Q: I am having my first child soon and have a lot of baby stuff that I still need to purchase. With all the costs adding up, I’m trying to save where I can. One thing I’d like to save on is a breast pump. I’d like to buy a used breast pump since I’ll be going back to work soon after I deliver, but I’ve heard from a couple of people that breast pumps aren’t supposed to be shared. Is this true? If so, what happens to breast pumps after people are done with them?

A: Yes, that is correct. Unlike rental pumps from hospitals, most breast pumps that you buy from a regular retailer such as the Medela Pump in Style are considered “single-user” pumps by the FDA, meaning it is not safe to share them. These pumps have what is called an “open system,” which means that it is possible for things to be carried from the mother’s breast into the machine itself. It is also impossible to sterilize these pumps effectively using any means at home. Diseases such as HIV or hepatitis can be transferred using a used breast pump, so saving the couple extra hundred dollars by buying a used pump is really not worth the risk. (That’s just in my humble opinion.)

If only someone had told me I couldn’t sell mine before I bought my breast pump. I used it for … wait for it … a grand total of three times before I decided that breastfeeding wasn’t for me, and now it’s collecting dust at the top of my closet. I can’t sell it. I can’t even give it away in good conscience. It’s just sitting there, taunting me. Much like that pair of shoes I spent $300 on in 2007 that gave my feet bloody blisters the only time I wore them.

So what can you do with a used breast pump?

Well, an email to Medela customer service regrettably returned this response: “We apologize that we currently do not have a recycling program in place and we appreciate your concerns. We would suggest that you check with your local recycling facility for disposal options.”

No luck there, apparently. And after checking with my “local recycling facility,” I found out that I can recycle the plastic parts that have the plastic identification number 5 and that I can take out the motor and drop it off during the once-a-year electronics recycling day. Not ideal by far, but better than nothing, I guess.

That’s still a heck of a lot of breast pumps piling up in landfills, though.

One company, Hygeia, started in 2007 by couple Richard and Maria Weston, makes breast pumps that are similar to hospital-grade pumps, in that they have a “closed system” technology and are safe for use by more than one person. You can also rent their pumps, and what’s more, you can ship them back to the manufacturer after you’re done with yours for free recycling. Now that sounds more like it. If only I had known about them before I plunked down $250 for the pump that is now gathering dust.

I guess until we all start buying more eco-friendly pumps or the manufacturers come up with recycling options for them, we’re out of luck for now. Unless you can think of another way to use that pump … oil change funnel, anyone?

— Chanie

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