The CDC's New Breast Pump Cleaning Guidelines Are a Must-Read for Pumping Moms

The CDC has issued new breast pump cleaning guidelines after an infant contracted a dangerous infection from contaminated pump parts.

Breast Pump Parts
Photo: Have a nice day Photo/Shutterstock

Pumping breast milk can be a pain—all the hooking up, the labeling and storing, not to mention the cleanup. But slacking off on cleaning your pump parts could have dangerous consequences, as evidenced by the case of an infant who contracted the rare but serious Cronobacter infection. That tragic situation prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to wonder if moms are being given proper instruction on how to care for their pump parts. Their new guidelines aim to spread awareness of exactly what to do and how often.

"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," says Dr. Anna Bowen, CDC medical officer. "As a result, CDC developed its own guidance." Unfortunately, the guidelines state that yes, you do need to clean your parts after every use. Other key recommendations including washing hands before handling pumped parts or pumped milk, having a dedicated brush and wash basin for the parts—so don't wash them in the kitchen sink with a sponge used for the family's dishes—and air drying the parts. For extra protection, you can boil or steam the parts to sanitize (or run a sanitize cycle in the dishwasher).

A rare but dangerous infection

In the case included in this week's CDC report, the baby was premature, making her more susceptible to infection. The mom would reportedly leave her pump parts soaking in soapy water, then rinse them off hours later. The water could have been a breeding ground for the germs, with samples of the bacteria found on the pump parts, sink, and in milk pumped at home. Tragically, the newborn's brain was affected by the infection, leading to meningitis and global developmental delays. Our hearts go out to this mother, who was only trying to do the best for her baby.

The Cronobacter infection is quite rare, with the CDC only hearing about four to six cases a year (although more could be unreported), but contaminated milk can put infants at risk for other infections as well. "Cronobacter can cause infections among babies born at full term, and babies younger than about two or three months are at the highest risk for Cronobacter meningitis," Dr. Bowen says. "This was the first report of a Cronobacter infection linked to a contaminated breast pump, but other babies have gotten sick from drinking milk obtained using a pump contaminated with different types of germs."

Are these pump hacks safe?

Pumping moms might have heard about the trick of stashing their parts in the fridge between pumpings to avoid washing them as often, but is this safe? "Although refrigerating used pump parts between uses might be OK if the pump kit is not contaminated, cleaning the pump kit after each use is safest and is particularly important for babies who are younger than two to three months old, were born prematurely, or have weakened immune systems," Dr. Bowen says.

Working moms may face difficulties if they don't have access to the proper facilities (using the work kitchen sink and counter, yuck) or time for a good washing. So can you rely on quick wipes marketed to clean breast pump parts? "Quick-clean wipes cannot reach all surfaces of the pump kit, so thorough cleaning in a dishwasher or by hand is preferred," Dr. Bowen says. If you can't do that, she suggests having duplicate parts to switch out for each pumping session. (Yes, that's a pain—and costly, we know, but it's not worth taking chances.)

Hopefully these strict guidelines won't deter moms from pumping while away from their infants, as breast milk has many beneficial properties—plus, pumping keeps up a mom's supply so she can feed her baby directly from the breast when they are together. "Providing breast milk is one of the best things moms can do for their babies, and there are steps parents can take to keep the pumped milk as safe as possible," Dr. Bowen says.

According to the CDC's new guidelines, here is how best to care for your pump parts:

  • Wash your hands before using your pump, and use disinfectant wipes to clean the outside of your pump.
  • After every use, take apart the pump parts and rinse them under running water. Don't put them directly in the sink!
  • Clean your pump parts as soon as possible with hot, soapy water in a wash basin and brush used only for cleaning pump parts, or in the dishwasher.
  • Rinse in fresh water (don't put them back in the same basin).
  • Air dry on a clean dish towel, but don't rub the parts with the towel as this could spread germs.
  • Rinse your basin and brush, and leave them to air dry. Clean them as well at least every few days.
  • If you're using the dishwasher, place on a hot water and heated drying cycle, or a sanitize cycle. Wash your hands before taking out the parts, and allow them to air dry.
  • Store items in a clean, protected area only after they're completely dry.
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