June 13th, 2011
08:01 AM ET

Is a used breast pump safe?

Every weekday, a CNNHealth expert doctor answers a viewer question. On Mondays, it's pediatrician Dr. Jennifer Shu.

Asked by Andrea from San Francisco, California

I'm eight months pregnant and plan to breastfeed. I will go back to work after a few months and am thinking about getting a heavy-duty double breast pump, but the new ones are very expensive. Is it safe to buy or rent a used one? I'm worried about the germs that might be inside the pump but can't really afford a new one.

Expert answer

Thanks for your question, and congratulations! Breast pumps are actually regulated by the FDA, and the party line is that personal pumps are designed for single users (kind of like a toothbrush), but hospital-grade ones may be used by multiple women.

Most breast pumps are made up of an "open system" where the breastmilk flows through the breast shields, tubing and collection containers, but milk particles may also come into contact with parts of the machine. Multi-user pumps are "closed systems," in which the milk cannot enter the machine itself, and the tubing and other pieces may simply be changed between users.

If you plan to rent a pump or buy or borrow a used one, it's best to be sure it is the closed-system kind. Although viruses such as HIV cannot survive on surfaces for more than a few hours, there are other germs that can live for several weeks or years, even on dry objects. While it is normal for a baby to be exposed to his own mother's germs, it's important to minimize any unnecessary contact with other viruses or bacteria.

For pricier items such as breast pumps, new parents may opt to put them on a gift registry or see if friends and family members can chip in donations toward the purchase. The pump may also be covered under certain insurance plans or if you have a health savings account or flexible spending account.

Your state health department or local WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) program may provide assistance as well; income eligibility requirements may apply. You could also consider a more affordable single or manual pump, although they are often less efficient than double electric ones.

Good luck!

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.