Exclusively Pumping Breast Milk: Why Women Do It

Exclusively pumping breast milk is best thought of as an alternative to formula feeding. While there are some women who decide to exclusively pump even before their babies are born, they are by far the minority. Instead, most women who exclusively pump fully intended to breastfeed and believe strongly in the benefit and value of breast milk. When confronted with difficulties or situations that make breastfeeding difficult or impossible, these women turn to the use of a breast pump to ensure their babies receive breast milk.

The reasons women exclusively pump are extremely varied: the premature birth of a baby; the illness of the baby or the mother; problems with breastfeeding including such things as a poor latch, thrush, cleft palate, poor weight gain, a lack of milk (either real or perceived), and the early introduction of a bottle leading to nipple preference; and the separation of mother and baby including women who must return to work soon after the birth of their babies. It is difficult to briefly discuss the many reasons women exclusively pump, but there do tend to be some similarities in most women's experiences.

Self-preservation is an often mentioned factor in the decision to exclusively pump. New mothers are overwhelmed with emotions. Hearing your baby scream every time you try to nurse, enduring extreme pain when nursing, or having a baby who is unable to get enough milk to satisfy her can add to an already tumultuous period. Also, for women who are breastfeeding, bottle feeding to top up the baby's intake, and then pumping to maintain or increase supply while the baby learns to breastfeed or the mother is able to resolve difficulties she is experiencing, the cycle becomes overwhelming and, even with a strong support network, can make it extremely difficult to continue for very long.

Often a mother is not able to truly focus on mothering and enjoying her new baby, and instead, is solely focused on providing nourishment. Life becomes consumed with feeding the baby, which can, in and of itself, add additional stress to the situation making breastfeeding all that more challenging. The decision to exclusively pump can, for some women, bring back a balance in their lives and in their household and enable them to refocus on their babies while continuing to feed their babies breast milk.

The decision to exclusively pump is not made lightly. The vast majority of women who decide to exclusively pump do work with lactation consultants before making their decision. And although pumping and bottle feeding becomes the primary method of feeding, many women also continue to work on breastfeeding and solving problems that were making it difficult to breastfeed.

Yet, even though the hope of exclusive breastfeeding may still remain when a woman starts to pump, many women do get to a point where they no longer attempt to breastfeed. Many struggle with the emotions they feel as a result of not breastfeeding and not having the breastfeeding relationship they thought they would have with their baby. For many, the strong emotions felt when they do not see success breastfeeding are too difficult to continue reliving over and over again. The disappointment and frustration often prove to be difficult to cope with on a continuing basis and as a result the decision to exclusively pump is made. Working with a lactation consultant during these first few weeks of pumping is extremely important if a transition to exclusive breastfeeding is desired and an important time for lactation consultants to maintain close contact with women in order to assist them to breastfeed successfully.

Perhaps the strongest motivating factor for exclusively pumping is the strong belief that breast milk is the best way of nourishing a baby. Most women who exclusively pump do not feel that formula is an option; it is something they would prefer not to feed their babies. Therefore, when they are confronted with difficulties breastfeeding (or the inability to breastfeed), and are unable to resolve the situation, they turn to what is often in their minds, the only option available to them. If the women who exlusively pump did not have this as an option, their babies would most likely be switched to formula.

Exclusively pumping is a viable alternative to formula feeding. Knowledge is key, however. A breast pump will not initiate or maintain a milk supply in the same manner as a baby. Women who have been able to exclusively pump long-term tend to follow a similar set of guidelines. Support and accurate information are extremely important indicators of success for women who are exclusively pumping.

While breastfeeding is undoubtedly the best method of feeding a baby, the fact remains that certain circumstances make breastfeeding difficult, and, sometimes, women decide to bottle feed. The reasons for this decision and the emotions that surround the decision are varied, but in all cases, exclusively pumping can ensure that it is breast milk in the bottle instead of formula and provide more babies with the best start possible in life.

Copyright Stephanie Casemore, 2004

Stephanie Casemore is the author of Exclusively Pumping Breast Milk: A Guide to Providing Expressed Breast Milk for Your Baby. She exclusively pumped for one year for her son who was born nine weeks premature. Casemore also maintains her website, ExclusivelyPumping.com which is a resource site dedicated solely to the needs of women who are exclusively pumping breast milk. She is currently working to share with women the option of exclusively pumping as an alternative to formula feeding when breastfeeding has not been possible or has not worked out as expected.

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