You’ve done your research and made the decision, if possible, you’re going to exclusively breast-feed your baby.
You’re all set with a nursing pillow, breast milk storage bags and most importantly, a breast pump that your girlfriend was kind enough to lend you. And, because you purchased all new bottles, tubing, valves, membranes and breast shields, your baby is safe from contamination, right? Wrong.
“If you’re sharing a breast pump, you’re sharing bacteria and viruses with the previous owner,” said Liz Maseth, an internationally board-certified lactation consultant at Akron Children’s Hospital. “Many people think that if they buy new parts that they can safely use another person’s breast pump, but it’s not the tubing you have to worry about. It’s the contamination of the breast pump’s motor.”
Most purchased pumps are designed as “open systems,” where breast milk can aerosol into the pump motor. This is the case because the breast shield is open to the tubing, which is open to the diaphragm on the pump motor. To create suction, the motor acts like a vacuum, pulling air — and invisible milk particles — into the system.
The problem is the diaphragm cannot be removed for proper cleaning and sterilization, so with every suction and release, another mom’s milk particles can be blown into your breast milk. That mom could have been exposed to hepatitis, herpes or even HIV, you just don’t know. In addition, if that previous user had cracked, bleeding nipples and pumped on that system, blood contamination could also occur.
“Mom’s body produces antibodies for anything she’s exposed to and she shares that with her baby through her breast milk,” said Maseth. “However, foreign viruses and bacteria that mom hasn’t been exposed to can get into her breast milk when pumping on a shared system, exposing her baby to potentially dangerous infectious diseases.”
The only breast pumps approved for multiple users are hospital grade. These breast pumps are what’s called a “closed system,” where the potential for cross-contamination has been eliminated because they’re designed so the milk never touches the working parts of the pump.
So if you’re planning on breast-feeding and pumping, it’s important you purchase a new breast pump or rent one that’s hospital grade. The good news is the Affordable Care Act requires most health insurance plans to cover the cost of breast pumps from leading manufacturers.
If you do not have insurance, hospitals or government programs can help. Akron Children’s, for example, provides manual breast pumps and encourages hand expression massage. In addition, some women may be eligible to receive assistance through WIC (Women, Infants and Children), which helps families purchase or rent (hospital-grade) breast pumps.
How to clean breast-pump parts properly after each use
Maseth offers these tips to cleaning your pump parts after each use to help decrease the risk for breast milk contamination.
- Wash your hands before and after every pumping session.
- If you’re using an electronic device while pumping, use hand sanitizer before handling your breast pump parts or breast milk.
- Carefully take each piece apart to wash. Four pieces should be washed each time: breast flange, breast pump bottle, diaphragm and the one-way drip valve. The tubing and caps do not need to be washed.
- Use hot, soapy water to wash your parts.
- Do not wash your pump parts in the kitchen sink. Instead, use a separate wash basin or bowl that is used only for washing your parts.
- Allow your breast pump parts to air dry, or dry them with a clean paper towel.
- Wash your breast pump with soap and water every day.