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New breast pump cleaning guidelines for working moms: Experts clear up confusion

When the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released its new breast pump cleaning recommendations, a lot of working moms were left wondering how they could possibly follow them. After all, when you’re pumping in your car, you don’t exactly have access to hot water—let alone a separate wash basin just for pump parts.

To clear up the confusion about how the new breast pump cleaning recommendations should apply to working mothers of otherwise healthy babies, we reached out to Mark A. Underwood, Chief of Pediatric Neonatology and Professor of Pediatrics at the UC Davis School of Medicine.

He told Motherly the new CDC breast pump guidelines may not be helpful for moms supplying for healthy, full-term babies: “My advice is to find a sustainable approach that fits a mom’s circumstance.”

The case that sparked the new recommendations involved a baby girl born at 29 weeks gestational age. When the baby was a few weeks old, she fell ill after her mother’s personal breast pump was contaminated by bacteria found in the home kitchen sink drain. With a birth weight of just 3 lbs., the little girl’s immune system wasn’t as strong as that of a healthy, full-term baby and she developed severe meningitis from the infection.

According to Dr. Underwood, the CDC and FDA create guidelines like those this case sparked to protect the largest number of babies from the worst possible outcomes—but not all babies require extreme levels of sanitation.

Dr. Underwood explained following the CDC guidelines is prudent for mothers pumping for premature babies or those with immune deficiencies, but other moms can relax. He said, “If she is pumping for a healthy term infant this level of detail to cleaning and sterilizing equipment may not be helpful.”

While the cautious approach outlined in the CDC guidelines is designed to minimize the risk of infection, Underwood says the flip-side of the coin is the evidence that too much sanitation is actually harmful for most healthy babies.

“[It] can increase risk of allergic and autoimmune diseases later in life,” he says, adding that studies that have shown fewer incidents of allergies, asthma and inflammatory bowel disease in children raised on farms and in children raised without dishwashers.

We also reached out to the CDC for clarification on how the new guidelines should apply to working moms of healthy babies.

“Refrigerating used pump parts between uses might be OK if the pump kit is not contaminated,” Brittany Behm, Public Affairs Specialist for the CDC said in an statement emailed to Motherly. “But cleaning the pump kit after each use is the safest method and is particularly important for babies who are younger than 2 to 3 months old, were born prematurely or have weakened immune systems.”

Behm also discouraged the use of breast pump sanitizing wipes, which she said cannot adequately reach all the surfaces of pumps. Instead, she said cleaning the parts in a dishwasher or by hand is the CDC’s preferred post-pump sanitizing method.

She also expressed hope that workplaces will respond to the new guidelines with better options for pumping mothers. She said, “Ideally, workplaces would provide facilities and support for mothers to safely pump and store their milk.”

Unfortunately, that’s not reality for many of us—but working moms of healthy babies can take comfort in Dr. Underwood’s advice and just do the best we can with what we’ve got.

As he said, “Whatever approach allows a busy mom to continue to provide her breast milk, rather than switching to donor human milk or formula, in the end is going to be the most valuable.”

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