Every tool can carry risk when not used properly. The story about breast pumps and infection risk in the media recently is no exception. Attention all breast feeding & pumping mamas out there (and all the lovely people who support moms who pump milk): The Centers For Disease Control (CDC) has issued new guidelines for properly cleaning your breast pump & parts. The new recommendations come in the wake of a devastating story of a premature baby girl who showed signs of sepsis (bloodstream infection) at age 21 days due to an unusual bacterial infection. She developed spastic cerebral palsy, developmental delays and later passed away. This case is an outlier, for sure, but did prompt learning that the CDC felt the public should know.

After a full investigation, the CDC traced the infection source back to the breast pump and parts. The way the breast pump equipment was cared for may have allowed bacteria to grow. The CDC reported that the girl’s mother typically soaked the collection kit from her personal breast pump in soapy water in a wash basin for ≤5 hours without scrubbing or sanitizing. She then rinsed, air-dried, and stored the kit in a plastic zip-top bag until the next use. It’s possible how she cared for the pump allowed for bacteria to grow and be transferred to the baby. Because the baby was young and born prematurely, the baby was at greater risk for infection that most full-term older infants.

In response to the investigation, we reviewed existing resources for women about how to pump breast milk safely, but found little guidance that was detailed and based on the best available science,” Dr. Anna Bowen, a CDC medical officer, told Parents. “As a result, CDC developed its own guidance.”

New CDC Breast Pump Cleaning Guidelines:

  • Clean your pump parts after every use. Don’t skip a single feeding. I know it’s yet another step in the long process of breastfeeding and pumping, but it’s crucial. Annoying add but the recommendations are based in experts evaluating risks.
  • Wash your hands before touching your pump parts or pumped milk.
  • Key: keep a separate wash basin for the parts, the CDC doesn’t recommend you use the kitchen sink to clean pump supplies as the sink may house germs and bacteria from other food prep.
  • Have a dedicated cleaning brush for your pump and parts. Clean that brush every few days. Don’t re-use the sponge you use to scrub food off your plates and dishes.
  • Use running water and soap to clean breast pump parts that come in contact with breast milk.
  • Then let each piece and part air dry.
  • For extra cleanliness you can boil or steam the parts to sanitize in either a microwavable steamer or use the sanitize cycle in the dishwasher (HOT water). You can use the sanitizing bags that you use in the microwave or you can bring a pot of water to a boil and boil parts in the bubbling water for 5 minutes.

Bottom Line: this news isn’t meant to scare or drive moms away from breastfeeding and pumping. We know the many benefits of breastfeeding for both mom and baby (see below). This is just a reminder to be diligent when cleaning and sanitizing your breast pump.

Some Benefits of Breast Feeding For Baby

  • Lower SIDS risk in babies who are breastfed
  • Immune support that moms pass through breastmilk (no trivial thing!)– These free antibodies reduce infections for babies (ear infections, diarrhea)
  • Complete nutrition, no processed food! Yum.
  • Good bacteria — the passing along of the microbiome from mama to baby. So much to learn about this but we know the microbiome in breastfed babies is different than that of formula-fed babies. Time will tell how “protective” this really is. So I won’t promise it’s “healthier” but do know it’s different.
  • Potential allergy protection – some data suggest breast feeding can stave-off development of some severe allergies.

Benefits of Breast Feeding For Mom

  • Benefits for a more rapid recovery from delivery. Hello, helpful.
  • Reduced rates of breast and ovarian cancer in life overall.
  • Contraception support (don’t count on breastfeeding as a 100% contraception method!) and support in not having that next screaming baby faster than you want. However, can’t stress enough from my experience in medicine and life that you can never count on breastfeeding to prevent pregnancy.
  • 400-500 calories and a potentially speedier return to pre-pregnancy weight! I mean making milk for your baby all day is wondrous and burns off the equivalent of a 5-mile run. Nice.