Cleaning your breast pump 101: New, revised guidelines
Never underestimate the importance of cleaning your breast pump frequently and thoroughly. Read on to find out how not doing so left a child with a severe infection and loss of brain tissue.
Whether you’re a stay at home mum, or a working mum, we get it – Singaporean mummies are constantly pressed for time.
And we know just how much of a chore pumping milk can be. It is a 3-step process that involves pumping milk, storing it, then cleaning your breast pump. However, do take note that you should never, ever compromise on thoroughly cleaning your breast pump. The consequences can lead to an unwanted tragedy.
An unfortunate incident
The unfortunate case of the preterm infant who contracted the rare but serious Cronobacter infection further affirms this.
At about three weeks old, the baby girl who was born at 29 weeks, displayed signs of a severe infection. Tests showed that she had Cronobacter sakazaii growing in her spinal fluid. This led to her developing severe meningitis. Although she survived, she is left with profound developmental delays due to the destroyed brain tissue.
So how did they find out the cause? The rare bacterial infection that was found in the baby is usually linked to powdered infant formula but the baby had never consumed any formula milk! The research team analysed all the possible food, environmental and medication exposures that the infant had had and eventually unraveled the shocking cause.
Cronobacter was found only in the breast pump used at home and in the milk samples that had been pumped at home. It was also found in the kitchen sink of the home.
The mum reportedly left her pump parts in soapy water, and would rinse them hours later. The water could have bred germs as illustrated by the samples of bacteria found on the pump parts, sink and the milk pumped at home.
Please do not take this opportunity to judge the mum. She was trying to do her best for her baby and it’s likely that a lack of knowledge, not laziness or a lack of effort, had caused her to overlook the danger of her cleaning process.
It is rare for breast milk to get contaminated; in fact this is the first time such an infection has been linked to expressed breast milk. The aggravating factor here could have been that the infant was premature, and her immune system was still developing.
There are all sorts of bacteria in human milk even before it is expressed from the breast. However, full term newborn babies acquire the bacteria from their mother and don’t usually end up with an infection.
This extremely sad incident touched the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), deeply and led them to wonder if mums have adequate support and information for cleaning their breast pumps.
Are you sure you are cleaning your breast pump correctly and sufficiently?
In their investigation, the CDC was disturbed to find that there was insufficient guidance and resources for women, on how to clean their breast pumps. Thus, to dispel any existing myths and to provide proper, detailed guidelines to ensure that you are cleaning your breast pumps right, the CDC has released new guidelines on breast pump cleaning.
Important rules for cleaning your breast pump
The golden rule – ALWAYS wash
If you are cleaning your breast pump after every other pumping session, or you are following hacks such as keeping the parts of your pump in the fridge between pumping sessions, I urge you to stop doing so immediately.
If you are at work and cleaning your breast pump thoroughly and after every pumping session is impossible, what you can do is to have 2 sets of pumping accessories so you can change to a clean set and do the thorough cleaning when you have more time. That’s possibly your best alternative.
The CDC has stated clearly that you should be washing all parts of your pump after every pumping session. It is the safest bet, especially if your infant is less than 3 months old, is premature or has a weakened immune system.
And it’s not just your pump that you should be washing. Please remember to thoroughly wash your hands before handling the breast pump or milk.
Sharing isn’t always caring
When it comes to cleaning your breast pump, there shouldn’t be any kind of sharing. This means that no, you do not use the brush or sponge that you use to wash the other kitchen dishes, or other children’s bottles. If possible, have a dedicated washbasin for washing your pump, as the regular kitchen sink may have a host of germs lurking around unbeknownst to you!
To be extra safe, for you can never be too safe, boil or steam the parts in a sanitizer.
2nd hand pumps – yay or nay?
Also, please note that if you are sharing or purchasing a second-hand breast pump, the pump should use a closed-system pump. A closed-system pump has a barrier between the milk and the collection kit and the pump mechanism. This prevents contamination by mold, bacteria and viruses.
Open-system pumps do not have this bacteria and that makes it impossible to completely sterilise the inside of such a pump. This is for hygiene purposes. Furthermore, you would never know if the person who sold you the pump had some contagious disease, and left traces of it in the pump motor, so please do not make yourself susceptible to such risks!
Wipes are good, no?
If you are cleaning your breast pump with some quick-clean wipes that are sold in the market, with promises of cleaning your breast pump thoroughly, stop. I repeat, stop. Do not use wipes to clean your breast pump.
Why? Simply because these wipes cannot reach all surfaces of the pump, so your cleaning won’t be thorough enough.
CDC’s new guidelines
- Wash your hands thoroughly before handling your breast pump; wipe the outside of your pump with disinfectant wipes
- Disassemble all your pump parts after every use and rinse them under running water; don’t place them directly in the sink
- As soon as time permits, clean your pump parts with hot, soapy water with a brush solely dedicated to cleaning your pump
- Scrub the parts well
- Air dry the parts; don’t use a towel for the towel itself might harbour germs
- Clean and air dry your brush as well
- Store the parts in a clean and dry area only after they are completely dry
- Chill the milk immediately after pumping
- Clean the sink that you use to wash your pump
- If you’re using the dishwasher, do a hot water and heated drying cycle or a sanitising cycle
On this note, apart from cleaning your breast pump regularly; you might want to consider changing some parts, such as the tubing and valve membranes, once every few months. These parts aren’t necessarily expensive and they can get tricky to clean. The tubing tends to trap moisture and mums often complain that they see condensation in the tubing.
Here’s a tip – while you are storing your milk, disconnect the tubes and leave your pump running for a few minutes. This helps to dry any condensation that remains in the machine.
On a concluding note, mums, cleaning your pump can be chore, I agree, but do not let this deter you from expressing milk for your baby. When you return to work, or if you spend time away from your baby, pumping is crucial to maintain your milk supply. I’m sure you already know the multitude of benefits that breast milk contains, so continue doing what you have to for the best of your child!
Mums are amazing by sheer virtue of how much they go through for their precious little ones!