Buying and Sharing Used Breast Pumps, A Big No No

I speak to pregnant women all the time, who are unsure about breastfeeding. They have heard all the stories about women who have tried to breastfeed, but stop due to pain, low milk supply, the baby not latching properly etc.. For these reasons, a lot of women are opting to buy a used breast pump, or take an old one from a former breastfeeding friend, because they figure why shell out BIG bucks for a fancy Medela, when they might not even need it.

I was one of these women, I took an old breastpump from a friend, who had used it for three children, and it was still running strong. About a week into pumping, my nipples were cracking and bright red, and I was diagnosed with Thrush. I went out and bought a new pump, had to pay a lactation consultant, because I had no idea what was wrong with me, and why breastfeeding was so…. painful (thrush will do it), so I might as well had just bought a new Medela in the first place.

The practice of re-using single user pumps may be dangerous because some disease organisms are know to be present in the breast milk of infected women. Additionally, if a woman has used the breast pump during an episode of cracked bleeding nipples, blood contamination may have also occurred. Home sterilization methods are not always reliable to ensure the safe destruction of all pathogens especially in the rubber parts such as washers and diaphragms. Some pumps have internal diaphragms that cannot be removed and cleaned or replaced. In addition, even if you get a new collection kit (the part the touches your breast and collects the milk) it may be possible for air-born pathogens or droplets of milk that are not visible to the naked eye to 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 to multiple users.

Many of the diseases that can be found in the milk of infected women are very serious or life threatening. Pathogens like Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis, cytomegalovirus (CMV) and others can be found in the breastmilk of infected women. (Lawrence 94) These diseases frequently go undetected for long periods of time, so even if the former user of the pump is trustworthy and willing to share this personal health information with you, she may not be aware she or her partner are carriers. Though there have not been any documented cases of mothers or babies being infected through the use of a second-hand pump, I don’t believe sharing single user pumps is worth even a very small or theoretical risk.

Other very difficult to clear fungal infections like candidiasis, more commonly known as yeast or thrush, may also be transmitted. Yeast organisms are very stubborn pathogens that 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 difficulty in ensuring the complete destruction of the fungus even with careful cleaning.

The FDA states “Only FDA cleared, hospital-grade pumps should be used by more than one person.”

The following pumps are are designed to be used by multiple users:

These pumps operate on a “closed system”, meaning that it is impossible for milk reach the motor, hence these are safe to be used my multiple mothers.

Hollister Elite® Hollister Lact-e®

Hollister SMB® Breast pump®

Medela Classic® Breast pump

Medela Lactina® Breast pump

Medela Symphony® Breast pump

Bailey Nurture III®

Above list subject to change, please consult the FDA site for the most up to date information.

All other pumps are desigened to be single user pumps and shoud not be shared. Please note that even pumps that cost over $100.00 to $300.00 are still single user pumps.

So put that great pump on your baby registry, maybe you’ll get use out of it, and if not, it will just go in the closet with the Wipes Warmer you thought you needed.