How to clean and care for your baby’s ears

Before reaching for an earbud, midwife Pippa Hime discusses the dos and don’ts of cleaning baby’s ears.


Babies’ ears, just like adults, produce wax. From time to time this wax becomes visible and may leave you wondering just how to clean your baby’s ears. The pinna, or outer ear, can build up with oils and dirt. The ear canal itself contains cerumen or ear wax. “Ear wax performs a very important role in the ear canal. It protects the canal from water, infection and helps to transport the dead skin cells and loose hairs out of the canal,” says Dr Eve Samson, an ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) surgeon in Cape Town.

It is completely normal and should not be a concern.

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Dos and don’ts of cleaning baby’s ears:

  • Do use a warm face cloth to clean around the baby’s ear.
  • Clean behind the ear.
  • Don’t stick the cloth or cotton wool into the baby’s ear.
  • Don’t stick your finger into the baby’s ear.
  • Don’t use ear candles. They do not work and may potentially cause harm.
  • Don’t use earbuds. “They will push the wax further into the canal, out of sight, but not out of the canal,” says Dr Samson.
  • Do consult with a paediatrician if there appears to be a build-up of wax that may need to be removed by your healthcare provider.

According to Dr Samson, ear wax can be softened with a few drops of olive oil, almond oil or sweet oil. “Ear wax may be gently rinsed out of the canal with warm water. Your GP may use hydrogen peroxide to help remove the wax. Do not put any drops into your baby’s ear if you suspect, or know that your baby has a hole in his/her eardrum. It may cause a middle ear infection.”

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Signs of an ear infection in your baby:

  • Pulling or tugging on their ear. This indicates pain or discomfort.
  • Not wanting to suck or feed. An infection can affect the pressure in the ear making it painful to suck or swallow.
  • Not wanting to lie down. This could be due to the increased pressure on the ear that causes pain when lying down.
  • Crying excessively from pain.
  • A fever. This is a sign your baby is fighting off an infection.
  • Any fluid or pus draining from the baby’s ear.
  • If baby’s ear smells musty and the wax is pale white, and wet. This may be a cholesteatoma and needs medical assessment. According to, a cholesteatoma is an abnormal, noncancerous skin growth that can develop in the middle section of your ear, behind the eardrum. It may be a birth defect, but it’s most commonly caused by repeated middle ear infections. It often develops as a cyst, or sac, that sheds layers of old skin.

If you notice any of these signs, it is important to get your baby assessed by a doctor. The doctor may prescribe topical ear drops, an antibiotic if it is a bacterial infection and pain medication. A visit to an ENT specialist may be necessary if your baby gets recurrent infections.

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