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Single-user versus Multi-User Breast Pumps: What’s the Difference?

Two woman pushing strollers outdoors.

Both parents and professionals seem to get confused about single-user breast pumps versus multi-user pumps. Here, I’ll try to differentiate them in terms of what they are, how it affects their buying and selling, and examples of each.

What are the basic differences?  

As the name suggests, single-user pumps are designed to be used by one person. Multi-user pumps are designed to be used by many users over many years.

What are some clues about which is which?

How can you tell which is which?

Multi-user pumps

Above all, the terms multi-user and hospital grade are not synonymous.

All pumps that are hospital-grade are classified as multi-user pumps. However, not all multi-user pumps are hospital grade. The FDA does not recognize the term “hospital grade” and outline what makes a pump suitable for multiple users.

What makes this even more confusing is that, despite my multiple attempts at locating a government-approved definition of “hospital grade”, there is no such thing. (There are many people who make up a definition, but I can find no “official” definition.)

Pumps that are offered for rent at a pharmacy or a pump depot are hospital-grade pumps. They were designed to be work horses for multiple users. (I can show you ones that have been used by tens of thousands of women over many decades, including one in my office!)

Many or most manufacturers have specific protocols on how to do basic cleaning, and how often they need to be returned to the manufacturer for a thorough cleaning to prevent contaminating the milk.

Even among the hospital grade pumps, some are less likely to contaminate the milk than others. If you’re worried, pick a pump that boasts a closed system. Some manufacturers don’t make such a thing. Other manufacturers offer that feature in some, but not all of their models.

Single-user pumps

Single-user pumps are those that are not meant to be shared or sold to another user.

Unfortunately, parents and even professionals often say that the pump companies “make up” that rule to get more sales. That’s just not true.

All medical equipment in the United States is regulated by the FDA.

After I give my whole spiel on the concept of single use, some people still don’t get it. So here’s what I tell them.

A toothbrush is classified as a single-user device. You wouldn’t share it with someone else, and you wouldn’t sell a used one in your garage sale, right?

Hence, you shouldn’t be using your sister’s pump or your friend’s pump. Further, you should not be buying (or selling) a used pump. The single-user devices simply cannot be cleaned in a way that make them safe.

Yuk. I’m getting grossed out just thinking about this.

And since you’re about to ask: NO, just getting a new accessory kit doesn’t make the single-user pump safe. Similarly, you wouldn’t put a new handle on your toothbrush, right?

I admit, this all feels confusing. But as you shop for a pump, here’s the short version of what should be on your list.

  • Hygiene is a major factor.
  • Convenience is defined according to what feels convenient for you. See my post on the rules for choosing a pump
  • Efficacy. Don’t spent money for bells and whistles you don’t need.

Were you aware of the differences between single-user and multi-user pumps? Share your experiences with the different types of pumps in the comments below.  

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