Choosing the right breast pump can be confusing, especially for new mums. Aside from various brands and features to consider, you might have encountered the terms open and closed system breast pumps during your search. Is it essential to know how they differ? Which one is better? This guide should help you understand both electric pump types and choose the right one for you.

What are Open System Breast Pumps?

Open system breast pumps do not have any barrier between the pump parts and the pump mechanism. With this design, there is an increased likelihood for your expressed breast milk to pass through the plastic tubing or reach the motor unit. Most Medela electric breast pumps except for the Lactina and Symphony ranges have an open system design.

What are Common Issues with Open System Breast Pumps?

Here are some factors you need to know before getting an open system breast pump:

  • They should be brand new. The open system breast pump is for you and your breast milk only. Used pumps with this system design are not advisable as they can affect breast milk purity and milk supply.
  • They are not for second-hand use.  The Food and Drug Administration recognises open system pumps as single-user pumps. Expressed milk can get inside the pump motor and increase the chances of contamination, even if you equip it with new spare parts. Mums with a lingering yeast infection should not share or rent this type of electric breast pump either. Lactation consultants and experts have noted that traces of fungi can survive in the device despite thorough cleaning.
  • They require careful cleaning and sterilisation. Aside from cleaning the breast shields and milk collection bottles, make sure to give the pump tubing a thorough wash as well. Milk particles left inside the tube can lead to mold growth. So, clean it properly to avoid contaminating your breast milk on the next pumping session.

How Do I Clean an Open System Breast Pump?

Thorough cleaning of open system breast pumps is crucial to avoid mold growth. Their plastic tubing, in particular, needs extra care. Make sure to read the instructions of your pump manufacturer on how to sterilise it and the other pump parts. Some recommend using microwave steriliser bags, while some suggest sterilising the pump parts in boiling water. Just be careful not to overdo it as the tube can become cloudy after cleaning it multiple times.

If it’s no longer transparent, it’s harder to detect signs of mold growth. So, when necessary, replace your old pump tubing with a new one, ideally every 3 to 4 months. After cleaning it, make sure to dry it thoroughly before your next pumping session. The dry pumping technique should quicken this process. You can do this by attaching the tube to the pump motor and letting it run for a few minutes to draw out excess moisture.

How Does a Closed System Breast Pump Work?

Closed system pumps come with a milk barrier or filter to prevent your breast milk from getting in contact with the plastic tubing or pump motor. The milk barrier is usually between the milk collection kit and pump tubing, or between the pump tubing and the breast shield connector. With overflow protection, the risk of contamination is less.

The Ameda HygieniKit was the first closed system breast pump available. This design also introduced the use of hospital-grade pumps for multiple users. Since then, several other companies like Spectra, Lansinoh and Hygeia followed suit.

Why Should I Choose Closed System Breast Pumps?

Most mums prefer closed system breast pumps, mainly for their convenience, prolonged motor life and ease of use. Here are their other benefits:

  • Hygienic milk route. With the milk barrier in place, there’s a lower risk of contamination for your expressed breast milk or the electric pump itself. Closed system breast pumps also keep airborne bacteria out as the milk travel to the collection bottles.
  • Easy cleaning. The filter prevents milk particles from entering the electric pump tubing or motor. Aside from mould protection, it also makes clean-up a breeze. Moisture, however, can at times find its way in the tube. When this happens, you can apply the same dry pumping technique.
  • Comfortable pumping experience. If you prefer night-time pumping sessions, closed system breast pumps let you recline and relax, without causing milk to leak into the tube.
  • More versatile. You can have brand-new or used closed system breast pumps because of its sanitary pump parts. You can also opt to buy replacement parts to make the electric pump system feel new, for as long as the motor is in good working condition. Typically, an electric breast pump motor unit lasts for about a year of regular use. Once its power maxes out, though, your milk output can be affected.

So, Which One is Better?

Both open and closed system breast pumps work the same way. The only difference between the two is that you’ll need to regularly clean and dry the tubing of your open system breast pump. An extra breast pump part, though, will not significantly affect your cleaning workload.

Not all closed pumping systems are efficient either. Some can even affect milk flow because of the closed-off design. Without proper cleaning and maintenance, bacteria and mould can still thrive in closed system breast pump parts, too.

The bottom line is, both pumping systems are excellent choices. And whether you choose to use an open or closed system breast pump, regular cleaning is always a must. Sterilising and a thorough drying will keep both electric breast pump types free from germs. Also, following the cleaning instructions of your chosen pump will surely keep either in tip-top shape. So, rather than decide based on pump type alone, make sure to consider its other essential factors before buying or using one.