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Are Used Breast Pumps a Good Option? Issues to Consider

Nancy Mohrbacher, IBCLC
www.artofbreastfeeding.com
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 40 No. 3, June-July 2004, pp. 54-55.

What new mother wouldn’t like to save money on a breast pump? That’s why we are often asked: “Do you have used breast pumps available?” Some mothers have friends or relatives offering to lend them a used pump. Is a used pump a good option?

Open Systems vs. Closed Systems

Some mothers mistakenly assume that because rental pumps are safely shared by mothers that it is also safe to share purchase pumps. This is not true. Rental pumps and purchase pumps are designed differently. The collection kits (the bottles and tubing that attach to the pump) used with the rental pumps are designed so that the milk never touches the working parts of the pump that are shared with other mothers. This is considered a “closed system.”

Most purchase pumps, for example Medela’s Pump In Styles, DoubleEase, and MiniElectric, are “open systems.” This means that the pump motor is “open” to contact with the mother’s milk particles. In a Pump In Style, for example, the breastshield (the part held against the breast) is open to the tubing that attaches to the back of the shield, which is also open to the diaphragm on the pump motor that creates the suction and release. This means that an invisible mist of milk particles can travel from the shield into the tubing and back onto the pump diaphragm. The diaphragm cannot be removed or sterilized, so it cannot be cleaned well enough between mothers to insure safety. When there are milk particles on the pump diaphragm, even with a brand new set of bottles, tubing and breastshields, with every suction and release another mother’s milk particles will be blown into your milk. Even if milk particles are not visible, they can still be there. (One sure sign is mold growing in the tubing, which sometimes happens with normal use.)

Health and Hygiene Issues

Does it matter if your baby receives another mother’s milk particles? Potentially, yes. Although your milk is without a doubt the best possible food for your baby, it is currently recommended that any donor milk a baby receives from a milk bank or from another mother be pasteurized to kill viruses. Your baby has already been safely exposed to the viruses in your system during pregnancy, so there is no risk. But if another mother carries a virus in her system that you do not, it can be passed to your baby via the other mother’s milk and your baby may become seriously ill.

A mother can have a virus in her milk without even knowing that she is a carrier. Some of the potentially dangerous viruses that can be transmitted through human milk include cytomegalovirus (CMV) and HIV (AIDS). Most mothers with CMV, for example, are unaware that they are a carrier. The FDA says:

There are certain risks presented by breast pumps that are reused by different mothers if they are not properly cleaned and sterilized. These risks include the transmission of infectious diseases...FDA believes that the proper cleaning and sterilization of breast pumps requires the removal of any fluid that has entered the pumping mechanism itself. If proper sterilization of the breast pump cannot be achieved, FDA recommends that it not be used by different mothers.

Legal and Liability Issues

These issues are serious enough that if a mother contacts Medela and tries to order a new set of bottles and tubing for a used Pump In Style, Medela will refuse to sell it to her. Medela does not want to be legally responsible if a baby should become seriously ill. On its Web site Medela says:

It is not advisable to use a previously owned breast pump. Breast pumps are single-user products, or personal care items, much like a toothbrush, and are registered with the FDA as single user items. For safety, breast pumps should never be shared, resold, or lent among mothers. Medela strongly discourages mothers from re-using or re-selling previously owned breast pump equipment....

What If a Borrowed Pump Breaks?

If in spite of the above health/hygiene/liability issues you decide to borrow a used pump, there are other issues to consider. Recently several mothers have come to us in the following unenviable situation: within weeks or months (in one case, days) of borrowing a pump, the used pump stopped working. It had reached the end of its natural life.

Because these mothers were good people, they felt they had to replace the pump so they could return it to the original owner as promised. This meant they ended up paying the full purchase price for a new pump but could not even keep it for their next baby. They had to return it to the original owner. As it turned out, it would have been much cheaper for them to rent or buy than to borrow.

When considering borrowing a used pump, also keep in mind that the best of these purchase pumps have a one-year warranty. And no matter how new the pump, its warranty is automatically voided if it is used by more than one person.

Also, even if the borrowed pump doesn’t fail while you have it, you have shortened the life of another mother’s pump. To calculate how much, subtract the length of time you have used it. How would you feel (and what would you do) if you returned the pump to its original owner in working order, but when she has her next baby, it breaks a week later? It’s important to be clear about these issues up front. What looks like a great deal could end up costing you more in the end than buying a new breast pump.

© Nancy Mohrbacher, 2004

Clarification subsequently printed in the August-September 2004 issue of LEAVEN:

The article, "Are Used Breast Pumps a Good Option?" which appeared in the June-July issue of LEAVEN, was written by Nancy Mohrbacher, IBCLC. Nancy is currently employed as a lactation consultant by Hollister, Inc., manufacturer of the Ameda breast pumps. When this article was originally written, however, Nancy was an independent lactation consultant in private practice and was not affiliated with Hollister.

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