Exclusive Pumping: What Is It?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on April 12, 2023
5 min read

Exclusive pumping is when you feed your baby only pumped milk, as opposed to direct breastfeeding.

In practice, you express (i.e., squeeze out) milk from your breast using a pump and then put the milk inside a bottle. You then feed your baby using the bottle or a nasogastric tube if they are premature. Just as you would when breastfeeding, you observe a pumping routine every time your child needs to feed, or you can express a lot of milk and store it in the fridge to warm when the baby needs it.

In most cases, exclusive pumping is done when the baby is not getting enough milk as they would when they are being breastfed (nursed) normally. This may happen if you are not producing enough milk or if your baby is not breastfeeding the right way.

Exclusive breastfeeding is not for everyone. Although it is recommended that you feed your baby directly from the breast for the first six months, sometimes it may not be possible. As a result, you are left with no choice but to pump and feed your baby breast milk from a bottle. The most common reason for exclusive pumping is when your baby is not latching as they should. Latching is how the baby fastens onto the breast while nursing. Your lactation expert may advise you to pump every few hours or as your schedule allows.

When distance separates you and your baby. In some cases, a situation may arise that puts you away from your baby for a long time. For instance, the U.S. federal law provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for the birth of a baby. You may be required to be back at work before it is time to wean your baby (i.e., make your baby used to food other than breast milk). If you are in such a position, pumping and leaving your baby’s caretaker with the pumped milk is almost inevitable. Pumping allows you to feed your baby with breast milk even when you are away. 

When you have tried your best to breastfeed and it does not work, pumping is the best option to feed your baby with breast milk. However, there are other reasons why you may find yourself adopting the practice. They include the following: 

Pumping might feel strange if you have never done it before. You can always ask for suggestions from experienced mothers to help you. To do it best, start by finding a comfortable place with no distractions. It is important to be relaxed when collecting milk. Some mothers prefer looking at pictures of their children or listening to relaxing music.

Others get better results when they do hand expressing for 1 or 2 minutes before using the pump. The touch of your hand gives stimulation that helps to produce enough milk. Remember to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water or alternative fluids. 

Choosing a breast pump. Different breast pumps are good in different situations. To pump well, match your and your baby’s needs to a pumping system that meets them. You can consider the pump’s efficiency, ease of movement, and how much noise it makes.

You may find that a hand-operated pump works best for you if you only need to express occasionally. They are usually small, cheap, and easy to carry. If you will be pumping more often, go for an electric or double electric pump. These are recommended if the time you have to pump is limited and you will be pumping three or more times a day.

Electric pumps are automatic and quiet, and they usually mimic or imitate the suck-release pattern of a baby while breastfeeding. A double electric pump can be large, and it comes with a carrying case that resembles a handbag.

Another type of pump is the hospital-grade pump. This pump is only used in a hospital setting when you are separated from a prematurely born baby. Another instance when this type of pump can be used is when you need strong stimulation to produce enough milk. Since you cannot buy one of these, you can locate a hospital that rents theirs out if you are in need.

Pros. Exclusive pumping has certain advantages, including the following:

  • Bonding: Breastfeeding requires privacy and can draw your attention away from other family members. Pumping allows your baby to feed without taking you away from your family.
  • Someone else can help: Unlike breastfeeding where only the mother is involved, pumping allows you to give charge of feeding to someone else while you rest or do other things.
  • Uninterrupted work: With exclusive pumping, you can work a demanding job and still manage to feed your baby on breast milk.
  • Protect your milk supply: If you are unable to nurse for a period of time, pumping helps to keep your milk levels in check. 

Cons. There are also some disadvantages of exclusive pumping, including the following: 

  • Expensive: Most good pumps are a bit pricey. When you consider other costs, like getting bottles and sanitizing products, breastfeeding directly is way cheaper.
  • A lot of extra cleaning: The extra tools used for pumping need regular cleaning to make sure that you and your baby are protected from germs.
  • Time-consuming: As opposed to picking up your baby and holding them to your breast to nurse (feed), pumping involves additional tasks, like thawing frozen milk you stored in the freezer.
  • Lifestyle change: Because it is recommended that you pump at least once every night to ensure a good milk supply, waking up every night can change your sleep patterns. Also, you may find it boring to wake up every night to pump all by yourself. 

When you begin to exclusively pump, it is normal to feel overwhelmed. Seek professional information and create a schedule that works for you and your baby.

If you need to use lubrication, consider olive oil and lanolin. Utilizing a lubricant helps you to avoid nipple damage and to reduce friction.