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  • Writer's pictureChardá Bell, IBCLC, CBE, CD

The Breast Pump Fridge Hack - Is it safe?

Updated: May 10


I've been seeing a ton of videos on TikTok about cleaning your breast pump parts by simply placing them in the fridge. Some people are cleaning them after--that's OK--but some people are not--that's No Bueno--and that is where the problem is and when it becomes very unsafe. Because of how simple social media can be sometimes, not as extensive as oh say this blog, people try to cram a bunch of info in 15 second clips and things easily get misconstrued. So unfortunately, some folks are now thinking the fridge is doing the cleaning and that's totally not what this hack is about. Let me help clarify this confusion up a bit...here's a few videos I've made on it:






I had at least 3 client visits last week that asked me if they could just put their parts in the fridge and just use them after that without rinsing or washing them.


NO! Sorry to tell you that you probably shouldn't. I mean you can, but I wouldn't.

So kind of worried about this misinformation, I spoke to my partner about the talk going around town about it. He is a scholar, professor, and lecturer. So naturally I heard him out on his theory. He said "maybe the confusion for these parents is that their partner sees the dirty parts in the fridge comes and cleans them puts them back in the fridge and then the pumping person comes back to clean parts and thinks they have magically been cleaned by the talking singing fridge from beauty and the beast." Good theory babe, but stick to your CRT stuff tho lol, love you Dr. Watkins!


Keep reading for my thoughts and information on this topic.

There is some funky bad misinformation going viral per use-sh...




Pumping and especially exclusive pumping can be A LOT of work. You are also likely making bottles and having to wash those bottles, and all those pump parts. It's clear that with all of this stress you are looking for easier and faster ways to make pumping and bottle feeding more manageable.


So what's up with this fridge hack? It's is when people put their pump parts in a gallon size zip top bag or other means, some just put them in fridge on paper towels or in the fridge on the shelf, none of which is very sanitary. They then reuse the pump parts without rinsing or washing and do this several times during the day.


In reality, you need to buy and bring extra parts to do this hack without using contaminated parts every pump. You will likely need to pump 1-3x while at work. So have at least that many parts and collect them all in the bag after each session. It is not a good idea to reuse pump parts without at least rinsing or wiping them out first. In a pinch you could use those pump wipes but soap and water is the best choice.


In September 2017, the CDC issued new guidelines recommending pump parts be washed after each use. One part of the guidelines states “if you cannot clean your pump parts thoroughly after each pumping session, you can rinse and then refrigerate pump parts for a few hours between uses to help slow the growth of bacteria.” This does not say it will kill the bacteria, it will slow the growth, meaning you still need to wash these parts and preferably as soon as possible.


Infants have become ill from contaminated milk due to bacteria growing on pump parts that were not cleaned properly. Please see CDC’s fact sheet [PDF – 2 pages] for best practices on how to keep your breast pump kit clean.



Is it OK if I store breast pump parts in the refrigerator between pump sessions while at work?


The CDC and most breast pump manufacturers recommend cleaning pump parts thoroughly after every use to help protect babies from germs. If you cannot clean your pump parts thoroughly after each pumping session.


The fridge hack would be for someone who has no other option to clean running water and soap at the time when it is needed. Not for those at home with easy access and just wish to save some time. There are plenty other ways to save time when pumping and this is not a step you want to skip due to major health concerns for your baby. I will get to more on how to save time with pumping and cleaning pump parts below.


If you choose to refrigerate pump parts between pumping sessions, rinse the parts first to remove milk residue, if possible, and then keep the parts in a sealed bag to prevent contamination. If rinsing is not possible, wipe milk residue off the parts with a clean, disposable paper towel. If your infant is younger than 2 months or has a compromised immune system, proper cleaning of pump parts after each use is especially important. This part cannot be stressed enough!


Is it true that germs can grow quickly in breast milk or breast milk residue that remains on pump parts?


Yes, Harmful germs can grow in breast milk (or its residues) so you need to disinfect your pump properly. Infants have become ill from contaminated milk due to bacteria grown on pump parts that were not cleaned properly.


Proper cleaning of breast pump parts and feeding items, and appropriate storage of milk, can help preserve the nutrient and protective properties of breast milk, and reduce the risk of introducing germs to an infant.


Breast milk contains components that protect the milk itself from contamination with germs, after it has been expressed. This ability of breast milk to prevent the growth of germs is referred to as the bacteriostatic capacity of breast milk.


Breast milk is bactericidal in that it can also actively reduce some of these germs.


However, the bactericidal properties decrease with time, even under refrigerated conditions, and can differ by milk collection container type. There are also many different types of germs that could come in contact with pump parts. Some germs grow more quickly than others and the bactericidal capacity of breast milk is not consistent among all types of germs (e.g., Cronobacter sakazakii).





Should I use a brush to scrub breast pump kit parts?


CDC’s breast pump cleaning guidance recommends following the pump manufacturer’s instructions about whether to use a brush to scrub the pump parts.

Scrubbing with a brush may damage some breast pump parts but not others.


How do I clean hard-to-reach areas of breast pumps such as valves and membranes?


If the manufacturer’s instructions allow for the use of a brush, use a small brush with soap and warm water to get inside the hard-to-reach areas of breast pump parts. Otherwise, consider washing these parts in the top rack of the dishwasher (place small parts inside a closed-top basket) or boil disassembled parts for 5 minutes. Some parts are best washed by hand, so always refer to the manufacturer’s instructions to avoid damaging certain parts while cleaning them.





Are certain kinds of soap more effective in cleaning breast pump parts?


You can use any soap intended for washing dishes to clean pump parts, including dishwasher soap if you are using a dishwasher. Do not use antibacterial soap because it can contain additives and chemicals that may not be safe for regular, daily use to wash breast pump parts. In addition, there isn’t enough science to show that over-the-counter (OTC) antibacterial soaps are better at preventing illness than washing with plain soap and water. Rinse pump parts thoroughly after washing to remove all soap residue.


Can I use wet wipes to clean my breast pump between pumping sessions?


Some breast pump manufacturers make hygienic wipes specifically for cleaning breast pumps and breast pump parts. These wipes may be convenient when you don’t have access to soap and water.


According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), even if these wipes are used, breast pump parts that come into contact with breast milk should still be cleaned using dishwashing soap and warm water before using them again.




What about sterilization?


If your pump manufacturer’s instructions say you can’t put certain parts of your breast pump in boiling water...


Here's 3 ways to sanitize pump parts:

  1. Steaming (they make bags for your microwave that you can buy, they are affordable and easy to use)

  2. Items in boiling water (old school method, tried and true)

  3. Dishwasher with a sanitize setting (or hot water and a heated drying cycle if your dishwasher does not have a specific sanitize setting)


Follow the breast pump manufacturer’s instructions on how to best clean and sanitize your pump parts. For items that cannot be sanitized, thoroughly clean and inspect them regularly to make sure they are in good condition (no cracks, chips, signs of wear and tear, or other defects). Replace them when needed. For more information, please see our web page How to Keep Your Breast Pump Kit Clean.



OK so, how can I make my life easier with all these damn rules?!


Here are 5 ways to make pumping and washing parts so much faster and more convenient.


1. Buy spare parts

One way to get around this is to get multiple sets of pump parts. Yes, you can buy an extra sets of pump parts other than what your pump came with!


You may be able to get extra sets of pump parts covered by insurance.


2. Use the Dishwasher

Another option is to wash your pump parts in the dishwasher.


Check your breast pump’s instruction manual first to make sure all of the parts are diswasher-safe. (The instruction manuals are usually available online if you search.) Then, you can put any safe parts in a mesh bag or diswasher basket, and clean them that way.


If your dishwasher has a heated drying cycle, that will take care of the sterilization.


3. Pump directly into bottles

If you are able to pump directly into the bottles that your baby will be using, it saves you a ton of time and stress of transferring milk to and from bags, and prevents washing two sets of bottles (pump bottles and drinking bottles)


You might be able to use the bottles your baby drinks from to attach to your pump, this varies from pump to pump but it can be a very possible option for many. Some of the pumps come with adapters to make this work.


4. Get more bottles

Seems counter productive I know, but if you have plenty of bottles, like twice as many as you need then you have enough to pump in, store in, drink from and then you can either wash them all at once or have extra to not have to worry about washing them right away if you are unable to do so.


5. Pitcher method

This is another "hack" taking over TikTok. I approve, only if your baby will be drinking the entire pitcher within 4 - 7 days. I wouldn't recommend this to premature babies.

This pitcher method has made life easier for many and involves no extra bags or bottles, just fridge space for your pitcher, in the back of the fridge for better/safer storage temperatures.


You basically just store all the milk you pump in a large container in the fridge before prepping bottles.


Please note: Mixing freshly expressed breast milk with already cooled or frozen milk is not advised because it can rewarm the older stored milk. It is best to cool freshly expressed milk before combining it with older, previously cooled or frozen milk. So let that milk chill out in the bottle in the fridge before adding it to pitcher.


Fun Fact #1 : Did you know you are supposed to put your milk in the back of the fridge, not the front and not the door. This is to keep it coldest and make the temperature not fluctuate to keep bacteria from growing in it.


Another Fun Fact #2 : I know I'm full of them today you love it or you hate it lol. Your baby can drink cold milk! If they take it great, easier for you, offer it. If they don't like it very much then to the warming process you go, but I'm trying to save you some tip here!


Last one I promise, Fun Fact #3: Premature babies in the NICU should have milk stored in sterile bottles not bags. It is safer, the hospital will tell you.


OK one more one more...Yes, you can mix breastmilk and formula, there are some safety rules of course. I get asked that a lot so this is why I'm telling you. I'll explain it more in another blog.





Summary:


Cleaning pump parts thoroughly after every use is the best way to help protect babies from harmful germs that could be on pump parts, especially for babies who were born preterm or have other health conditions.


Ultimately, breast milk is a nutrient-rich liquid that, despite its bactericidal properties, can still grow harmful bacteria.


No studies have shown whether rinsing or wiping and then storing pump parts in the refrigerator between pumping sessions effectively limits the growth of bacteria and is a safe alternative to washing between use every time.


If things are really tough on your mental health about this, talk with a lactation consultant. Visit www.postpartum.net if you are experiencing signs of anxiety or depression. Consider hiring help if you can, a postpartum doula, nanny, or enlist the support of partner or relatives. Don't be afraid to ask for help, you deserve it!



Happy pumping, it gets easier with time! You just gotta find your own groove and routine. Don't compare yourself to others, it will make you feel worse. You are doing your very best and that's all that matters!


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