Ultimate Guide to Hospital Grade Breast Pumps and Personal Use Breast Pumps

Wondering what the difference is between hospital-grade and personal use breast pumps? Find the answers here, so you can decide which option might be best for you and your unique breastfeeding journey.

Thinking of buying or renting a breast pump before your due date, so you can be ready to feed your little one once he or she makes their appearance? If you’ve shopped around at all or searched online to compare different breast pump options, you’ve probably come across the terms “hospital-grade breast pump” and “personal use breast pump”, and may be wondering what it all means.

So, what exactly is the difference between a hospital-grade (multi-user) breast pump and a personal use pump? Is one preferable to the other, or are there certain situations when you may require a hospital-grade (multi-user) breast pump in place of the personal use pump you received from insurance or bought at your favorite store? 

As the #1 mom and doctor recommended breast pump brand*, we’ll explore and explain the differences between personal use pumps and hospital-grade (multi-user) breast pumps. Here’s what to know ahead of your expected delivery, so you can choose the breast pump that works best for your unique lifestyle and needs: 

What is a Hospital-Grade Breast Pump?

Officially, there is no FDA definition when it comes to what’s defined as a hospital-grade breast pump. This term is mostly used by manufacturers when referring to how certain breast pumps are designed and specific features that these pumps may encompass – such as being designed to safely accommodate multiple users and/or being extra-durable and able to withstand use in a variety of environments.

What is a Personal Use Breast Pump?

Whether you're primarily nursing, alternating between nursing and pumping, or planning to eventually return to work and pump several times a day while away from your baby, a personal use breast pump can help you achieve whatever your goals may be. Depending on your needs, what your breast milk feeding journey looks like, and what pump features are most important to you, there’s a personal use pump designed for you. Many of them offer important features such as:

  • Efficient and effective. Many personal use pumps, like the Pump In StyleⓇ with MaxFlow™ Breast Pump, are designed for effective breast milk expression. Because the Pump in Style with MaxFlow is a double-electric breast pump with MaxFlow™ micro-vibrations and equipped with PersonalFit Flex™ breast shields, you’ll pump more milk in less time. 
  • Light, compact, and portable, yet convenient. This is especially important if you’re a busy mom with an on-the-go lifestyle or a parent who is preparing to go back to work soon. The Freestyle Hands-free Breast Pump is designed for mobility while pumping and includes a charging cable and built-in rechargeable lithium-ion battery.
  • Quiet. Whether you’re pumping at work or late at night in your little one’s nursery, personal use pumps like the SonataⓇ  Smart Breast Pump with PersonalFit Flex™ Breast Shields are ultra-quiet for discreet pumping anywhere.
  • Affordable. Personal use pumps range in price and some insurance plans may even cover all or a portion of the purchase price. Visit Medela’s Insurance Concierge to learn more and see if you’re eligible!
  • Easy to clean. Though personal use pumps vary greatly in design and parts, options like the Swing Maxi are intentionally designed with fewer parts to make assembly and cleaning easier and quicker. Because, really mama, who wants to spend a lot of extra time cleaning their breast pump parts when they could be snuggling their sweet newborn instead?
  • Complete. Most personal use pumps come with a full kit that includes everything needed to start pumping right away.

When to Use a Hospital-Grade Breast Pump

Our Symphony PLUS® Breast Pump is engineered with Initiation Technology™ that – when combined with the 2-Phase Expression Technology – has been clinically proven to help you initiate, build, and maintain your milk supply. In fact, if your baby does not latch early, effectively and frequently, using the Symphony PLUS soon after birth can significantly increase** your breast milk production due to its Initiate Program. This program is based on research from breastfeeding babies and contains a combination of stimulation phases, an expression phase, and a pause phase. There are several reasons you may decide that a hospital-grade (multi-user) breast pump is necessary after your baby’s birth – whether your little one is a preemie or a well, term baby – including:

  • Starting your breastfeeding journey right through optimized initiation. We designed the Symphony PLUS® Breast Pump with two research-based programs, INITIATE and MAINTAIN, to mimic the natural nursing behavior of an infant during the different stages of lactation. If your baby is not feeding early, frequently, and effectively, starting with Symphony PLUS may be the right choice for you.
  • Ideal for situations when you may be separated from your baby. For moms with certain breastfeeding risk factors or with newborns who may have difficulty latching, are premature, or in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), ensuring adequate milk production is critical. A hospital-grade (multi-user) pump helps initiate and maintain your milk production when nursing during those critical early hours and days isn’t an option or hasn’t yet happened.

    In fact, the Symphony PLUS has been shown through research to produce up to 67% more milk for a mom who is pump-dependent and/or is establishing her milk supply (typically during the first month postpartum). 
  • Designed for multiple users. This makes these breast pumps an ideal option to rent, for a lactation station in a public area (such as an airport, train station, or ball park) or in a workplace lactation space. Because Symphony PLUS’s kit is individual to the user and separate from the pumping mechanism, it’s protected from overflow by a specially-designed membrane and safe for multiple users.

Which Pump Suits Your Needs Best?

There are many factors to consider when choosing your ideal breast pump. Oftentimes, new moms opt to use Symphony PLUS to initiate and build their breast milk supply before transitioning to a personal use pump once milk supply has been well established.

There is likely a role for all pumps along your breastfeeding journey, mama. In fact, today’s moms often find that having at least two breast pumps is especially helpful when going back to work, traveling, or simply having convenient options when pumping at home and away from home. To help you decide where to begin, consider the following: 

  • Will you need to pump on the go, or will you be primarily pumping at home?
  • Will you be mostly nursing and nearby your baby, or will you eventually need to alternate between nursing and frequent pumping?  
  • Is your baby able to latch and has he or she been nursing early, frequently, and effectively?
  • Are you a mom with any breastfeeding risk factors, such as asthma, obesity, or diabetes? 
  • How long do you plan to breastfeed and pump? 
  • Is cost a factor, or will your insurance cover all or a portion of the expense?

Should I Rent or Buy a Breast Pump?

Purchasing a breast pump is a good investment, whether you’re staying home with your new little one, mostly nursing, have an active lifestyle, regularly nurse and pump, or are returning to work. In all these circumstances, buying an easily portable personal use pump for added flexibility and convenience is a good and oftentimes helpful option – you’ll just need to decide which one makes the most sense for you! 

Medela also offers a convenient rent-to-home option for our Symphony PLUS, so you can have the same great pump used in the hospital ready at your doorstep when you arrive home to continue initiating and building your milk supply. With pay as you go or monthly subscription options, having a hospital-grade breast pump available to you at home has never been easier.

Regardless of which personal use pump you choose (or if you opt for a hospital-grade option at first!), what’s most important is that you feel comfortable and your baby is receiving your liquid gold. Remember, each and every drop you are able to provide counts and makes a positive difference for your little one. 

*IQVIA ProVoice Survey; September 2019 – August 2020. Medela 2018 U.S. Breast Milk Feeding Report. Medela 2017 Managed Markets Pulse Study. 

**Meier,P.P., Engstrom,J.L., Janes,J.E., Jegier,B.J., & Loera,F. Breast pump suction patterns that mimic the human infant during breastfeeding: Greater milk output in less time spent pumping for breast pump-dependent mothers with premature infants. J Perinatol 32, 103–110 (2012). 

Related Products
Symphony PLUS® Breast Pump
Pump In Style® with MaxFlow™ Breast Pump
Pump In Style® with MaxFlow™ Breast Pump