of a similarly protective effect of breast milk in noncleft infants. The finding also suggests strongly that in infants with cleft palate, impaired eustachian tube function is not the only pathogenetic factor in the infants' initial development of middle-ear effusion.
- Received January 26, 1994.
- Accepted March 23, 1994.
- Copyright © 1994 by the American Academy of Pediatrics