Breast pumps and breast milk sharing
Is it safe to buy or borrow a used breast pump to express milk?
Generally, no. It is not considered safe to use a breast pump that has been used by someone else, unless it is specially designed for multiple users (such as a hospital grade breast pump).
Breast pumps that are sold to individuals in pharmacies and stores are intended for single person use only (from one pregnancy to another), and are not safe for sharing, or for buying used. These types of breast pumps are “open system” units in which the breast milk particles can come into contact with parts of the pump that cannot be fully sterilized. That means that if the breast pumps are shared between people, there’s a risk of spreading germs (viruses, bacteria or fungal infections). The germs can contaminate the breast milk, and your baby may become seriously ill.
However, it is safe to use multi-user breast pumps like the kind that are available in hospitals. That’s because multi-user breast pumps are “closed system” units that are specially designed to prevent the breast milk from ever touching the working parts of the pump that are shared with other people, so the risk of contamination is low.
Source: Are Used Breast Pumps a Good Option? Issues to Consider (La Leche League International)
Breast milk sharing: Is it a good idea?
Sometimes parents who are unable or unavailable to breastfeed think that it might be a good idea to feed their baby with breast milk produced and donated by someone else. But unless the breast milk comes from an official (regulated) donor human milk bank, it may not be safe for your baby.
Donor milk from a regulated human milk bank (pasteurized)
If a baby is premature or very ill, and their parent is unable or unavailable to produce breast milk, the baby may be fed with breast milk from a regulated human milk bank. There are currently 4 regulated, not-for-profit human milk banks in Canada; however, their supply of donated breast milk is limited, and is usually reserved for high-risk babies in hospital neonatal intensive care units (NICU). To ensure safety, both donors and their breast milk are very carefully screened and tested at these banks, and the breast milk is pasteurized to kill any harmful bacteria or viruses that might be in it. Handling, storage and transportation of the breast milk also has to meet high safety standards.
Parents who cannot breastfeed may wonder if it’s safe to get breast milk from other sources – such as family members, friends, milk-sharing websites, or websites that sell breast milk. This is not recommended. Without rigorous screening, it’s difficult to know the health and lifestyle risks of the person donating or sharing their breast milk. There’s also no guarantee that the breast milk has been handled and stored safely.
Health Canada and the Canadian Paediatric Society have stated that the risks of sharing breast milk that does not come from a regulated donor milk bank include serious concerns such as:
- Risk that the milk may be contaminated with viruses that can seriously harm your child, such as HIV or hepatitis. The donor may transmit an infectious disease without being aware that they have a disease.
- Transmission of medications and other substances (nicotine, alcohol, street drugs, herbal supplements) that may be harmful or dangerous for your baby
- Bacterial contamination of the breast milk due to poor hygiene, or inadequate handling or storage conditions
- Possibility that the breast milk may have been diluted with water, cow’s milk or other substances – especially if the breast milk was sold for a profit (e.g. over the internet)
If you’re concerned about your breast milk supply...
If you’re concerned about your breast milk supply, the best option is to seek breastfeeding support, or talk to your healthcare provider. If you’re concerned about your ability to provide breast milk to your baby when you’re not available to breastfeed, the best option is to express, store and use your own breast milk to feed your baby.
If you’re unable or unavailable to breastfeed, if you need to supplement your breastfeeding, or if you choose not to breastfeed, the next safest choice is to use commercial infant formula for your baby.