Are Used Breast Pumps a Good Option? Issues to Consider

by Nancy Mohrbacher, IBCLC

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.)