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Why You Shouldn't Buy Used Breast Pumps

Written by Certified Lactation Consultant
RN, IBCLC

There is a real temptation to purchase a used breast pump from eBay or that yard sale you just passed... maybe even borrowing one from a friend, especially when money is tight. But, it just isn’t a good idea. We'll openly admit that Breast Pump Deals is in the business of selling breast pumps, so it may seem like we are just trying to “make the sale,” but our concern for you and your baby is genuine and real.

It would be wrong not to mention that getting a used pump isn’t recommended. Both the FDA and La Leche League International (see below) have advisories on their web sites regarding used breast pumps.

“Only FDA cleared, hospital-grade pumps should be used by more than one person. With the exception of hospital-grade pumps, the FDA considers breast pumps single-use devices. That means that a breast pump should only be used by one woman because there is no way to guarantee the pump can be cleaned and disinfected between uses by different women.”

buying a used pump

There are important reasons why buying or borrowing a used breast pump isn’t recommended.

Diseases

Several disease-producing organisms (pathogens) like HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, cytomegalovirus (CMV) and others can be found in the milk of infected women. These are serious, even life threatening illnesses. Because some illnesses can go undetected for quite a while, an infected woman, or her partner, may not even be aware that they have a disease, or are carriers of a disease. Even if you trust the source, and they are willing to share their medical information, you can’t possibly know everything about her, or her partner.

Open vs. Closed System Pumps

The difference between multi-user pumps and single-user pumps is how they produce suction. Single-user pumps are usually an “open system,” meaning the air flows in and around the breastmilk, tubing, and motor. If milk backs up in the tubing it is possible for milk to get inside the pump. By using a “closed system,” the multi-user pump mechanism is protected from internal contamination.   For example, when a woman with cracked, bleeding nipples uses a pump, it is possible for microscopic droplets containing blood-born disease, to get inside the pumping mechanism. If contamination were to occur inside a rental pump, the pump is sent back to the manufacturer who completely dismantles and sterilizes it before it is rented out again.

Other things, such as fungus, can contaminate a pump. The most common fungal overgrowth, affecting women and babies, is Candida (also called yeast or thrush). When yeast affects the breast it can be difficult to clear up. Yeast spores are pretty stubborn and they can live on surfaces for long periods. Yeast is not necessarily contagious, but we have seen families pass it back and forth on something as simple as damp towels. Some lactation consultants recommend that a woman with persistent yeast purchase new pumping kits.  Even with meticulous cleaning, it is difficult to ensure that all of the organisms are destroyed.

There’s Clean, and Then, There’s Clean

One person’s idea of “clean” may not be the same as yours.

We know a lactation consultant who talked about her ten-year experience cleaning rental pumps:

“When a woman calls to return the pump, I gently remind her, the deposit is refunded, only if the pump is returned clean. The majority come back sparkling. But, on occasion, there is absolutely no evidence of any attempt to clean the pump. 

buying a used pumpI have found some awfully disgusting things in pump cases, bits and pieces of things like, dead flies; cockroaches; spiders; dog hair; old dried up milk and blood. The worst one, ever, was hay and horse manure on the bottom side of the pump, inside the carrying case. When I confronted the woman about my ‘find,’ she ultimately confessed, she had used the pump for her horse!” Obviously, that was a rare occurrence. But it does show that not all people think alike. (By the way, that pump was returned to the manufacturer for dismantling and sterilizing.)

Boiling items at home, to sterilize them, may not be enough to destroy all the potential hazards that can lurk in a pump. Some single-user pumps have sealed inner diaphragms that cannot be removed for cleaning. Even with a brand new collection kit, air-born pathogens, from droplets of milk or blood, not visible to the naked eye, may get in the pump motor and cause contamination that could be passed on to the next user.

To date, there have been no documented cases of mothers or babies getting sick through a used pump, but we don’t want you to be the first. Sharing a single-user pump isn’t worth the risk, no matter how small or theoretical.

A Word About Motor Life

When the high-end personal pumps came on the market, about 15 years ago, we saw quite a few women loosing their milk supply after purchasing a used breast pump. Lactation consultants theorized that those pumps must have been near the end of their life span. All electric motors have a specific life span. A single-user breast pump motor’s life expectancy is rated at about 1000 – 2000 hours. The old rental units, like the SMB and Classic, were rated at 25-30 years!  

Manufacturers only guarantee a personal pump for one year. If you buy a used one, even if it is only 6 months old, you cannot get warranty service. In fact, some of the companies will not sell a new collection kit to someone who purchased a used pump.  An older pump may not cycle as well, or produce the same level of suction as it did when it was new.  Electric motors, like these, tend to die slowly, over a period of weeks, or months.  A mom who has no experience with how the pump should work, may not notice the pump isn’t working properly until her supply is suffering.

Think About the Mom Who Let You Borrow Her Pump

When you borrow a pump, that woman expects to get it back in working order. If the pump stops working, or breaks, while you are using it, you may feel obligated to purchase a new one.  Nancy Mohrbacher writes,  “…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.” LEVEN Vol. 40 No. 3, June-July 2004, pp. 54-55

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Lawrence, Ruth   A Breastfeeding: a Guide for the Medical Profession.  Moby, New York.  I’ll have to check the publication date

La Leche League Stance on Used Pumps - http://www.llli.org//llleaderweb/LV/LVJunJul04p54.html