Breastfeeding: Are used breast pumps safe?

My sister-in-law has a breast pump that she used with her last baby just a year ago. She offered to loan it to me. Is it safe to use a used breast pump?

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Kathy Kuhn

Kathy Kuhn is a registered nurse who has been working with breastfeeding families since 1981. She has been an International Board Certified... Read more

It's not a good idea (the FDA agrees!). Most pumps are labeled, "single patient" or "single user," meaning it's intended for one user only. There could even be some legal liability imposed on the original owner of a used pump if it is found to be the source of an illness in the subsequent user.

Additionally, if a woman has used the breast pump during an episode of cracked bleeding nipples, blood contamination may have occurred (home sterilization methods are not always reliable).

Some pumps have internal pieces and rubber parts that cannot be removed, easily cleaned or replaced. In addition, even if you get a new collection kit (the part the touches your breast and collects the milk) air-borne pathogens or droplets of milk could get into a pump motor and cause contamination to the next user. Most single user pumps are "open system" pumps and do not have any protective barrier to prevent cross contamination.

Many of the diseases that can be found in the milk of infected women are very serious or life threatening including Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis, cytomegalovirus (CMV) and others. These diseases frequently go undetected for long periods of time, so even if the former user of the pump is trustworthy and shares this personal health information with you, she may not be aware she or her partner are carriers. Though there haven’t been any documented cases of mothers or babies being infected through the use of a second-hand pump, it’s just not worth the risk.

Other very difficult-to-clear fungal infections like candidiasis, more commonly known as yeast or thrush, may also be transmitted (these organisms are very stubborn pathogens and can live on surfaces for long periods). Some lactation consultants will go as far as recommending replacing old pump equipment when working with a mom who has an especially persistent yeast infection because of the difficult in ensuring the complete destruction of the fungus even with careful cleaning.

Rental pumps are the only pumps safe to be shared by multiple users because they are specially made to prevent cross contamination. Rental breast pumps are "closed systems" meaning it is impossible for pathogens to get into the motor or inside housing of the pump. Additionally, each mother is required to purchase her own collection kit and the surfaces of the rental unit are disinfected with solutions made just for this purpose between each user.

New moms usually consider borrowing a pal's pump because of the cost factor, but keep in mind you're already saving a considerable amount of money by nursing in the first place.

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