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How to Recycle Your Breast Pump

When I was pregnant with my second child, I knew it was time to bite the bullet and buy myself a professional-grade breast pump.

When I had my first child, I got away with borrowing a pump after an ill-fated attempt at using a hand pump, but let’s face it, borrowing someone else’s breast pump feels weird. However, I still didn’t have the budget to buy a fancy-schmancy one for $300.

When I heard about a Mom-to-Mom sale going on over the weekend, I decided right then and there that the sale would be where I would find my breast pump. I had a 30-minute lunch break during my shift at the hospital, 50 bucks in my pocket, and I wasn’t going to waste them.

Miracle of miracles, I actually did find a top-of-the-line double electric Medela breast pump. Just as the sale was basically packing up a few remaining dust bunnies, I tentatively asked her how much she wanted for it and she hesitated, admitting that she hadn’t ever really used the pump and that it was a gift, so she really had no idea. How much did I want to offer?

Um. Feeling my 50 bucks burn a hole in my pocket but knowing that the particular pump she was selling went for over $300, I sighed and mumbled that I only had $50 on me. “That works!” she said brightly. And just like that, I was, as the tagline goes, pumping in style. Although honestly, there’s nothing stylish about manually extracting milk from one’s breasts.

“My trusty Medela has seen me through three kids, and as I near the end of my breastfeeding journey, I can’t help but wonder, what the heck do I do with it now?”
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I cleaned and sterilized the breast pump and luckily for me, everything was still in the original, unopened packaging, so I just chalked my find up to providence and hoped for the best. Fortunately, it worked. My trusty Medela has since seen me through three kids, and as I near the end of my breastfeeding journey, I can’t help but wonder —

What the heck do I do with it now?

Apparently, you can actually recycle your electric breast pump, through a program like Medela Recycles, which recycles old Medela breastpumps and donates new, hospital-grade pumps to be used by families staying at Ronald McDonald Houses.

The team at Medela told me that they created the program in response to a petition from customers requesting recyclable options for the pumps and to date, Medela’s website states that the company has now successfully recycled 6,525 breast pumps.

Because the company only takes electric breast pumps for recycling, Medela recommends that manual pumps be “recycled in your waste management recycling container at home.” Also, it’s important to note that the only part of the breast pump that is actually recyclable is the motor unit. The rest of the device (connectors, breast shields, tubing, bottles, valves, membranes, and cooling elements) have to be recycled elsewhere. Unfortunately, any “soft” parts of the pump, such as the bag, can’t be recycled as of now.

You can get the full low down on how exactly to recycle the pump here.

“While it may be tempting to purchase a used pump, there are potential risks.”
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I also asked Medela about women who may be in my situation. Do they have an official stance on borrowing or buying someone else’s breast pump? How unsafe is it really?

“Many mothers have asked if they can safely sell, purchase, or use a previously owned breast pump,” their team told me. “Medela is concerned about the health and welfare of breastfeeding mothers and their babies. Medela personal-use breast pumps, such as the Pump In Style® and Freestyle® pumps, are designed as single-user products and are registered as such with the FDA. Medela makes hospital-grade breast pumps that are designed for multiple users and available to rent so moms can use the same pump at home that they utilized in the hospital, such as Medela’s Symphony.”

The site does have pumps available for rent, which unlike their single-use pumps, are designed differently so that no milk ever gets inside the internal diaphragm of the pump, which is the main worry for cross-contamination. According to the Medela site, the rental pumps are hospital-grade pumps that have special barriers and filters to prohibit milk from entering the pump motor, preventing cross-contamination, and each renter uses her own personal set of breast shields, containers, and tubing.

“While it may be tempting to purchase a used pump, there are potential risks,” comments nurse and lactation consultant Cindy Leclerc with NuNuNest. “Research has shown that certain viruses and bacteria can be transmitted through breast milk.” She notes that if a brand-new breast pump is simply out of the budget, hand expression is actually an option, too, that many women forget about. “Many women prefer it to pumping, finding they are able to express more milk!” she says. 

I wasn’t able to find any other leading breast pump retailers that offer recycling, but the company Hygiena makes only closed-system pumps that won’t get contaminated, so it does encourage mothers to share pumps with family or friends or to recycle them.

Sometimes, a mom’s got to do what a mom’s got to do, but I’m definitely glad to see that there are more options than ever to make breastfeeding accessible to more women — and keep those pricey breast pumps out of the landfills.

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