Cleaning your breast pump can feel like a never-ending chore. But as you’re diligently washing and sanitizing it every day, try to remember why you’re doing it: to protect your baby.
A recent investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that an infant died in 2022 from a rare bacterial infection traced to a contaminated breast pump. Cronobacter sakazakii bacteria was found in breast pump parts that were cleaned in a household sink and sometimes reassembled while damp.
There are about 18 cases of invasive Cronobacter sakazakii each year in the U.S., and most stem from contaminated infant feeding products, such as formula and equipment.
Though several types of bacteria are widespread in the environment, babies younger than 2 months don’t have well-developed immune systems equipped to fight infections, which puts them at increased risk of serious complications.
Breast pump-associated infections are rare and should not discourage you from pumping. However, this sad story is a reminder of how important it is to properly clean your breast pump.
My colleague Kelli Hulsman, M.S., B.S.N., RN, IBCLC, is a lactation consultant at William P. Clements Jr. University Hospital. She works with new moms who plan to breastfeed, teaching our prenatal classes and offering guidance throughout the breastfeeding journey. I asked her to walk us through the steps of cleaning a breast pump and highlight some common trouble spots.
3 tips to clean your breast pump
Before new breastfeeding moms leave the hospital, we give them a quick course I like to call “Pumping 101,” a primer on all things pumping – including how to wash a breast pump and its parts.
We’ll also send them home with the CDC guidelines for keeping a breast pump clean.:
- Download the CDC’s “How to Keep Your Breast Pump Kit Clean" (English)
- Download the CDC’s “How to Keep Your Breast Pump Kit Clean" (Spanish)
Now for a few tips about how to stay ahead of the pump-cleaning process.
1. Before you use your breast pump
Wash your hands. This may sound obvious, but it’s an easy step to forget. Also, look over your pump and its parts to make sure there are no dirty areas or mold. If you do see mold, don’t use the pump until you get a replacement part.
2. After every use
Wash the pump parts in a basin, not the sink. Germs in the sink and drain could contaminate your pump.
When you leave the hospital, we will give you a pump wash basin to take home. If you’d prefer to buy a basin that’s more decorative or matches your decor, that’s fine, too. Wash basins are easy to use:
- Disassemble the pump.
- Rinse the pump parts to remove any breast milk.
- Fill the basin with hot, soapy water.
- Wash the parts in the basin according to the manufacturer’s guidelines.
- Rinse the parts under running water or by submerging them in another basin of water that is only used for cleaning your pump.
- Lay a clean towel at the bottom of the empty basin and place the clean parts on it to air-dry. Don’t pat or wipe the parts dry with a towel, because it can transfer germs. Use a newly cleaned towel or new paper towels every time.
- Make sure that all the parts are completely dry before reassembling the pump.
You may have heard it’s OK to quickly wipe down your pump parts and store them in the refrigerator between pumping sessions instead of washing them. No studies have shown this effectively limits the growth of bacteria, so it’s best to wash your pump parts after every use.
3. Sanitize your breast pump once a day
The CDC also recommends you sanitize your pump parts once a day – like an advanced cleaning to eliminate more germs and bacteria. Check the pump manufacturer’s recommendations for sanitizing. There are several ways to do this:
- Boil: Place the pump parts in boiling water for five minutes.
- Steam: Use a microwave steam bag for nonmetallic parts. These bags typically can be reused up to 20 times and have a spot to mark them, so you know when it’s time to grab a new one.
- Dishwasher: Check the manufacturer’s recommendations before using the dishwasher. Use hot water and a heated drying cycle. Place the small parts in a closed-top basket or a mesh laundry bag in the dishwasher, so they don’t get lost in the machine.
Wash your hands before you remove the sanitized pump parts and place them on a clean surface to air-dry. Once the parts are fully dry, wash your hands again and reassemble the pump. Store it in a clean, protected space such as a covered bin that is only used for your pump or a sealable food storage bag.
A few more tips
Enlist help: Cleaning your breast pump can be time-consuming – it's just the facts. So, it’s helpful to share in the cleaning duties, if possible. Explain the process to a partner or family member who can lend a hand.
Double down: If possible, get a second set of pump parts – some insurers will cover this cost – so you can rinse after your first session and use a clean set the next time. Then you can wash both sets at once. This is also helpful if you use your breast pump while you’re at work or traveling.
Related reading: 5 things to know about buying and using breast pumps
Breastfeeding support and resources
Have questions about breastfeeding or using your pump? Before you start asking Google – where you will find some truly bizarre answers! – know that your Ob/Gyn or certified nurse-midwife and our team of lactation consultants are happy to talk with you by phone or in person.
You can also call the Texas Lactation Support Centers and Hotline 24 hours a day, seven days a week. These services are free to anyone in Texas. On the Texas Health and Human Services website, you also will find other wonderful breastfeeding resources and local support centers.