Sixty-eight children fed human milk were followed prospectively from birth to 12 months of age to assess the effect of milk antibody on nasopharyngeal colonization. Human milk secretory IgA antibody to P6, a highly conserved outer membrane protein of nontypeable Haemophilus influenzae, was measured with the use of an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Nasopharyngeal colonization with nontypeable H. influenzae and the occurrence of otitis media were determined. Nasopharyngeal colonization was found in 22 children (32%), and 39 children (57%) had otitis media. Frequency of isolation of nontypeable H. influenzae was directly related to episodes of otitis media (r = 0.35; p = 0.001). The level of human milk anti-P6 secretory IgA antibody was inversely related to frequency of isolation of the organism (r = -0.27; p = 0.026). The average antibody level, expressed as nanograms per 0.1 mg total secretory IgA, in human milk fed to children with no colonization of nontypeable H. influenzae was significantly higher than in milk fed to children in whom colonization occurred on multiple occasions (156 +/- 120 vs 69 +/- 50; p = 0.013). Prevention of colonization was most evident during breast-feeding. These data suggest that the protective effects of human milk against otitis media may be due in part to inhibition of nasopharyngeal colonization with nontypeable H. influenzae by specific secretory IgA antibody.