Why Some Mothers Exclusively Pump Breast Milk

From Personal Choice to Necessity

Woman holding baby son near bottles of breast milk
JGI/Jamie Grill / Getty Images

Both mothers and babies receive benefits from breast milk feeding, but that is true whether the baby is fed at the breast or the milk is given in a bottle. Some moms who want to give their babies breast milk choose prenatally to exclusively pump, and some find out after the baby is born that exclusive pumping is part of their journey. If you're unsure about only expressing breast milk for your baby, knowing more about why some moms go this route can help.

Exclusive pumping can be for a few days or a few years, depending on the situation and a mom’s breastfeeding goals. Some of the most common reasons women who exclusively pump choose to do so include the following.

Breastfeeding Is Just Not Working Out

Many women are under the impression that breastfeeding comes easy to everyone, which is not always the case. Some women have issues producing adequate amounts of breast milk or have inverted nipples that make nursing difficult, while others may have babies who have trouble latching, can't stay awake long enough to get in a full feeding, and so on.

If you want to feed your baby at the breast, be sure to contact an international board-certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) to help you get over major challenges. Exclusive pumping can help maintain your milk supply while you try to work out issues with a lactation consultant, who can offer you tips on positioning, ways to increase your supply, and more.

Some women, however, may feel that breastfeeding just isn't in the cards for them. In these cases, pumping is often considered as the next alternative.

Previous Challenges

No two children or breastfeeding experiences are the same, but pumping can be an attractive option for many moms who have had trouble nursing in the past. They may have had issues with producing an adequate supply, making breastfeeding a struggle for both them and their babies. Or perhaps their child was just not up to the task, causing frustration that they'd rather avoid this time around or that they possibly even dread.


Many women who know before they give birth that they will exclusively pump make the decision to do so for this reason. For some women, the idea of putting a baby to their breast is simply unpalatable. This may be due to various concerns, ranging from personal feelings about the breast to a history of abuse. But even more simple reasons, such as not wanting to be physically "in demand" and not wishing to navigate some of the challenges that can come with breastfeeding in public, can play into their choice to exclusively pump.


Breastfeeding can be an intimate bonding experience with your baby. But being the only source of nourishment can be taxing and impractical for many women. Pumping allows for another caregiver to share the feeding duties. This may be a necessity for some, for example, who have other children to tend to. It may be a desirable option for others who, perhaps, find it too difficult to handle every middle-of-the-night feeding or whose partners want to join in the experience.

Baby Is Unable to Nurse Due to a Medical Condition

Most of the moms who fall into this category have a baby who is in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and is unable to take oral feeds. Breast milk is vital to these fragile babies, and many moms will pump their milk until their babies are able to nurse at the breast effectively.

Expressed breast milk can then be given via alternative feeding methods while the baby learns to breastfeed. Even after a premature baby is able to nurse at the breast, they often have difficulty creating enough suction to stimulate a full breast milk supply for their mothers.

Other times when a mom may pump due to a baby’s medical condition include when a baby has a tongue tie, lip or palate clefting, or a muscle tone issue that is not able to be resolved with accommodations. Pumping also helps maintain a mother’s milk supply when her baby is not able to stimulate it for her, ensuring that milk is "in" when and if the baby is ready for it.

Separation of Mother and Baby

It's a simple fact of everyday life that sometimes mothers and babies have to be apart. If the mother has a career where she has to be away for extended periods of time, pumping can allow her to provide breast milk even though she is elsewhere, as well as help her feel connected to her baby during this time.

Some of these women pump exclusively, while others do so only during working hours. The choice, of course, is yours, but know that some babies may have a hard time switching from bottle to breast, and vice versa.

Moms who are separated from their partners and share custody, whose babies are in foster care, who are incarcerated, and in other situations, may also choose to pump so that their babies have breast milk while they are apart from them.

A Word From Verywell

There are many reasons moms may exclusively pump their breast milk—and plenty of tips that have been shared along the way to make it easier. While the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises mothers to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of life, remember that the right decision for you is the one you feel is best for you and your baby.

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