How To Clean and Sterilize Breast Pump Parts: A Step by Step Guide

One of the joys of breastfeeding is that it involves considerably less preparation time as well as cleaning up afterwards. There’s no frantically cooling boiling water as the baby screams or washing up a sink load of bottles at the end of the day.

Unfortunately, though, leading baby to the breast when it’s time for a feed is not always possible. Cue in pumps, bottles, and all the gear related to expressing breast milk, especially if you’re an exclusive pumper.

When it comes to babies, especially younger ones, hygiene is imperative. If you’re overwhelmed with all the expressing paraphernalia and how to keep it clean, then this article is for you.

We’ll be answering why you should keep breast pump parts clean, how often they should be sterilized, and how to best clean all pumping parts to ensure utmost safety and hygiene for your little one.

We’ll go over all the steps for cleaning and sanitizing breast pump parts whilst well aware that time is of the essence, especially with a little one in tow.

Should I Clean My Breast Pump? And How Do I Clean It?

This article will provide general information on keeping your breast pump parts clean, as well as the steps for thoroughly cleaning the device.

Specific information on the breast pump you own should be sought from the pump’s instruction manual where the manufacturer’s preferred method of cleaning should be clearly outlined.

The manual will also provide instructions on how to best dismantle the device for cleaning and how to reassemble for another pumping session afterwards.

How Often Should I Clean My Breast Pump?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) emphasizes that all breast pump parts that come into contact with your milk, including bottles, valves, and breast shields, should be cleaned after each and every use.

There’s no need to clean the pump tubing if it hasn’t come into contact with breast milk.

Basically, if you’ve used the breast pump and it has come into contact with your breast or with breast milk, all soiled components should be thoroughly washed immediately.

How Often Should I Sterilize My Breast Pump?

As the FDA notes, completely sterilizing breast pumps to a 100% degree at home is not possible. This may sound confusing, but let’s take a minute to determine the difference between sterilizing and sanitizing.

According to differencebetween, sterilization involves the removal of all microbial growth whilst sanitization reduces the amount of microbial life. Sanitization is basically making something sanitary or hygienic.

Fortunately, sterilization is not a must in keeping all your breast pump parts safe and sanitary for your little one.

Thorough washing with liquid dishwashing soap and warm water is generally sufficient; daily sanitizing is recommended if your little one is still less than three months old, was born prematurely, or has a weakened immune system.

We will thus be referring to sanitizing rather than sterilizing your breast pump parts.

Step By Step Guide To Cleaning Your Breast Pump After Each Use

This infographic by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides a step by step guide on how to keep your breast pump clean. Here’s an overview of these steps:

1) Store Milk

Store the expressed milk safely in a refrigerator, freezer, or cooler bag with ice packs, depending on when and where you will be using it.

2) Clean Pumping Area

Clean the dials, the power switch and the counter-top where you placed the pump with disinfectant wipes.

3) Dismantle Pump

Follow your manufacturer’s instructions and take apart the parts that come into contact with your breast or breast milk.

4) Rinse

Rinse all parts that were in contact with your breast or with breast milk by holding them under running water to remove all milk residue.

It is imperative that these parts are not placed in the sink to rinse. The CDC added this warning after a premature infant contracted an infection from bacteria found in the family’s sink (more details below).

5) Clean All Parts

As soon as you’ve finished pumping, clean all pump parts that came into contact with your breast or with breast milk.

Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for cleaning – but generally, pump parts can be placed in a dishwasher or washed by hand.

If washing by hand, use a basin specifically for washing up the pump kit and other feeding items. Placing the items directly in the kitchen sink is a no-go.

5.1) Washing By Hand

Use a basin specifically for washing up your little one’s feeding items. Place the pump parts in the basin and add soap and hot water. Scrub them using a brush used only for these items. Rinse under running water or by submerging in a fresh tub of water.

Place all the clean items on a paper towel or unused dish towel in an area free from dirt or dust and leave to air dry. Do not be tempted to dry them with a dish towel as this can introduce bacteria again.

Rinse and air dry the basin and brush used to clean the parts and wash them thoroughly by hand or in the dishwasher every few days.

5.2) Using A Dishwasher

If the manufacturer allows, you can clean breast pump parts by placing them in the dishwasher. It’s wise to place small items into a closed-top basket or mesh laundry bag to avoid losing any parts. Add soap. If possible, use your dishwasher’s hot water and heated drying cycle. This will sanitize the parts.

Once it’s time to remove the parts from the dishwasher, ensure that your hands are clean. If some of the items are still damp or wet, place on a clean dishtowel or paper towel and leave to air dry. Again, do not pat items dry.

6) Sanitize

Head on to the next section (right after this one) for sanitizing tips.

Some More Breast Pump Cleaning Tips

For electrical breast pumps, make sure to also wipe down the electrical unit where the motor and batteries are held. You can use a clean paper towel or soft cloth to give it a wipe after each use. Never put this component into any liquid or try to sterilize it in a microwave.

As the FDA notes, some breast pump brands also provide wipes specifically for cleaning the pump they manufactured.

Whilst these are convenient, especially when outside the home, breast pump parts that come into contact with milk should still be thoroughly washed with soap and water before a new pumping session.

Using your breast pump properly prevents its tubing from being in contact with the pumped milk. If the tubing is not in contact with your breast or breast milk, then there’s no need to clean it after each use. Wipe with a damp cloth or disinfectant wipe tubing that is soiled only on the outside.

Nonetheless, as Healthy Children recommend, it’s best to invest in a spare set of tubing in case the one you are currently using gets soiled or damaged.

Once you see mold or milk in your tubing, throw it away immediately. Properly cleaning milk or mold out of breast pump tubing is very difficult, so it’s best to replace to ensure safety.

Note from Michelle Roth, BA, LCCE, IBCLC: “Pump tubing does occasionally get condensation inside.

Some manufacturers recommend disconnecting the bottle and letting the pump run for a few seconds with just the tubing attached to help this dry.”

How To Sanitize Breast Pump Parts

Sanitizing is very important if your baby is still under three months of age. Sanitizing is also imperative if your baby was born prematurely or if he has a weakened immune system.

Pump parts, the wash basin, as well as the baby bottle brush should be sanitized once daily after they have been thoroughly cleaned in accordance with the steps above.

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions – but generally, breast pump parts can be sanitized by steaming, boiling, or by using the sanitize setting on your dishwasher.

If your baby is older than three months of age and is perfectly healthy, there’s no need to sanitize each part daily. Thorough cleaning following the steps above is sufficient.

Sanitizing By Steaming

If manufacturer’s instructions allow for steaming, place the dismantled pump kit, bottle brush and wash basin in the microwave or plug-in system.

Sanitizing By Boiling

After checking the pump’s manual, disassemble all items that are safe to boil, place in a pot, and cover with water. Bring to a boil and boil for five minutes.

Once done, remove items with clean tongs, setting them on paper towels or a clean cloth to air dry.

Sanitizing In The Dishwasher

Using a dishwasher on a hot water and heated (sanitizing) drying setting to clean breast pump parts does not require an extra sanitizing step.

A Note On Microwave Sterilizers

Microwave sterilizers for breast pump parts are available, but the FDA emphasizes that these do not meet their definition for sterilization.

Nonetheless, they will sufficiently sanitize the breast pump parts making it suitable for reuse by the same mom.

How Should I Handle Breast Pump Parts Once Sanitized?

With all sanitizing methods, once the pump parts, wash basin and bottle brush have been sanitized, place on an unused dish towel or paper towel in a clean area to air dry. Do not wipe or pat dry as this will reintroduce germs.

Once dry, wash your hands thoroughly and reassemble the pump parts. As the CDC advises, store in a clean place such as in a new sealable food storage bag to prevent contamination during storage.

How To Handle The Breast Pump After It’s Been Cleaned

Wash hands thoroughly before reassembling pump parts or starting to pump.

If you do wash the breast pump tubing, hang it to air dry before using. If you can see condensation in the tubing, turn the pump on for a few minutes for it to dry before starting to pump.

How Can I Clean My Pump Parts While Away From Home?

Many moms note that having extra pump parts helps them manage expressing breast milk when on the go.

Babylist recommends buying as many sets as the number of times you pump outside the home on any given day.

If you’re pumping at work but not too fond of having to wash everything up each time, place the dirty sets in a plastic bag and in the fridge ready for washing once you get home.

There are also breast pump wipes available. These are handy for use when pumping and not having access to water and soap for immediate cleanup, but the FDA warns that each part should still be thoroughly cleaned with soap and water before pumping again.

What Happens If I Don’t Clean My Breast Pump Thoroughly?

Unclean pump parts can contaminate your breast milk and, as noted by Fatherly, the dangers of infected breast milk are serious. For your little one, an infection can place cognitive development in jeopardy.

The Danger Of Using The Kitchen Sink

As reported by Invisiverse, in 2016, a baby born premature developed sepsis which is an overwhelming immune response to a pathogen that the body finds difficult to beat.

After studying all possibilities, researchers concluded that the cause of this was Cronobacter sakazakii, a bacteria that puts newborns and premature babies at extreme risk for sepsis, meningitis, and other severe infections.

Frighteningly, the cause of this was the family’s kitchen sink. Pump parts were left to soak in the kitchen sink and were not properly scrubbed. In this case, the baby suffered seizures and an infection that left her severely disabled.

Such is the danger of inappropriately cleaned breast pump parts, especially when it comes to newborns, premature infants, or babies with a weakened immune system.

Mold In The Breast Pump

Regardless of how much you clean and sanitize your breast pump, especially open system pumps, they can still form mold in the valves.

If your pump develops mold, it should be thrown away.

Mold is very dangerous for babies. It can contaminate the milk, leaving your little one very sick. If you’re using an open system, experts suggest replacing the pump often as mold from milk can grow relatively fast.

Using A Second Hand Breast Pump

Pumps are not the cheapest so it’s only natural that you’d try to cut the cost and go for an already-loved one.

Unfortunately, though, this is not very safe. Not only can the pump have mold in places not visible to the eye, but it can also have bacteria left from the previous mom.

Whilst your baby can deal with your own bacteria, particles left from a previous owner can contaminate the milk, leaving your baby very sick.

When in doubt, it’s best to go for new. If you are in the United States, many insurances cover the purchase of a new breast pump.

Wrapping It Up

The to-do-list for parents is very much a never-ending one, and these added cleaning steps when it comes to pumping can easily be seen as one more annoying chore.

Whilst pumping and all the cleaning it entails can be quite time-consuming, you should be proud of the fact that you are giving the absolute best to your little one. By no means should the process deter you from expressing breast milk.

Cleaning and sanitizing breast pump parts properly ensures that the milk your baby is getting is safe. It is what will nourish her in her first few months or years, and all thanks to you!

Well done, mama!

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Medically Reviewed By: Michelle Roth, BA, LCCE, IBCLC

Medically Reviewed By: Michelle Roth, BA, LCCE, IBCLC

Michelle Roth, BA, LCCE, IBCLC is a board-certified lactation consultant for two busy pediatric practices. She is a former La Leche League Leader, Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator, and Certified Infant Massage Instructor. She has taught classes ranging from healthy pregnancy, to childbirth preparation, to parenting, and more.

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