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How to Choose Between an Open or Closed System Breast Pump

Breastfeeding is the best way to provide your baby with essential nutrients and minerals during development. Your breast milk helps establish their immune system while nourishing their growing bodies. While it’s important to nurse exclusively during the first week or so of your newborn’s life, once breastfeeding has been established you can share feedings with other caregivers and your partner. To do this, you’ll need to obtain a breast pump. However, there are several different types of pumps available to choose from, which can make the process overwhelming. The first step in finding your perfect model is understanding how to choose between an open or closed system breast pump.


The Benefits of Breast Pumping

Many new and expecting mothers think that using a breast pump can lead to less bonding or fewer nutrients during feeding, but that’s not true. Breast pumps help you supplement nursing sessions when you’re not able to be with your baby, which will eventually happen. You can still enjoy skin-to-skin bonding during your regular nursing sessions, but pumping allows for your partner to experience this as well.

At some point, you may also need to return to work or simply take a break from feeding. By using a breast pump to create a freezer stash, you can take this time away without having to worry about whether your baby is getting essential nutrients. Breast pumping also helps stimulate milk ducts which can improve outflow and reduce the risk of engorgement.

Breast pumping is also important for mothers who have difficulty establishing a good latch. This may be due to flat or inverted nipples or if your baby is born premature or with a congenital condition. If you’re struggling to breastfeed, you can also work with a lactation consultant to strengthen your latch and adapt to your baby’s needs.

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What is an Open System Breast Pump?

An open system breast pump is a type of breast pump that does not have a barrier between the pumping mechanism and the milk collection kit. This means that your breast milk will be exposed to the external air as it travels through the pump system. While this exposure isn’t necessarily bad when you’re in a sterile environment, pumping in areas with high levels of pollutants or germs can contaminate the breast milk. Contaminants can be anything from dust and pet dander to airborne bacteria or viruses.

Due to the lack of barrier, breast milk is also at risk for getting into areas of the pump that are hard, if not impossible, to clean. To keep your baby safe, it’s important that you always clean and sterilize an open system breast pump’s tubing after each use. Otherwise, mold can develop in the tubes and/or the pump, which can further increase the risk of breast milk contamination. After cleaning, the tubing should be completely dried and free of moisture. However, it should be said that it’s very unlikely there will be mold contamination from trace amounts of milk or water in the tubing. It is possible, but as long as you clean your breast pump according to the CDC guidelines, you should be able to eliminate contaminants.


What is a Closed System Breast Pump?

A closed system breast pump has a barrier between the pump and the tubing. This barrier works to prevent breast milk and external moisture from building up inside of the pump and causing damage to the motor. It also reduces the risk of mold buildup, as the only areas that are exposed to milk can be easily removed and cleaned. A closed system breast pump gives you the confidence that your milk is not exposed to any potentially harmful or toxic substances while pumping. You can remove the collection bags and safely store expelled milk for later use to provide you with the peace of mind you need when feeding your baby.

What is Overflow Protection?

Medela breast pumps use the term “overflow protection” instead of closed system. This is because open and closed systems aren’t technically clinical or medical definitions/descriptors of a breast pump. They use overflow protection, as this describes the main purpose of the milk barrier. It is, in essence, the same as a “closed system” breast pump from Freemie, Ameda, Spectra, or any of the other manufacturers on the market.  


The Main Differences Between an Open and Closed Pumping System

While most of the breast pumps on the market today are closed pumping systems, there are still open options. Essentially, the only difference between an open pumping system and a closed pumping system is the presence of the barrier. This means that every time you use an open pumping system, you need to clean the tubing. You’ll already be cleaning the parts of your breast pump system anyway, so this isn’t necessarily a huge additional burden. Just make sure you follow the instructions from your breast pump’s manufacturer’s guidelines to ensure proper cleaning.

It should be known, however, that the terms “open system” and “closed system” are not regulated. Therefore, manufacturers may use these terms differently. It’s also important to understand that there is no breast pump system that’s 100% closed. External air needs to travel throughout the pump in order for it to operate. If you have any questions on the differences between open and closed pumping systems, ask your primary care physician or reach out to a representative at Byram Healthcare.


Which is Better: An Open or Closed Breast Pump?

Determining which breast pump style is best for you depends on your needs and insurance coverage. While it may seem like a closed pump is the obvious choice, there are virtually no cases of a newborn or baby becoming sick from using expelled milk from an open pumping system. The best thing to do is to look at your options for makes and models, see what coincides with your insurance coverage, and pick something that will support your lifestyle and breast pumping needs.

Closed system breast pumps allow for optimal sterilization and can therefore be shared amongst mothers. This is essential if you’re going to be renting a breast pump. Opting for a closed breast pump also means that you can give your device to someone else in need once you’re done with it. When looking at your options online, the makes and models should indicate “multiple user” or “single user” to provide you with further clarification about safety and sanitation of sharing breast pumps.


Cleaning Your Breast Pump

The most important part of acquiring a new breast pump, regardless of if it’s an open system or a closed system, is that you will need to clean it thoroughly. Most pumps can be washed in the dishwasher or entirely by hand, but always check the manufacturer’s instructions beforehand. You’ll need to clean the breast pump immediately after use to reduce the risk of bacteria buildup. Begin by cleaning the pumping area and taking your breast pump apart. Disassembly varies by make and model, so again, it’s essential that you thoroughly read the instructions that come with your pump.

Next, thoroughly rinse each part of the pump to remove any remaining milk and prepare the area for sanitizing. If you choose to wash your breast pump by hand, use a specifically designated wash basin to avoid cross-contamination and put each part aside to air dry once done. If you’re going to use a dishwasher, consider using a heated drying cycle or sanitizing setting to eradicate any lingering germs.

This process needs to be repeated every time after you use your pump. You should also sanitize your pump at least once each day using boiling water or through steaming. To learn more about this process, review the CDC’s quick fact sheet on cleaning your breast pump.

Breast pumping is an excellent way to supplement nursing, but you’ll need to prioritize proper storage regardless of if you use an open system or a closed system. When you’re done using your breast pump and putting your breast milk away, follow the CDC guidelines to properly clean your breast pump parts and avoid any contamination. When choosing your breast pump, take your time and do your research. Remember that the Affordable Care Act requires that your insurance provider covers breast pumps, breastfeeding support, and other supplies that you may need. Byram Healthcare is here to help you find the perfect breast pump through your insurance coverage.