Now that you’ve hung up your breast-pumping boots, what do you do with the pump? Breast pumps are expensive, so it’d be a shame for them to find their final resting place in a landfill.
So what can you do with it? If you’re thinking about expanding your family in the near future, you can put it in storage. As long as it’s in good working condition, it should be able to serve you when the time comes.
Where does that leave those of us who are done having babies? Well, you can shove it into a corner somewhere — or you can find a better use for it.
In this article, we’ll share some ways to dispose of your used breast pump.
- Breast pumps come in two types: closed-system and open-system. The type of pump will determine how it can be disposed of.
- Closed-system pumps have built-in barriers that separate the motor and collection kit and are considered safe for use by multiple people.
- Open-system pumps have no barrier between the motor and collection kit, making it difficult to clean and sanitize all parts, and are recommended for use by a single person only.
- To dispose of a used breast pump, options include recycling through the manufacturer, selling or donating it, or properly disposing of it as electronic waste.
Why Open vs. Closed System Matters
Breast pumps come in a variety of shapes, capacities, and prices, but there are two significant differences to look out for. The pump will either be a closed-system breast pump or an open-system breast pump.
These differences will determine what you can do with your pump once you’re done using it.
Closed System Breast Pump
These pumps have built-in barriers that completely separate the motor and the collection kit. No milk or air can get inside the motor, which essentially keeps mold, bacteria, and viruses at bay. They’re also easier to clean and sanitize.
Closed-system pumps are considered safe and can be used by more than one mom since there’s no possibility of cross-contamination. This means that there are more options for disposal as well.
Open-system Breast Pump
With an open-system breast pump, there’s no barrier between the motor and the collection kit. Breast milk can unintentionally find its way through the tubing and into the motor. Since the inside of the pump is dark, moist, and warm, it’s only a matter of time before mold starts to grow.
The most significant drawback of this design is sanitization. It’s not entirely possible to thoroughly clean or sanitize all the parts of the pump. And it’s not only mold that you should worry about. Harmful bacteria and viruses can also find a home in open-system pumps.
If you own an open-system breast pump, it’s critical to ensure it’s cleaned well after every use, especially the parts that come into direct contact with the breasts or breast milk. Some parts on some machines can be directly placed into the dishwasher. Other parts will need to be cleaned by hand.
Double-check with the manufacturer as to what’s required for your exact pump model — you don’t want to ruin your go-to gadget during a cleaning session.
After cleaning, it’s also a good idea to sanitize your pump.
Open-system pumps are designed for use by a single person only. Sharing or passing the pump on is highly discouraged.
Today, there’s so much information available online and in print on the potential dangers of sharing an open-system breast pump. Because of this, you’ll find many women shying away from accepting or purchasing a used one.
If you’d like to know what system your pump uses, check online, or call the manufacturer. You can also consult an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) for more information.
What To Do With An Old Breast Pump
Here are three useful things you can do with your old breast pump. Disposal options differ between open and closed systems, but we cover that and more below.
1. Recycle the Pump
For the environmentally-conscious mom, this is a more satisfying option. Recycling doesn’t just make us feel good; it helps reduce the amount of waste we put into the environment. Electronic waste is particularly harmful as it can emit hazardous toxins to the land and the underground water we use (1).
Several breast pump manufacturers, including Medela and Hygeia, have effective breast pump recycling programs. Reach out to your brand’s manufacturer and find out if they accept used breast pumps for recycling.
It’s worth noting that pump manufacturers will only accept their own pumps. It is unlikely they’ll recycle a pump manufactured by a different company.
Alternatively, you can search for a local appliance recycling center that will accept the pump. This might be a more convenient option than shipping it back to your manufacturer of choice.
Since recycling doesn’t involve the pump being used again, this might be the best option if you have an open-system pump.
2. Donate to Charity
Breast pumps, more often than not, cost a lot of money and are unaffordable for many mothers. If your closed-system pump is in good working condition, you could consider donating it. Perhaps a member of your family or a friend needs one.
If not, look for someone who needs a pump. You can reach out to your local charitable organizations to see if they need breast pumps. You can also go online and find a women’s shelter or a charity that accepts used closed-system pumps.
While you are looking, clean and sanitize the pump one last time, pack it, and keep it ready for send-off. There will be a grateful mom out there somewhere.
Only closed-system breast pumps (and not the accessories) can be donated due to the health issues mentioned above. You will find that many organizations already know this and will tell you as much.
3. Re-Sell the Pump
Baby stuff is expensive. That’s why I’m all for selling whatever is no longer needed, especially if it’s in good condition. If you want to recoup some of your expenses, selling your pump may be a viable option.
Again, due to health reasons, you should only sell a closed-system breast pump. Online local buy/sell sites such as Craigslist, VarageSale, or Facebook Marketplace are good places to do this. Let other ads inspire you to create a great listing for your pump.
You could also check out mommy- and kid-focused secondhand shops in your area that sell accessories and supplies.
4. What About the Pump Kit and Accessories?
Breast pump accessories should not be shared or sold. This is because they come into contact with the mother’s milk and can potentially pass on diseases from an infected mother.
“Clean-looking” accessories may carry yeast infections, which are hard to get rid of. They may also bear other pathogens like hepatitis and cytomegalovirus, which can be easily transferred to another mother.
Be sure to throw out any used accessories such as breast shields, backflow protectors, teats, cap valves, and sealing discs.
Feeling a tinge of guilt about throwing all the stuff out? Check with your local recycling center to see if there is anything they can take. Anything they don’t accept should find its way to the trash bin.
Should I Use an Old Breast Pump?
The decision to use a secondhand breast pump will vary from mother to mother. If you choose to use an old breast pump, here are some things to keep in mind.
1. Eliminate Contamination Risk
This point is worth mentioning one more time. Your health and your child’s health are at risk if you share an open-system pump from another mother (2).
If someone gifts you a used pump, find out if it has an open or closed system. The same principle applies when you’re buying one from an online platform.
Don’t let anyone kid you — no amount of sterilization will completely sanitize an open-system breast pump. The emotional stress and physical pain you or your baby could undergo treating a potential disease won’t be worth the purchase.
2. Motor Strength
The breast pump stimulates milk production from your breast similarly to your child’s suckling. On average, a mom will use the pump two to three times a day over several months. As with everything else, frequent use can cause the motor to slow down.
A slow pump will not stimulate milk production as powerfully as a new one, so you may need to spend much more time pumping milk. If this happens, you could find yourself reaching for formula earlier than you had anticipated.
The older the pump, and the more babies it’s been used to pump for, the more likely the suction will be decreased.
Editor's Note:Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC
3. Ease of Transportation
This is especially important for moms who travel a lot or find themselves moving around frequently. Make sure the used pump you’re getting is lightweight and easy to transport. Bulky breast pumps are inconvenient for a regular traveler and occupy too much space.