This Well-Known Breast Pump Cleaning Trick Will Save You a Ton of Time — but Is It Safe?

Shortly after my baby was born, I got a tip from another mom. Instead of washing your breast pump pieces every time you pump, put them in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator and wash them at the end of the day. When you think about it, the milk you put in the fridge after pumping is fine to feed your baby, so that should also apply to the milk left on your pump. Right?

Can You Store Breast Pump Parts in the Refrigerator?

Well, Molly Petersen, a certified lactation Consultant at Lansinoh, says it might be too good to be true. "I've heard this tip, and it sounds like it would be a great timesaver," she told me. "Unfortunately, I wouldn't recommend it."

Petersen recommends getting an extra set of pumping parts so you can use a fresh set for each pumping session.

Petersen says the longer your parts go without regular washing, the more potential there is for microorganisms to grow. She continued: "Because there are so many nooks and crannies in breast pump parts, they aren't as easy to clean as the bottles you may be using to store your milk. Therefore, I do recommend washing them as soon as possible after each pumping session."

What can you do? In many offices, the sink is located in a communal break room and not in the lactation room (if there even is a lactation room). Petersen recommends getting an extra set of pumping parts so you can use a fresh set for each pumping session. If you're a mom-to-be, you might consider adding these extra parts to your baby registry. And if you can't wash your parts immediately, Petersen says you should simply run them under cold water to remove as much breast milk as possible.

Although you should wash your parts after every use, you only need to sanitize them once a day, tops. Petersen said it's also important to understand the difference between sterilizing and sanitizing. "When items are sterilized, all potential microorganisms are removed," she explained. Sterilization generally requires very high heat, harsh chemicals, or special technology. Sanitizing is different and more common. You can do it with a microwave bag, in your dishwasher, or by placing your parts in boiling water for five minutes. You always want to air-dry well.

Sanitizing reduces the number of microorganisms greatly but doesn't remove them all. Petersen said that's OK, since microorganisms are all around us every day. "Sanitizing your parts regularly helps reduce the number of potentially harmful ones your baby may be exposed to." Petersen pointed out that the CDC recommends daily sanitizing of breast pump parts until your baby is 3 months old or potentially longer if you baby has any health issues.

Expert Tips For Keeping Your Breast Pump Parts Clean

To recap, here are some ways you can keep your baby safe, while making your life a bit easier:

  • Keep a second set of breast pump parts on hand so you don't have to clean them every time you want to pump.
  • Simply clean your parts (soap and warm water) after each use. And until your baby is 3 months old, you should sanitize them daily.
  • Use your dishwasher to sanitize your parts if it uses hot water and a heating drying cycle or sanitizing setting.
  • Daily sanitizing of pump parts may not be necessary for older babies, so long as you clean the parts well after every use.

Knowing all this, I have to admit I still use the fridge trick from time to time. Petersen recommended cleaning the pieces "as soon as possible," and sometimes a few hours later is truly as soon as possible with everything else I'm juggling. Considering my baby is over 3 months old and healthy, I feel fine with it. This 3-month cut off for extra precautions might be a relief to other breastfeeding moms as well, since that's when many of us return to work and increase our pumping. And a pumping mom's gotta do what she's gotta do.