Thoughts about breast pumps, part 2: Used Pumps

Second in a series

Contributed by Christy Porucznik

Used pumps, what’s the big deal?

Many popular, consumer-grade pumps are single-user products and are regulated by the FDA as such. Medela Pump in Style is an example of a popular, single-user pump. Ameda Purely Yours is a closed-system pump which could, theoretically, be used safely by multiple mothers without the worry of infection as long as each mother had her own milk collection kit.

Although small, there is a chance of infection being passed from mother to mother with the pump as the vehicle. HIV and hepatitis are the ones that get tossed about, and that would be really rare, but the probability is not zero. I think a more likely pathogen transfer via a used pump would be thrush (yeast).

Now is when someone says, “But I know my friend/sister etc. doesn’t have those diseases, and pumps are expensive. Why shouldn’t I take hers?”

Here is a reason:
These devices have a 1 year warranty. Manufacturers expect that 1 year is about how long people might use them, and performance will begin to deteriorate over time. A mom relying on an old pump to express milk or maintain supply may not realize that it is not as effective as it should be and her supply may dwindle as a result, or she can’t pump enough and winds up turning to artificial milk for the care provider to use.

The issue of pump life applies to the single-user devices and the closed-system devices.

* Particularly for moms considering buying used pumps from the internet or a yard sale *
This is a bad idea because: 1) possibility of infection, and 2) if you spend $100 and the thing conks out then you have no recourse or warranty and will likely wind up spending for a new pump or artificial milk anyway.

It’s true, pumps are expensive, but I submit the following:
1) many moms who think that they need a pump don’t really need it — mom returning to work full time probably does need a good double electric pump, but mom wanting to express milk occasionally for a caregiver can do just fine with hand expression or a good manual pump (much cheaper)
2) medical insurance may cover the pump as durable medical equipment – mom should check with insurance company
3) mom returning to work should find out if there is a pumping room at her workplace – there may be, and it may be equipped with a hospital grade pump. It’s true that most workplaces don’t have such amenities, but the more people ask the more common they might become. There are resource guides available for workplaces about how to create such a room and how it can benefit the company.
4) moms who receive WIC and must return to work can often get a hospital grade pump to borrow from WIC

Do people buy used pumps? Sure, but it is a good idea to consider the risks and costs and make a smart decision. If I were planning to use a pump regularly for several months I would decide it is worth the investment to know that it is both safe and covered by warranty. If I only needed it for occasional use, then I might consider a manual pump (new or used) that is both cheaper and can be sterilized.

I would not sell a single-user pump at a yard sale or donate it to a charity. If it were a share-able (closed system) electric pump, I still wouldn’t because of the pump life issue and possibility of compromising milk supply in an unsuspecting mom. I would sell a manual pump that could be boiled.

Thinking about eco-consciousness, it bums me out that these devices aren’t built to last for generations, and I would love to know what I could reasonably do with the old Pump in Style in my closet (any my current PIS when I am done with it). I have been considering what sort of science experiments or plant watering system I could build with a small electric pump. ;-) A La Leche League Group or a childbirth/parenting/breastfeeding educator might use one donated pump for teaching purposes.

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