Low maternally derived serum immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies to Streptococcus pneumoniae capsular polysaccharides (PS) combined with the inability of infants to produce anti-PS antibody may explain onset of otitis media in the first 6 months of life. To explore this relation, cord blood samples were assayed for anti-PS IgG antibodies from 414 of 592 infants enrolled in a study of early onset otitis media between 1991 and 1994. Infants' ears were examined at health supervision and illness visits for the first 6 months of life in a large Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, health maintenance organization. Antibodies to seven common pneumococcal serotypes (3, 4, 6B, 14, 18C, 19F, and 23F) were measured by enzyme-linked immunoabsorbent assay (ELISA). Cox's regression analysis revealed that among infants with a sibling otitis media history, those with low concentrations of type 14 or 19F anti-PS cord blood antibody had earlier otitis media onset than those with higher cord blood antibody concentrations (relative risks (RR) (95% confidence intervals (CI)) = 1.77 (1.05-2.99) and 1.89 (1.11-3.23), respectively). Day care attendance also increased risk (RR = 1.56, 95% CI 0.96-2.52). Breastfeeding, parental smoking, and low anti-PS antibody to pneumococcal serotypes 3, 4, 6B, 18C, and 23F did not significantly affect the risk of early otitis media.