Can Breast Pumps Be Recycled?

One of the priciest and most important items on a new mother’s shopping list is the breast pump. Since a new one costs about $300.00 and is often only used for a few months, many moms look to friends, relatives or the local second hand shop to pick one up cheap.

But according to the F.D.A. that’s not such a good idea. They categorize breast pumps as single user items, kind of like toothbrushes, and warn nursing mothers to never, ever use or buy a previously owned breast pump.

Why?

  •  Human breast milk can carry a wide variety of serious or life-threatening diseases like HIV, hepatitis, and CMV (cytomegalovirus).
  • Most single-user pumps are “open systems” which means that the pump motor is open to contact with the breast milk. Many parts of the pump cannot be removed, so despite all good intentions, they can never be safely sterilized and diseases can be passed on to the new, unsuspecting user and her baby.
  • Many of these diseases go undetected for a long periods of time. The previous user may not even know she is a carrier when she passes the pump on to you. And then you take on a huge risk. *
  • In addition to the life threatening diseases mentioned above, fungal infections including candidiasis (commonly known as thrush or yeast) can also be transmitted. Yeast organisms can survive on surfaces for a long time and there is no way to be sure that the fungus has been completely destroyed. And these infections can be extremely difficult to get rid of.

There is a practical reason for not borrowing that needs to be considered, too. Pumps typically come with a one-year warranty. They often break down after that. If you have borrowed one and it breaks, you may feel the need to buy a new one to return to the owner. So you end up spending as much for one that you can’t keep as you would have if you had bought it for yourself. Doesn’t make much sense, does it?

BUT — and here’s the good news — there are rental breast pumps that can be safely reused. These hospital grade pumps are built differently from the ones you buy. They operate on a “closed system” and have a built in barrier that separates the pump from the milk collecting parts of the device. All parts of these systems can be safely sterilized and, as a result, can be used by many moms.

Many hospitals and medical supply stores rent safe, affordable, hospital-grade pumps. To find out where you can get one, check with your doctor or a lactation consultant.

For help in choosing a new breast pump check out this article from Consumer Reports.

* According to the F.D.A. it’s important to keep in mind that any donor milk your baby receives from a bank or another mother must first be pasteurized to kill viruses for the very same reasons. Your baby has been safely exposed to viruses in your system during pregnancy, so those pose no risk. But the introduction of new viruses from another mother can result in serious illness.

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Ellen and Rachel are two old friends and “expert” mamas—one a pediatrician and one a family therapist—with fifty years of parenting experience between them.


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