Most women have heard of the value of breastfeeding their babies, but for many new mamas, nursing simply isn't an option. Rather than turning to formula, some moms are exploring another alternative—exclusive pumping. These mothers use a breast pump to express milk, and then bottle feed their babies with the resulting breastmilk.

Many women who decide to exclusively pump do so after experiencing difficulty breastfeeding. They choose to pump rather than giving formula because they strongly believe in the value of breastmilk, but face breastfeeding challenges. This may be for any of the following reasons:

  • Lack of knowledge or support about nursing challenges, such as your baby refusing to latch
  • Medical problems in the baby or mother, such as mastitis
  • Premature birth of the child

In these situations, exclusively pumping can be especially helpful to new mothers as an alternative to formula. “Providing expressed breast milk is also a means of controlling an otherwise uncontrollable experience,” explains Stephanie Casemore, author of Exclusively Pumping Breast Milk: A Guide to Providing Expressed Breast Milk for Your Baby. “I believe many women will EP as a way of working through the loss of the breastfeeding experience they had hoped for and expected.”

Is It Possible?

When a mother finds out that nursing will be difficult or impossible for her to attempt, she may not realize that exclusively pumping (EPing) is an alternative to formula. While doctors actively publicize the research regarding the benefits of breastfeeding, women often don't realize that while there are many advantages of breastfeeding that EPing can't provide, EPing can still give their baby the nutritional and immunological perks of the breastmilk itself.

“Many women are told by medical professionals, and sometimes even lactation consultants, that it is impossible to pump exclusively and that if they are not directly breastfeeding they will not initiate and maintain a strong milk supply,” laments Casemore. “But this is not true! Overwhelmingly, women who are having challenges maintaining their milk supply have had difficulty accessing and implementing accurate information. When good practices are put into place and the necessary time is given to pump frequently, most women are able to initiate and maintain a milk supply that will meet the needs of their baby.”

Pumping Problems

At the same time, there are several issues that EPing mothers may encounter on this different route to giving their babies breastmilk. Based on the questions that Casemore receives through her website, here are the three main issues that EPing moms often deal with:

Issue #1: Supply Problems

The suckling actions of a newborn stimulate milk production more strongly than a breastpump can, which is why some EPing mothers can experience supply issues. At the same time, moms can take steps to help build up their supply and avoid these issues. For example, they should make sure to use an excellent double-electric breast pump, pump frequently, make sure not to miss pumping sessions, ensure that their pump is maintained properly, and check the size of the flanges on the pump to ensure proper fit. Mothers with complications that can impact supply, such as a premature baby or PCOS, should use a hospital grade pump in order to increase their milk production even more. Some mamas may also take galactogogues (milk-making herbs) such as fenugreek or prescription medications.

Issue #2: Timing

Many women find nursing and bottle-feeding exhausting, and EPing can be difficult to fit into a busy schedule as well. Finding time to both pump milk and feed that milk to her baby may be difficult, especially in the middle of the night or during the workday. Casemore makes the following suggestions that can help make EPing more manageable.

  • Be a bit more flexible with your pumping schedule. “Recognize that pumping sessions don’t have to be evenly spaced,” says Casemore. “You can fit in sessions whenever you need to, as long as you don’t go too long between sessions.”
  • Accept help from others. If you have family or close friends nearby, take them up on their offers to help with your bundle of joy. They can feed your baby the pumped bottles, help with meals, or just hold your little one for awhile so that Mom can get some well-needed rest. If you don’t have family or friends nearby, try to stretch your budget to allow for some cleaning help, take-out food, and babysitting when possible.
  • Let go of your expectations when the baby is young. If you’re not tripping over things on the floor, the food coming out of your kitchen is healthy and hygienic (even if it’s cereal and milk with an apple), and you have clean clothes to wear the next day, you’re doing fine.
  • Connect with other EPing moms for support. Other mothers have gone through the same issues, and they can share ideas that worked for them.

Issue #3: Emotions

Many moms who consider EPing truly wanted to breastfeed, and they may be crushed when they find out that doing so is not possible for them. “The lost expectations of a breastfeeding relationship can be difficult to come to terms with,” says Casemore. “Recognize the loss and the need to grieve it. Then refocus on what you are doing and on the successes you have had.”

Whatever your reason for considering EPing, don’t dismiss it out of hand. It’s a valid and valuable option for mothers who find it difficult or impossible to breastfeed, and would like to provide their baby with the benefits of breastmilk.