The last few decades have brought a boom in the variety and quality of breastpumps and other feeding equipment available to nursing mothers. Together with the increasing information available on the value of breastmilk and on breastmilk storage, another feeding alternative has emerged and is growing in popularity – exclusive pumping. This basically means that mothers are expressing and giving their babies breastmilk, without directly feeding baby from the breast.
As with all other options, there are pro’s and cons, and you should evaluate these carefully before choosing this option. Let’s take a closer look.
There are different reasons why mothers choose exclusive pumping
- The most common reason is a baby who refused to latch, and a mom who ended up doing exclusive pumping as a last resort
- The need to monitor babies’ milk intake, or moms who feel concerned that their babies are not getting enough milk
- Babies who are in NICU or are unable to feed due to medical reasons
- Being separated from baby for long periods of time, making it impossible to feed
- Mothers who dislike nursing, for a variety of reasons
- To make it possible for other people to feed baby with a bottle
- Lastly, those who simply choose to do so
Why take so much trouble?
Exclusive pumping enables mothers to offer their babies all the advantages of drinking breastmilk even if breastfeeding itself didn’t work out. And from this perspective it is a wonderful option to explore. So many women carry grief and sadness in their hearts because they couldn’t breastfeed, and this can affect their parenting experience negatively in many ways. Exclusive pumping can be empowering and bring healing. And with a lot of support groups for this method on social media they will not be in it alone.
But would I recommend it?
To be honest, as a lactation consultant and a mother who expressed milk for two children I would reserve exclusive pumping as a last resort. This is not because it is an inferior option, but because I know how much it will take.
As wonderful as having a new baby is, it is also a big adaptation and lots of hard work. And as noble as exclusive pumping is, it will take massive commitment and a lot of time and effort from mom. To maintain a milk supply you will have to express regularly and religiously. This on top of all the other responsibilities that a new baby brings will be very challenging. It may look like a viable option in the moment, but in the long run it’s going to be tough to do.
My advice would be to first attempt all you can to get your baby to latch and suck from the breast. For this you may need the assistance of a lactation consultant.
However, if you have tried it all and are still not managing, and if you feel that this is an option that is going to work for you, then I am fully supportive and would do all I can to help a mother achieve her breastfeeding goals.
Choosing a breastpump
If you are planning to exclusively pump you will definitely need a high-quality breastpump. You would need a pump with a strong enough motor to generate the cycles in a minute needed to maintain milk supply. A double pump will half the time that you spend expressing. You need a pump that is fairly silent and portable, as you will have to take it wherever you go. Click here for more information on choosing a breastpump.
You can consider the BabyWombWorld’s Double Electric Breast Pump which is an affordable pump that truly will fulfil in all your expressing needs.
Remember that to build and maintain a supply in the early weeks you would have to express breastmilk every 2-3 hours in the day, and at least 2-3 times at night. This will decrease as baby grows older, so don’t despair.
What to expect if you are exclusive pumping
Mothers who opt for this route will experience common challenges and emotions. You should be realistic about these and focus on maintaining a healthy perspective on the situation.
- Even though you are taking control and putting in a lot of effort, you may still struggle with feelings of guilt, isolation and inadequacy because your initial breastfeeding attempts didn’t work out the way you planned.
- You may feel that you failed expectations – your own, your partner’s, those of society. Remember that expectations are often set unrealistically without knowing what your situation is going to look like. You may want to edit these as you go along.
- You may feel cheated out of your breastfeeding experience – why do others manage but you have to struggle?
- Unfortunately, friends and family are not always fully supportive, which can make you feel alone and under pressure. Try to explain to them where you are coming from and why you need their support. But ultimately remember that you are the best person to make choices for your baby.
- Most moms who exclusively pump experience anxiety over their supply, and many will indeed struggle to maintain a supply.
- Many mothers feel that they are chained to the pump and unable to do anything else.
- On a more positive note, you will also have reason to feel pride in yourself and elation at being able to give your baby breastmilk.
- This will build your determination and motivation to proceed.
- As time goes along you will develop coping skills and savvy that that will make things easier for you.
There are great Facebook groups for exclusive pumpers where mothers can connect with other mothers who are in the same situation. They can offer emotional support and share their coping skills.
The support of your partner and those around you is crucial, as it’s going to take a lot of time and effort. Sometimes you will need a practical hand, for example, someone to watch baby while you are expressing, or help with washing and sterilizing equipment.
But what if you can’t produce enough breastmilk?
As mothers, we do the best we can. If you can manage to keep expressing enough to only feed baby breastmilk it is great. But if not, there is nothing wrong with giving formula when necessary. Any amount of breastmilk given is worth gold, even if it’s one bottle a day.
You are the best mother there is for your baby. The simple amount of hours and effort that mothers put into exclusive pumping speaks of massive love and dedication. Be proud of yourself, treasure this time and recognize it as a gift that you are giving your baby.