Sterilizing, disinfecting, sanitizing, cleaning, and fridge hacks…Oh my!

By Alanna Iacovetti

Photo by Insured Ameda Direct

Keeping our breastfeeding gear clean is important, but it can be super challenging and confusing when you’re away from home — we keep getting this same question: what exactly is “clean”? This question leads to the follow up questions: have I done “enough” to keep me and my baby healthy? Do I need to invest in a sterilizer or is soap and warm water enough? What is the “fridge hack”? Is it safe?

All of it can feel like…a lot. Some people’s idea of perfection is not easy to maintain when you're at work or traveling or even just trying to survive at home. But perfection is not necessary. This part of the process is manageable. Let’s talk about it! 

When cleaning your parts, you want to make sure to keep them separate from other dishes or non-breastfeeding items in the sink to prevent everything from getting more dirty with food, grease or bacteria. You may also want to use a special soap for baby items that is fragrance/dye free and can break up grease. Using a scrub brush that fits into pump part nooks and crannies and that hasn’t been used to clean anything other than your baby bottles, nipple shields, flanges and tubing is a must. All of the rules and all of the extra stuff can be really overwhelming.  

So what’s a girl to do? 

Don’t stress! We’ve got all the info here. 

What is “sterilizing” and how do you do it?

Sterilizing is making something free of bacteria and all living microorganisms. There’s several ways to sanitize your pump parts, including…

  • A steam/heat sterilizer — works to kill bacteria by exposing the parts to saturated steam under pressure. 
  • A UV sterilizer — uses ultraviolet germicidal irradiation to break down certain chemical bonds that cause a microorganism to be unable to multiply.
  • Cold sterilization — submerging your pump parts in a bucket of cold water with a sterilizing tablet or solution for 30 minutes. 

What is “disinfecting/sanitizing” and how do you do it?

Disinfecting is a bit different than completely sterilizing. While sterilizing destroys all microorganisms, disinfection/sanitizing eliminates or removes harmful microorganisms from inanimate objects and surfaces. You can disinfect your pump parts by boiling them in hot water for one to five minutes, or using sanitizing sprays.

How do I make sure my pump parts and baby bottles are clean?  

While all of the above seems pretty overwhelming, there’s some good news: you don’t NEED to boil your pump parts everyday or submerge them in a solution for 30 minutes! The most important thing is to make sure that your parts are clean and uncontaminated. 

Cleaning works by using soap and water to physically remove germs from surfaces. This process does not necessarily kill germs, but by removing them, it lowers their numbers and the risk of spreading infection.

To make sure that your parts are clean, inspect your entire kit to check for mold or old milk droplets before use — pump tubing can be extra tricky to clean, so if you notice that it’s moldy or soiled, it’s best to replace it.

After you pump, thoroughly washing your parts with warm water and soap in a washbasin is sufficient enough to keep everything clean on the daily! You can also clean your parts in the dishwasher if it's recommended by your pump manufacturer. Allow the parts to air-dry, and then you’re all set! 

You can also use cleaning wipes (like these amazing Bella B wipes) for a quick and easy cleaning!

Is it necessary to sterilize everything?

For a healthy, full-term older baby, it is not necessary to fully sterilize your parts every day. The exception to this is if your baby is less than three months old, currently ill, or born prematurely. In that case, the CDC recommends that you sterilize all of your breastfeeding gear at least once a day.

Cleaning your parts everyday is extremely important.

What does the CDC say?

The CDC breast pump cleaning recommendations are as follows:

Before pumping, wash your hands thoroughly, inspect your pump kit and tubing to make sure that it’s clean, and clean (wipe down) your pumping area. After pumping,

  1. Disassemble your pump tubing and all parts that come in contact with your breast/breast milk (flanges, valves, membranes, connectors and milk collection bottles).
  2. Rinse your pump kit to remove any remaining milk
  3. Clean pump kit

As soon as possible after use, clean all of the pump parts that were in contact with your breast/breast milk. For cleaning by hand, the CDC recommends the same methods above - use a washbasin, add soap and water, scrub, rinse and dry, or place your parts in the dishwasher. After you’re done, clean your washbasin and bottle brush.

For *extra* germ removal, the CDC states that you can sanitize your pump kit by using a microwave or plug-in steam system, or by boiling them and allowing them to air-dry. 

What does the FDA say? 

The FDA states that while it’s not possible to sterilize pump parts at home, dishwashing soap and warm water will do just fine:

“All breast pump parts that come in contact with breast milk, such as bottles, valves and breast shields, should be cleaned after each use. It is not possible to completely sterilize breast pump parts at home, even if you boil them. However, sterilization is not necessary to keep these parts safe and sanitary. You can do that by thoroughly washing away germs and bacteria with liquid dishwashing soap and warm water.”

And how about Ceres Chill parts? How the heck do I clean/disinfect/sanitize/sterilize them?

All of the parts do fit in sterilizers, but the high heat and intensity can be hard on them and any of your breastfeeding gear overtime. UV sterilizers can also affect the integrity of the plastic parts by breaking the bonds in them. The best way to clean all of your chiller parts is to wash them with warm water and dish soap, but there are options if you want to take extra steps.

Outer Chamber:

You should always hand wash the outer chamber to keep it looking as beautiful as ever, but you can fill it with boiling water as another cleaning measure. 

Inner Chamber:

The inner chamber can go right on the top rack of the dishwasher or be placed in boiling water. Immersing it in boiling water is not necessary per the FDA guidance, but it can be done if you want to take that extra step. We do not recommend actively boiling it for sustained periods. 

Plastic Parts:

It's best to avoid boiling the plastic parts - instead, they can go on the top rack of the dishwasher with the inner chamber! 

Sanitizing wipes and cold sanitizing work perfectly for all chiller parts as well. Another option for disinfecting your pump parts, chiller parts, baby bottles and more away from home: Using a portable, water-resistant washbasin like the All-You-Need bag is a great option for disinfecting your essentials. Before leaving for your trip or work day, the only prep needed is to fill the easy-squeeze soap dispenser with your favorite baby soap.

  1. When it’s time to clean pump parts in between pump sessions, fill the basin with warm water (or a water bottle if you don’t have access to portable running water) and your soap from your dispenser.
  2. Use the two-piece scrub brush to thoroughly clean your parts - only use this brush for your breastfeeding gear.
  3. When you’re done, dry everything with the super-soft microfiber towel and toss all of the pieces back into the bag. Roll it up and get back to all of the amazing things you do!

***Parents should not use any products (like certain soaps or cleaning tablets) unless the products indicate that they are safe for infants and use of food grade stainless steel, BPA free plastics and platinum silicone.

It’s easy to clean, simple to use and so convenient for all of our busy mamas out there. No need to worry about hotel bathrooms, dirty work sinks or any other not-so-clean spaces. 

Fridge hack alternative

If you don’t have a convenient way to clean your pump parts on-the-go, you can choose to use the fridge hack — just pop your parts in a resealable bag and stick them in the fridge between sessions! This works to ensure that the milk droplets on them don’t spoil and won’t be contaminated. Be sure to wash all of your parts thoroughly when you get home. This method is great for full-term babies — if you have a newborn/preemie baby, speak with your pediatrician or read up on the guidelines for safe practices.

So, what's the take-away?

Cleaning your pump parts daily is essential for the health and well-being of your baby, but it is not necessary to completely sanitize your parts everyday if your little one is not less than 3 months old, born prematurely or currently ill. Using a separate washbasin with warm water and dish soap is perfect for everyday cleaning. 

Getting used to pumping and all the “rules” that come with it definitely takes some getting used to, but we don’t have to over-complicate things for ourselves. With all of the above information, you’ll be able to pump and clean your parts with confidence. 

You got this mama! 

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