It’s generally frowned upon to give your breast pump away to someone else when you’re done using it—for health reasons, the manufacturers say.
But when you look at the cost of pumps, it seems like donating your used breast pump to another mom—even one you may not know–is a nice way to pay it forward.
When I was done using my breast pump, I wanted to beat it with an axe and put it in the middle of the road. (That’s because I pumped exclusively for three months and wound up not being able to use or donate any of my breastmilk—my son had the milk protein intolerance.) I wound up selling it at a baby consignment sale. I felt good about being able to help another mom get one because not all insurance companies pay for pumps. Plus, the really good ones can be quite pricey. It was an open system, which the manufacturer recommends only be used by one user. But if someone else needed it, I wasn’t going to take the opportunity away–I was lucky enough to get it free from my insurance company.
Many moms have been in the same situation. When they try to donate used pumps, they’re rejected because the pump instructions say that all open-based systems are made for just one user. Adding additional users introduces opportunities for cross-contamination. Most manufacturers of open-system pumps contend that there’s no way to fully sterilize the pump, therefore it’s not safe to share. (Closed systems, like the ones at hospitals, are said to be okay for multiple users, who can simply use their own flanges and tubes.)
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers open systems single-user devices.
Interestingly, Kelly Bonyata, an international board-certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) who runs KellyMom.com, a popular website devoted to breastfeeding advice, says this:
“So far there have been no documented instances of a baby becoming ill due to contamination from a breast pump, but no one has studied the issue. Without any studies, it’s really hard to say what to do if you find signs of contamination in your pump – the potential for illness is there but we don’t know how likely it is.”
Pay It Forward—At the Recycling Bin
There’s another option instead of donating your pump: Recycle it! To recycle your pump, check with the manufacturer to see if they have a breast pump recycling program. Medela Recycles accepts used Medela breast pumps. They only take the units and cords—not the disposable parts such as flanges. Plus, you’ve gotta pay for shipping. A local recycling center can also be a viable option for pump recycling.
Manufacturers say that open system pumps can’t prevent cross-contamination from users. That means that pathogens and diseases from infected mothers can get into the unit. If the initial user ever had bleeding nipples, the pump could be contaminated with blood, according to Jennifer Jordan, Director of Mom & Baby, a spokesperson for Aeroflow Breastpumps, which makes pumps available via insurers.
“Even if you replace the tubing and fully clean every part, it doesn’t guarantee that you completely sanitized your pump, because it’s very difficult to get rid of stubborn infectious pathogens, fungi, bacteria, and mold that enjoy hanging out in the diaphragm, motor, washers, and more,” said Jennifer Jordan, Director of Mom & Baby, adding that warranties typically only last one year and are voided upon transfer.
Sharing or Donating Your Breast Pump
Knowing all this hasn’t stopped some women from donating their pump.
“I felt like it was best for her to use my very effective pump to support her goal of providing her son with breast milk when she went back to work versus possibly being unsuccessful and frustrated with pumping,” Manaker said. “I sanitized it thoroughly before I gave mine to her and she did not have any issues.”
“Another advantage is if she had any questions about the pump, she just asked me,” Manaker said.
Wendy Howland, a legal nurse consultant and life care planner from Massachusetts, had no problem giving her pump to a friend she met through her birthing center. She ran the parts through the dishwasher donated the pump. While she wouldn’t seek out a random pump at, say, a garage sale, she said there’s not a big deal in giving your pump to a friend when you’re done with it.
“If two or more women want to share one breast pump at the same time, there is a possibility of cross-contamination but only if the parts that contact the actual breasts and milk are not cleaned between users,” Howland said. “If two or more people are using a mechanical pump, each can have her own set of tubings/bottles/breast shields without any risk of cross-contamination.”
With these options on the table, what would you do? Recycle your pump or give it to a friend (or stranger?)