How to Clean a Breast Pump
The busy mom’s guide to getting it clean without spending precious time scrubbing after each session
Busy mothers who regularly use a breast pump to express milk know a pumping session is not as quick and easy as it sounds. After finding a private spot, setting up the pump, pumping for 10 to 20 minutes and storing the milk, you still have to clean and dry several parts of the device. Now multiply that by pumping three to five times per day to maintain your milk supply. That’s a lot of labor!
As a result, some moms might be tempted to cut corners when it comes to cleaning. But which corners can you cut without letting yeast and bacteria grow from dried milk left on the pump? Hope Ouellette, certified lactation counselor and postpartum doula with Birthing Gently in Boston, offers answers.
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Her suggestion: Simplify the cleaning process with daytime rinses and one deep cleaning at night. This streamlined approach may help prevent moms from giving up on their pump and perhaps help them breastfeed longer, Oullette says.
Daytime sanitizing made simple
First, rinse the breast shields in cool water immediately after pumping and wipe dry with a paper towel. Then, to keep the shields bacteria-free, place them in a sealable bag and store them in the refrigerator until the next use.
Deep-clean at night
The end of the day is a good time to give pumps a robust cleaning, says Ouellette, adding that gentle dish soap and warm water are the only things you’ll need.
Washable parts of the pump — breast shields, bottles and lids — should soak in warm soapy water for 15 to 20 seconds, she says. Then rinse and dry them using a paper towel. “Cloth towels harbor bacteria which can get on the pump pieces and into the breastmilk,” Ouellette warns.
Depending on the brand of the pump, certain parts may be top-rack dishwasher safe. Steam from the dishwasher can sanitize the parts.
Looking to sterilize them? Forget about it. “There’s a difference between sanitizing and sterilizing,” says Ouellette. Sanitizing gets rid of as many germs as possible — it’s enough to prevent any breast infections and contaminate the breast milk. Sterilization, which kills all microorganisms, isn’t necessary or even possible at home.
Products advertised as at-home sterilizers, such as microwave steam bags or plug-in steam sterilizers, don’t meet the Food and Drug Administration’s definition of sterilization. When used correctly, they reach temperatures that can kill some bacteria. But according to the FDA, there's no consumer product available for purchase that truly sterilizes pumps. Only hospitals own the tools to sterilize breast pumps.
What you shouldn’t wash
If you have an electric pump, the FDA suggests you wipe down the exterior of the electrical unit, which holds the motor and batteries, with a clean paper towel after each use. Never use water or other cleaning liquids on this area.
The air tubes don’t need to be washed. They are generally too thin to run a paper towel through, and can get moldy if left wet.
Also, don’t wash breast milk storage bags. They expand when they freeze and are not reusable. "I'm not saying that it’s going to be unclean because it had breast milk in it, but the plastic will be compromised," Ouellette says.
Don’t share breast pumps
Pumps used for home are not meant to be used for more than one person. “We’ve seen a lot of moms borrowing pumps from friends, and there’s a false sense that it’s sterilized,” she adds.
To prevent the spread of germs from mom to mom, it's best not to share pumps or buy used pumps.
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