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Do You Have To Wash Your Breast Pump Parts After Every Session? An Expert Weighs In

Throughout my first pregnancy, I was blissfully naive about the reality of caring for an infant. For one thing, I thought I'd still be able to co-host the poetry reading series I'd founded; surely I could just tie my baby to my chest and resume my regular activities. Also, I was excited to get a free breast pump through my insurance. Even though I planned to stay home, I thought pumping would make life more convenient. I didn't consider the extra tasks it might create, like cleaning. But do you have to wash your breast pump parts after every session? Luckily, you can use the top rack of your dishwasher to clean pump parts after each use. Experts say that while cleanliness is essential, complete sterilization isn't necessary or even possible.

According to doula and Breastfeeding Counselor Megan Davidson, "Keeping pump parts and bottles clean is important to prevent germs and harmful bacteria from getting in your baby’s food. That said, the goal really isn’t to sterilize the parts. Breasts and breast milk are not sterile—and that’s a good thing!" What does that mean? Davidson explains that "40 percent of the beneficial bacteria in a baby's gut might come from breastmilk and contact with the breast skin." There is always beneficial bacteria present on our skin and in breast milk, which is one of the reasons it's so good for babies.

In a society obsessed with antibacterial handsoap, it's understandable to equate all bacteria as bad. Thus you might think you need to sterilize your breast pump parts, meaning they would be "entirely free from bacteria and other living organisms," says Davidson. She emphasizes the fact that sterilization is not only unnecessary, it's not even possible to do at home. Breastfeeding mothers who pump milk should instead focus on sanitization, which is "the process of reducing the bacteria and other micro-organisms to a level that is safe," Davidson explains.

Like Davidson, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)  recommends sanitizing breast pump parts at least once a day, especially if your baby is younger than three months, was born prematurely, or has a weakened immune system for other reasons. The difference between general washing and sanitizing is the use of heat. Immersing breast pump parts in boiling water, steaming them in the microwave, or using a dishwasher's heated wash and dry settings are all methods of sanitizing.

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If you're already using your dishwasher to clean your breast pump parts, you don't need a separate sanitizing step as long as you use hot water and heated drying. Davidson agrees that "warm water and soap (or a trip through the dishwasher or sanitizing in the microwave in a pinch) are all great options. Use a paper towel or clean dish rack to dry the parts and wash your hands before handling the pump or bottles. Much like the precautions you’d take with your own food, these basic hygiene steps will help ensure you don’t introduce germs or harmful bacteria into your baby’s food."

Whatever method of cleaning and/or sanitizing you use, it's important to consult the manufacturer's instructions first. They will tell you the best way to clean and care for your particular pump. Some women buy extra pump parts to make it easier to pump throughout the day at work. If you can't wash the pump pieces immediately at work, rinse them in cool water or wipe them down with specially designed cleaning wipes to remove milk residue. This will prevent germs from breeding until you take them home to wash them.

Just as you would take apart all the pieces of a bottle to wash each separately, be meticulous in separating the little pump parts so each gets thoroughly cleaned in the dish washer or hand wash. The FDA recommends drying with a paper towel instead of a cloth one to avoid contact with germs and bacteria. The organization also noted that you should put the pump back together after it dries and before storing it.

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Having a baby adds a lot of demands and extra chores to your life, especially in the early days. While meticulously cleaning breast pump parts for the next day's use may be the last thing you want to do at the end of a long day, it's important for maintaining your baby's good health. You could also ask your partner to take ownership of this chore — after all, you're doing the hard work of feeding your child. It's like the adage that whoever makes dinner should not be the one who cleans up afterward.

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