Is it safe to share breast pumps?

Personal use, or “single-user” breast pumps are not made to be passed from mother to mother due to the risk of contamination. The design of these breast pumps allows milk to seep into the motor, where bacteria can grow and be passed on to subsequent users. In addition, the motors of “personal use” breast pumps are designed to perform at full strength for a couple of years—or less. A mother who accepts a used “single user” pump or opts to share one might not recognize a poorly functioning motor, which can negatively impact her milk supply.

Only “multiple user” breast pumps, commonly referred to as “hospital grade,” are suitable for sharing. A warning issued in 2013 from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) urges breast pump manufacturers to use the term “multiple user” instead of “hospital grade” in an effort to avoid confusion. FDA electrical engineer Kathryn S. Daws-Kopp explains on the FDA website, “[S]ometimes these pumps are labeled ‘hospital grade,’ but that term is not one FDA recognizes, and there is no consistent definition. Consumers need to know it doesn’t mean the pump is safe or hygienic.”

That said, only hospital-grade pumps are top of the line in terms of durability and effectiveness. They also provide a reliable means of pumping both breasts simultaneously (at the same time) for mothers seeking to establish and maintain a milk supply. When buying or renting a “hospital-grade” or “multiple user” pump, the FDA recommends mothers ask the person providing the pump to confirm that all components have been disinfected and sterilized according to the manufacturer’s specifications. Additionally, each mother is required to buy her own collection kit with breast flanges (the cone-like part that comes in contact with the breast) and tubing.

Hospital-grade pumps can be very expensive, with monthly rental fees close to the purchase price of a single use double-electric pump. However, some employers provide hospital-grade pumps in workplace lactation centers for their employees’ convenience, and the Affordable Care Act includes a provision requiring insurance companies to cover the cost of breast pumps and lactation services.

Our detailed slideshow will help you choose the breast pump that is right for you. You can also review the “breast pump” section of the FDA website for more guidance.

Last updated June 19, 2021

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