Last week, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released updated guidelines on how to clean your breast pump, following a very sad case in Pennsylvania where a three-week-old preemie suffered meningitis and brain tissue damage from a bacterial infection contracted from expressed breast milk. A bacteria called Cronobacter sakazakii was later detected inside the mom’s breast pump parts and in the kitchen sink drain at home.
Before you freak out, know that this particular kind of bacteria is super rare (the CDC says they usually see only four to six cases a year) and this is the first time they’re heard of a baby picking up this particular kind of infection from a contaminated breast pump or bottle of expressed milk.
It’s also good to know that human breast milk normally has a lot of bacteria in it—it’s supposed to! Healthy, full-term newborns pick up good bacteria from their moms’ breast milk and from skin-to-skin care all the time (it called “colonizing”), and it doesn’t usually cause infections. (However, donor breast milk from a milk bank is always pasteurized.)
And even though breast milk is a bodily fluid, formula is more prone to bacterial growth than expressed breast milk is. (Did you know that breast milk lasts three to six days when pumped and stored properly in the fridge, whereas powdered formula bottles are only good in the fridge for 24 hours after you first mix it?)
Cleaning your breast pump properly really depends on what brand and type of breast pump you have—make sure you read your manual and get to know which parts do what. Flanges, breast shields, membranes—it's confusing! Here are the highlights from the handy, illustrated CDC fact-sheet that all pumping moms and their partners should try to follow:
If you’re feeling confused (which is understandable—you’re also sleep-deprived!) about all the pumping, cleaning and milk storage rules, check out this chart. We’ve got all the specifics on how to store, sanitize, thaw and reheat bottles of breast milk or formula.