Don’t wash your breast pump in the sink, says CDC in new guidelines

To most, hoses, flanges, valves and connectors sound like things you’d find under your car’s hood. But new moms only have to glance down to see these breast pump parts in action. With all the tiny pieces, understanding how to clean a breast pump can be tricky. Despite the learning curve, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is urging parents to follow new breast pump cleaning guidelines.

The issuing of the CDC’s breast pump cleaning guidelines was prompted after a prematurely born baby contracted a terrible illness from a breast pump left in the sink too long. According to a CDC report from 2016, the baby girl was born early at just 29 weeks and showed signs of severe infection around three weeks old. Testing revealed Cronobacter sakazakii in the baby’s spinal fluid. The bacterial infection is uncommon in infants and only reported four to six times a year.

The CDC went looking for the source of the infection and examined the baby’s food sources. She’d been drinking pasteurized donor human milk along and milk her own mother pumped, which was then mixed with a human milk fortifier.

After looking at everything, including the hospital breast pump, the source of the infection was traced back to the mother’s personal breast pump.

The bacteria was found in 11 frozen milk samples from that pump, as well as on the pump itself and on the drain of the mother’s kitchen sink.

The mother told the CDC she would clean her pump by placing the parts in a sink full of soapy water for hours before rinsing and air-drying all the parts. The parts were neither scrubbed nor sanitized, steps the CDC is recommending to parents in the new pump cleaning guidelines prompted by this case.

“We reviewed existing resources for women about how to pump breast milk safely,” said Dr. Anna Bowen, CDC medical officer, in email comments to Motherly. “We found little guidance that provided a lot of detail and was based on the best available science. As a result, CDC developed its own guidance.”

Dr. Bowen explained key breast pump cleaning recommendations include...

-Washing hands carefully before handling pump parts or pumped milk

-Cleaning pump parts quickly after each use

-Either using a dishwasher or scrubbing with soap and a brush in a wash basin used only for the baby’s things—so not washing in the kitchen sink with a sponge used on the family’s dishes

-Air-drying the parts thoroughly on a clean, unused dish towel or paper towel before storing the pump kit

-Sanitizing the pump kit after cleaning, which provides extra protection against contamination

Unfortunately, the little girl whose case prompted these new guidelines developed meningitis from the infection, which caused severe developmental delays—which serves to remind us all to be vigilant about cleaning our pumps.

Still, the new guidelines certainly aren’t meant to scare anyone away from breastfeeding or pumping: Dr. Bowen said providing breast milk is one of the best things moms can do for their babies.

Thankfully, the new guidelines will help more parents keep the milk as safe as possible.

Heather Marcoux is the News Editor for Motherly and mom to one little boy. A former television journalist, Heather lives in Canada with her husband, son and a foursome of adorable pets.

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