Recently, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a report in which it explored the cause of death of a premature infant who had contracted a Cronobacter sakazakii infection - a rare, but often lethal illness. It was determined the infant girl had acquired the infection from breast pump parts that were not properly cleaned and sanitized.
Cronobacter sakazakii infections in infants have been linked to contaminated powdered infant formulas in the past, and it isn’t something that is typically thought of in relation to breastmilk or breastfeeding. And while it is rare, with 4-6 reported infections each year, even one death is too many, leading the CDC to release its own breast pump hygiene guidelines to better protect all infants. The big take away is that many of us have been too relaxed in our approach to safe handling and storage of expressed breastmilk.
How often do my pump accessories need to be washed and sanitized?
According to the CDC’s recommendations, breast pump accessories should be cleaned after every use. This doesn’t mean a quick rinse and air-dry. It also doesn’t mean you stick your pump parts in a zip-sealed bag in the fridge until your next pump session. It does mean submerging and scrubbing all of your pump pieces (except for the tubing) in a clean basin of hot, soapy water. (Remember my previous post about returning to work? Keep that plastic shoebox clean and use it as your basin to wash pump parts.) After a good scrubbing, rinse the pump pieces and allow to air dry thoroughly.
If you have access to a dishwasher, it is acceptable to run your pump accessories through a cycle to wash. The pump pieces should still be allowed to thoroughly air dry - no wiping or patting down!
Sanitizing should occur at least once a day. If you have an infant under the age of 3 months, or who was born premature or is otherwise immune compromised, more frequent sanitizing is wise. Choose a sanitizing method that works for you: a dishwasher with a sanitize setting; boiling the pieces for 5 minutes in hot water on the stove; or by using steam bags such as these made by Medela.
Keep in mind, these same guidelines apply to bottles and other infant feeding items. Washing according the above guidelines should occur after every feeding. Do not ever refill or top off a bottle and reuse it, whether it is formula or breastmilk.
How do I keep my pump pieces clean and safe in between pump sessions?
Allow the pieces and any cleaning brushes to thoroughly air dry. This is very important as moist environments foster bacteria growth. Once all pieces have dried, store them in a sealed, lidded container. (The handy plastic shoebox!)
I want to keep my baby safe, but I exclusively pump/have little time at work and cannot possibly wash after every single session! What can I do?
I understand the amount of time and work that goes into pumping, in addition to taking care of your family and balancing the responsibilities in your life. For those parents who find themselves pumping often, purchasing additional pump accessory kits are a way to buy more time. For example, if you will pump twice during your work day and are unable to wash your pump parts immediately after, at least give them a good rinse and wipe down, toss them into a zip-sealed bag, and mark it as soiled. Keep an additional cleaned and sanitized kit at the ready for your next pump session. Take all pump pieces home at the end of the day for a solid scrubbing and sanitizing session.
Written by: JoEllen Noble, IBCLC, ProDoula Certified Labor Doula, Postpartum Doula, Certified Postpartum Placenta Specialist, and General Bad Ass.