skip to main content
Standard Breast Pumps vs. Hospital-Grade Pumps: What's the Difference?
May 30, 2024

Standard Breast Pumps vs. Hospital-Grade Pumps: What's the Difference?

Babylist editors love baby gear and independently curate their favorite products to share with you. If you buy something through links on our site, Babylist may earn a commission.
Pinterest logo.
Standard Breast Pumps vs. Hospital-Grade Pumps: What's the Difference?.
Standard Breast Pumps vs. Hospital-Grade Pumps: What's the Difference?

As you begin your research into breastfeeding, pumping and the top breast pumps on the market, wading through all of the options can feel overwhelming. Hospital-grade, medical-grade, closed-system, open-system, double electric, portable, wearable—you might feel like you’re learning a whole new language reading over all of the breast pump terminology (which, you basically are).

Breast pumps fall into a few different categories.

  • Electric breast pumps are your standard, primary pump. Some require a wall outlet and others have a rechargeable battery (thus are portable) so you have more flexibility in where you pump.
  • Wearable breast pumps are also electric, except these fit right in your bra, allowing you to multitask while pumping, pump on the go or pump discreetly when needed. Then we have manual pumps—these don’t have any motors, hence the manual part of the title. They’re great for quick relief or occasional pumping.
  • Manual breast pumps are pumps you manually squeeze to express breast milk. They collect milk in bottles you can pop right into the fridge for storage, or transfer into breast milk storage bags for freezing.
  • And then we have hospital-grade breast pumps. These are the pumps you might see during your hospital stay following birth. They also fall into the electric breast pump category, but are in a league of their own due to their powerful motors and suction strength. More on that below!

If you’re confused about the specific differences between “regular” pumps and hospital-grade pumps, we get it. You may even wonder if your insurance-covered pump will be strong enough for you, knowing “hospital-strength” is out there. We’re demystifying the differences and explaining what makes a pump “hospital-grade”—here’s everything you need to know about hospital-grade breast pumps and how they compare to the other electric pumps on the market.

What Is a Hospital-Grade Breast Pump?

The term “hospital-grade” isn’t actually regulated by the FDA—instead, it’s a set of standards hospitals use when choosing which pumps to provide patients during their time in the hospital. “A hospital grade pump is a pump that has been approved for use in hospitals because of its efficiency with extracting milk from the breast, the ability to go stronger on the suction, and have multiple users in a way that keeps things sterile,” says Emily Spaeth, DPT, IBCLC and founder of Be Well Baby PDX. Since there is no real oversight, you may see pumps referred to as hospital grade, even if they aren’t pumps you’d actually find in the hospital.

To help clear up some of the confusion and help you identify what’s what, here’s what sets hospital-grade breast pumps apart from the standard, one-user breast pump:

Differences Between Standard Breast Pumps and Hospital-Grade Breast Pumps

Number of Users

Standard breast pumps are only meant to be used by one person.

Hospital-grade pumps are the exception to the single user rule—they’re designed to be safe for multi-person use in a hospital setting. They feature a closed system that prevents milk from entering the pump’s tubing and motor (thus avoiding contamination) and users will need their own kit of pump parts to use it.

Suction Strength

Standard electric pumps have a multitude of settings that will efficiently remove milk for most people. Pumps with particularly strong suction capabilities are often described as “hospital strength”.

Hospital-grade pumps have a significantly stronger suction strength compared to other pumps, making them super efficient at removing milk.

Size

Standard electric pumps come in different sizes (depending on the brand) and whether they are single or double electric pumps. But in general, they’re smaller and lighter than hospital-grade pumps, which allows them to be moved around easily—and those with a rechargeable battery can be taken on the go.

Hospital-grade pumps are bigger and heavier than other electric pumps thanks to their powerful motor or motors—you’ll typically see them attached to stands with wheels to transport from room to room in the hospital because they’re so clunky and heavy to carry around. They also need to be plugged into a wall outlet.

Cost

Standard electric pumps have a wide range of options for every budget. And thanks to the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies must cover the cost of a breast pump. Personal electric pumps range anywhere from $50 to $500 depending on the model. Depending on your provider, you’ll typically find models that are fully covered, as well as options that are partially covered and you pay an “upgrade” fee.

Hospital-grade pumps are more expensive than other breast pumps on the market, ranging from $500-$2000. They are typically rented on a monthly basis and this may be covered by your insurance.

So which pumps are hospital-grade? The iconic yellow Medela Symphony is one of the most popular options. A few more include:

And here are just a few standard electric pumps that insurance plans typically cover:

You might also notice some brands describe their standard breast pumps as “hospital strength” or that they have hospital suction. While some great pumps fall into this category, it’s important to note they aren’t hospital-grade, since they’re meant for one-person use.

The main thing to remember is this: hospital-grade breast pumps are suitable for use in a hospital setting because of their powerful suction capability, strong and long-lasting motor and their ability to be used by more than one person.

Why Would I Need a Hospital-Grade Breast Pump?

In general, you don’t need to worry about finding a hospital-grade breast pump—most people, including those exclusively pumping, do just fine with a standard electric pump. But there are some circumstances where a stronger hospital-grade pump may be the right choice for you.

You’re at risk of having a lower milk supply. While they’re not guaranteed to lead to a low milk supply, certain medical conditions (specifically hormone-related) or a history of breast surgery can increase the chances of having a low supply. Speth says a few other instances that can affect milk production include having a retained placenta, hemorrhaging after birth, or developing mastitis early on.

You’re separated from your baby immediately after birth. If for any reason you can’t be with your baby immediately following birth (and practice skin-to-skin and latching), a hospital-grade pump can help to encourage your body to make milk. Immediately following birth, you’ll produce colostrum (the yellowish, thick early milk) and your body will usually transition to producing what’s called “mature milk” around days three or four. However, early breast stimulation is one of the factors involved in encouraging your milk to come in. “Those first few hours and days are vital for establishing a milk supply, and there is no reason not to go for the best available pump to make that happen,” says Spaeth. Your hospital should be able to provide you with one during your stay.

You plan on exclusively pumping. For those who plan on exclusively pumping, Spaeth recommends accepting a hospital-grade pump if there is one available to you through your insurance. The stronger suction and powerful motor helps to ensure you’re removing the available milk, which signals your body to produce more. They’re also efficient and can help cut down on actual pumping time.

By the way, if you’re concerned about being able to produce and pump enough milk for your baby, be sure to reach out to an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) or Certified Lactation Counselor (CLC). Suction strength is just one of many factors that play a role in milk output. “Every body is different and it’s possible that [you may] respond better to a certain brand or flange size,” Spaeth says. A lactation consultant can help you find the right pump for your body and circumstances.

How to Get a Hospital-Grade Breast Pump

If you need a hospital-grade pump, the first step is to contact your insurance provider to see if one is available under your plan and how much of the cost is covered. Due to their high price tag, hospital-grade pumps are typically rented monthly. “Most [insurance] plans that cover an electric breast pump will also cover the rental of a medical-grade pump,” says Daniela Venegas, an Insurance Claims Recovery Manager at Babylist Health. Venegas says on average, clients pay around $30 per month to rent a hospital-grade pump (but keep in mind that coverage varies from person to person).

To help you figure out which breast pump is right for you, be sure to check out our other guides for the best breast pumps, the best wearable pumps and the best breast pumps for every budget. And then visit Babylist Health to order your breast pump (and pump replacement parts) through insurance.

Expert Source:

Emily Spaeth, IBCLC, Doula and founder of Be Well Baby PDX.


Briana Engelbrecht

Assistant Editor

Briana Engelbrecht is Babylist’s Assistant Editor, where she brings her passion for early childhood development and the perinatal period, plus experience as a mom of two to Babylist articles and guides. A former preschool teacher, she loves children’s picture books, cats, plants and making things.

This information is provided for educational and entertainment purposes only. We do not accept any responsibility for any liability, loss or risk, personal or otherwise, incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, from any information or advice contained here. Babylist may earn compensation from affiliate links in this content. Learn more about how we write Babylist content and review products, as well as the Babylist Health Advisory Board.