Why Do You Need To Sterilize Breast Pump Parts?
It is necessary to clean and sterilize breast pump parts, especially in the early newborn phase.
Even though breastmilk is the best thing to feed your newborn, germs and bacteria can still grow on breast milk when it is left out at room temperature.
The Center For Disease Control (CDC) recommends sterilizing your breast pump parts for extra protection while your child’s immune system is developing, specifically in the first 3 months of life.
To prevent spreading harmful germs and bacteria to your baby, you should sanitize your breast pump parts regularly.
I personally breastfed my son until he was 20 months old (P.S. wondering how long is too long to breastfeed? Check out my article on extended breastfeeding here).
I pumped until he was around 12 months old.
I felt it was best for his immune system to sterilize my pump parts once a day the whole time I pumped.
And, as a mom who has tried *almost* all of the methods listed below, I will tell you exactly how to sterilize breast pump parts and tell you which method worked the best for me.
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How Often Do You Need To Sterilize Breast Pump Parts?
You must clean your breast pump parts after each pumping session, but you don’t necessarily need to sterilize them each time.
The CDC guidelines recommend sterilizing your pump parts at least once a day.
My general rule of thumb was once a day OR if I didn’t clean the pump parts right after using them.
For example, if after I pumped, the dirty pump parts sat for an hour or more before I cleaned them, then I would sterilize them.
Pro Tip: Some pumps have lots of parts to sterilize and some have very few. You should decide whether you want a manual or electric pump (or something completely different like a Haakaa). Personally, I owned all 3: a manual pump, an electric pump, and a Haakaa.
Cleaning And Sterilizing Your Breast Pump For The First Use
The first time that you use your breast pump, you have to clean all of the parts and sanitize them before using the pump.
It’s a good idea to read the instruction manual that comes with your pump to know exactly how they recommend cleaning and sterilizing for the first time.
If you are using an electric pump you do not have to clean or sanitize the pump motor!
After the first use, you don’t necessarily have to clean or sterilize all of the pump parts.
Going forward, you only have to clean the pump parts that come in contact with breastmilk.
Breast Pump Parts That Come In Contact With Breastmilk
Each breast pump kit is different and has different parts, so you should read the manufacturer’s instructions that come with the pump to know which parts need to be cleaned after every use.
Pro Tip: Always have a few spare parts for your pump handy. As a mom whose dog chewed up a valve, who dropped a flange right into open flames when boiling, and who waited impatiently for my sterilized parts to dry, it is worth it to have a few spare parts handy for when you have a hungry baby and unexpected things occur. If you have a Medela pump or Spectra pump you can buy replacement parts in many stores like Target or Walmart. Otherwise, you can buy directly from the pump manufacturer.
Here are some of the parts that you might have:
- Breast milk bottles
Breast Pump Parts That Don’t Come In Contact With Breastmilk
In most cases, the following parts do not come into contact with breastmilk, so they do not need to be cleaned:
- Pump motor (electric pump)
- Pump handle (manual pump)
- Breast pump tubing *
- Backflow protectors *
*Almost all modern breast pumps are closed systems, meaning the milk doesn’t go through the tubes. Hospital-grade breast pumps are also closed systems. My recommendation for the most sterile pumping is to opt for a closed system like the Spectra S2 (which is the model I used).
Backflow protectors typically don’t come in contact with breastmilk; however, they can get moisture in them from time to time.
Read your pump’s manual to know what to do if you see moisture in your tubing or backflow protectors.
How To Clean Breast Pump Parts
Cleaning breast pump parts can be done in the sink or the dishwasher.
- In the sink:
I would highly recommend using a separate wash basin for bottles and pump parts. The whole time my son used bottles, the left side of our sink was only for bottles, pump parts, and warm soapy water.
I suggest this because the grease, grime, and bacteria that might transfer from other dishes to your bottles are going to be so tricky to get off.
Fill your kitchen sink with hot soapy water. Use a special bottle soap designed to remove milk residue like this one. In my experience, normal dish soap doesn’t get all of the milk off the parts and leaves a breast milk residue behind.
Use a bottle brush to clean the parts and set them on a drying rack. My favorite drying rack is the Boon Drying Rack because you can customize it to the exact pump and bottle parts that you are using.
- In the dishwasher:
Make sure your pump parts are dishwasher safe.
I recommend using a pump-part dishwasher basket to prevent small pieces from getting lost/melted in the dishwasher.
- Quick clean breast pump wipes:
If you don’t have access to a sink but need to clean your pump parts (for example in-between pumping sessions at work), you can use a special breast pump disinfectant wipe like these ones: These are quick clean wipes so you don’t need to rinse after using them.
Do not use regular disinfectant wipes because they will leave behind harmful chemicals that will contaminate the breast milk.
How To Sterilize Breast Pump Parts
Before sterilizing your breast pump parts, you have to clean pump parts thoroughly (see above).
There are lots of options when it comes to sterilizing your breast pump parts. I’ll walk you through the different methods and products that I used AND tell you which one ended up being the easiest.
You can buy a breast pump steam sterilizer that either goes in the microwave or sits on the countertop.
For microwave sterilizers, you load the pump parts in the bottom, add a little water, put the lid on, and microwave according to the directions.
Microwave sterilizers are great if you want to save counter space, but they usually can’t hold as many pump parts as a countertop sterilizer.
For countertop sterilizers, you load the pump parts in the basin, add water to a tray, put the lid on, and hit the start button. Countertop sterilizers typically take between 5 and 15 minutes to run.
If you only need to steam a few parts or steam on the go, you can use quick clean micro-steam bags.
I. Loved. These. Bags.
They are inexpensive and can be used 20 times each. The only downside is that you can only fit one set of flanges or collection bottles at once.
Pros and Cons of Steam Sterilizing
Pros: This is the fastest method because you don’t have to wait for the water to boil.
Cons: Most basic steam sterilizers will leave tiny water droplets all over your pump parts that will take 24 hours or longer to air dry.
Personally, I found the drying time to be too much for steam sterilizing and I returned my counter steamer.
Pro Tip: After sterilizing your pump parts you have to let them air dry. Drying the parts with a towel or cloth could reintroduce bacteria.
More advanced steam sterilizers have a dryer built-in. These are a great option for drying your parts quickly.
Had I realized how much time I would spend putting pump parts on a drying rack and waiting for them to dry, I probably would have returned my basic sterilizer for one of these more advanced models with built-in dryers.
Maybe I will splurge on one of these for baby number two!
Here are a few sterilizers with dryers from brands that I love and trust:
If your dishwasher has a sterilize setting, you can sterilize your pump parts in the dishwasher!
My dishwasher is a newer model and doesn’t have a heated drying cycle, so there is no sanitizing setting.
I’m sure if there was a sanitized setting this would have been my preferred method… Because you can clean and sterilize all in one step!
Make sure you properly load your pump parts in the dishwasher to make sure they are thoroughly cleaned and sterilized.
A special closed-top basket that is designed for this purpose works great.
Check the manufacturer guidelines for using a dishwasher as most will recommend only using the top rack of your dishwasher.
UV sterilizers are not common because they are expensive, there aren’t many options, and they take 60 minutes or longer to sterilize.
If you’re set on UV, the best product I found was the Tommee Tippee Ultra UV 3-in-1 Sterilizer.
This seems like such an obvious option (so retro!), but boiling water is a preferred sterilizing method.
Pro Tip: Buy an inexpensive stockpot that can fit A LOT of bottles, binkies, toys, pump parts, and anything else you might need to sterilize for a newborn all at once.
Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Add all of your parts to the pot and boil for 10 minutes. Use sterile or clean tongs to remove them and place them on a drying rack.
Pro Tip: Tongs with silicone tips will make it so much easier to get pump parts out of the water without them slipping everywhere.
This is my favorite way to sterilize breast pump parts and bottles.
It is inexpensive (even free if you already have a pot). You can clean all of your bottles and parts at once instead of continuously cleaning in batches.
Medela has a sanitizing spray that kills germs in 60 seconds with one spritz and doesn’t need to be rinsed! There are no harsh chemicals so you can even use them on bottles and nipples.
The spray is super convenient for sterilizing on the go.
I would recommend having this spray on-hand in your diaper bag for sterilizing emergencies. And, in your pumping bag for sterilizing on the go.
This isn’t a method that I personally used (it wasn’t available when I was pumping) so I’m not sure how cost-effective it is/ drying time/ etc. BUT it is definitely something I will have in my arsenal for when this second baby gets here!
Drying Your Breast Pump Parts After Sterilizing
As I mentioned above, drying your pump parts is one of the most frustrating parts of how to sterilize your pump parts.
You cannot use clothes or even a clean paper towel to dry your pump parts after sterilizing because these could reintroduce bacteria.
You have to let your pump parts air dry after sterilizing.
You can let your parts air dry on a clean surface or on a drying rack.
I had 2 drying racks that I alternated between and I would recommend them both!
Below is the approximate time that it takes to sterilize and dry your pump parts for each sanitizing method:
- Dishwasher Method: 45-120 minutes (depending on the cycle length of your dishwasher). Bonus: this method also cleans your parts!
- Steam Sterilizers (No Dryer): 24-36 hours. Yup, you heard me, mama! Those pesky water droplets will still be there tomorrow, and possibly the day after.
- Steam Sterilizers (With Dyer): 5-15 minutes. Look at the manufacturer details for each model for sanitizing and drying times.
- Microwave Steam Sterilizer And/Or Microwave Sterilizer Bag: 15-20 minutes IF you take the pump parts out of the sterilizer bag or container and immediately put them on a drying rack (while they are still piping hot).
- Boiling: 30-45 minutes. Boiling the water is the longest part of the process and boiling times will change depending on how much water you are using and what kind of stove you have.
Pro Tip: Take your pump parts out of the boiling water and give them a little shake with the tongs before transferring to a drying rack. Shaking off excess droplets will help dry your pump parts faster.
How To Sterilize Breast Pump Parts At Work Or On The Go
As I mentioned above, if you need to sterilize while you are at work or away from home, there are several options:
- If you have access to a sink and microwave you can wash your parts and put them in a reusable microwave sterilizer bag (they hardly take up any space to keep in your pumping bag).
- If you do not have access to water or a microwave, you can clean your pump parts by using special disinfecting wipes for breast pump parts. DO NOT use regular disinfecting wipes as they can contaminate your milk with dangerous chemicals.
- There is also a sanitizing spray made for breast pump parts. Spray this on your clean parts and let it air dry. No need to rinse!
- For small emergencies, use a portable UV sterilizer for small pump parts, pacifiers, etc.
Cleaning And Sterilizing Bottles
Cleaning and sterilizing baby bottles, whether from breastmilk or formula, is the same process as cleaning and sanitizing breast pump parts.
I highly recommend a bottle brush in addition to bottle soap to easily clean out your bottles.
Pro Tip: If you can, clean all of your pump parts and bottles at the end of the day. Having a giant stockpot and large drying rack will give you the flexibility to wash and sterilize everything at once to prepare for the next use.
Cleaning And Sterilizing Breastfeeding And Baby Accessories
You should sterilize anything that comes in contact with breastmilk or formula once a day. This includes other breastfeeding accessories like breast shields or nipple shields, bottle tops, bottle lids, collection cup lids, etc.
You should also sterilize pacifiers on a regular basis. If your baby has a weakened immune system (from being premature or from an illness) you can buy portable UV sanitizers for pacifiers and other small items that fit right in your diaper bag.
Everything You Need To Clean And Sterilize Your Bottles:
- Bottle Brush
- Bottle Soap
- (Optional) Washbasin
- Drying Rack
- A large pot, microwave sterilizer, micro-steam bags, or a countertop steamer
- For Your Diaper Bag: Disinfecting Wipes & Sanitizing Spray, Portable UV Sterilizer.