Respiratory tract infections, allergies and otitis media are common problems in early childhood. Our aim was to evaluate in a longitudinal community-based cohort study the association between maturation of immunoglobulin (Ig) and mannan-binding lectin (MBL) responses and disease manifestations in the first 4 years of life. Sustained low levels of IgA proved the strongest single indicator of susceptibility for recurrent otitis media (P = 0.008) and respiratory tract infections (P = 0.02), and this condition was also associated with low production of IgG subclasses. About 7% of the cohort had sustained low levels of MBL (<0.4 mg/l). Low MBL did not predispose to any ailments studied, but children with low IgA and recurrent otitis media had relatively low MBL at birth, which failed to increase during the study period and was significantly reduced at the age of 4 years (P = 0.04). MBL levels increased from birth to 2 years (P < 0.0001) and were higher in children than in adults (P = 0.001). The increase was 1.9-fold in children with no recorded clinical events and 1.7-fold in children with asthma or infections, but significantly lower, 1.2-fold, in children with recurrent otitis media. Low levels of IgA within the normal range may reveal disease susceptibility not detected by conventional criteria. Slow maturation of Ig appears to be the main factor of susceptibility during childhood, but a strong corollary role for MBL is indicated by the high levels produced during childhood as well as the precipitation of disease in children with low levels of MBL and Ig.