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30 Mar 2019

Experts warn mums to beware if considering using second-hand breast pumps

A Which? survey has found that nearly 20% mums are using a second-hand breast pump, despite experts warning of potential health and safety dangers.

Some 11% of mothers we surveyed had bought a breast pump second-hand and 7% had one given to them.

Some 51% of mothers in our survey thought it was fine to use a second-hand breast pump. However, experts have told us that mothers need to be aware of the potential risks involved using secondhand breast pumps.

These can include infection and contamination.

A spokesperson for Medela said: 'Due to the unique composition of human milk, a complex set of issues arises that places it at risk of contamination when it is collected, stored and handled.

'Although the benefits of human milk far outweigh its risks as a source of infection, contaminated pumps have been identified as reservoirs for bacteria, especially after being used by multiple mothers and cleaned inadequately between uses.'

Liz Halliday, deputy head of midwifery at Private Midwives, a leading provider of private midwifery services said: 'Breast milk can contain bacteria and fungi that may result in infection if pumps are used by multiple women.

'In addition,if a pump has been used during a period of nipple trauma, blood contamination can also occur.'

Liz also said: 'There has been very little research around bacterial contamination of breast pumps and to my knowledge there hasn't been a documented case of a baby becoming sick through the use of a second-hand pump. However, I would be cautious in considering that option.

'If it is possible to buy a new pump, then that would certainly be my recommendation.

'If that outlay is not possible, I think that a closed-system pump with low usage is a reasonable alternative if the milk collection unit parts are replaced by the new user.'

Closed vs open system breast pumps

There are 2 types of breast pumps available to women - open system or closed system pumps.

  • Open system pumps are recommended for single users only as they do not have a barrier between the milk collection and the pumping parts. It is impossible to fully clean and sterilise them in a home environment.

'This means that the potential for bacterial or fungal is high,' says Liz, 'and I would not recommend they be bought second hand.'

  • Closed system pumps have a barrier between the milk collection unit and the pumping parts. This means that they are considered safe for multiple users from a contamination point of view and many women simply purchase the new closed system parts if they have bought a second-hand unit.

The downside to using a second-hand closed system pump is that they are usually only guaranteed for the original user and often only for one year or for a specified amount of pumping hours.

'As such,' Liz says, 'on purchase of a second-hand closed-system pump, the new owner may find that the motor is not as effective as it should be, or it may cease to work altogether in a short period of time.'

How to express breast milk

Top five tips: buying and using a breast pump

  • Work out your budgetA manual breast pump costs as little as £15 but can be more work; electric breast pumps start from around £60
  • Electric or a manual breast pump? Manual pumps are cheaper, can be quieter and easier to transport, but if you're pumping a lot then it could be better to invest in an electric pump and save some work.
  • Get the right fit1 in 6 mums told us using their breast pump was uncomfortable. Make sure you order the right size breast shield.
  • Check compatibilitySome breast pumps only fit a particular brand of bottle, so make sure the one you buy fits your bottles.
  • CleaningAlways read the instructions to check the best way to sterilise and clean your pump thoroughly.

How to buy the best breast pump