Exclusive pumping (also called “100% pumping” by some, and “EPing” within the exclusively pumping community) is a machine-assisted means of breastfeeding a baby.

It is not the same as nursing because there is no direct breastfeeding occurring, but it does result in babies receiving 100% breast milk from their mothers and therefore falls into the category of breastfeeding.

General overview

– Exclusive pumping requires a large number of supplies. It requires a breast pump (or hand expression), extra sets of pumping supplies, bottles (or an SNS or cup), bottle liners in some cases, storage bags, a hands-free pumping bra, and a lot of lanolin or coconut oil to exclusively pump under ideal circumstances.
– Exclusive pumping requires a lot of support. People who “EP” are subject to the criticism that both moms who nurse, and moms who formula feed receive. In addition, exclusive pumping requires, on average, three hours a day for pumping (although some mothers spend as many as seven hours per day attached to their pumps) without factoring the time needed to actually feed the baby. To be sustainable in a long-term setting, good support is critical for success.
– Exclusive pumping IS sustainable in the long-term, and if done properly does not result in the mother’s milk drying up. There are many mothers who exclusively pump for a year or longer, with some mothers even pumping through or beyond the two years recommended by the World Health Organization. The average length of time spent exclusively pumping, as with nursing, is six months.
– Exclusively pumping mothers not only feed their own babies, but frequently donate substantial amounts of milk to babies in dire need of breast milk through formal milk banks or informal programs such as Eats on Feets and Human Milk 4 Human Babies.
– Exclusively pumping mothers sacrifice a large part of their time and preferred lifestyle to provide milk to their babies. It is more difficult than nursing, and it is likewise more difficult than formula feeding. Because of this, exclusive pumping requires a commitment to providing breast milk separate from any other commitments the mother is making or has made to her baby, family and self.

What kind of people exclusively pump, and why?

People who choose the path of exclusively pumping do so for a variety of reasons. What is common to all of these women is a strong desire to feed their babies breast milk in order to offer the babies the best start possible. Mothers who exclusively pump come from all walks of life, countries, ethnicities, religions, socioeconomic conditions, and creeds. Some of the reasons women choose to exclusively pump include:
– Poor latch, weak suck, tongue tie, lip tie, cleft palate, cleft lip and other physiological issues that make successful nursing impossible for the baby;
– Prematurely born babies who are too small or frail to nurse;
– Babies who have developed bottle preference and/or breast aversion;
– Preference. Some women choose to pump because they are bothered by the idea of nursing but still wish to provide breast milk to the baby;
– Severely inverted or flat nipples, or other physiological issues that make nursing excessively difficult or impossible for the mother;
– Multiple-birth offspring.

Ultimately, every mother who chooses to pump does so because she loves her baby enough to choose the most difficult path available for feeding her baby instead of formula feeding.

In what ways do I need to speak to an exclusively pumping mother differently than I might speak to someone who nurses about breastfeeding?

– There is a tendency for people to differentiate between breastfeeding (nursing) and exclusive pumping in a manner that equates pumping with formula feeding, rather than being inclusive toward women who pump as breastfeeding mothers. It is important to remember that exclusive pumping is breastfeeding even if it is not nursing. Using language that indicates otherwise devalues the importance of the work the mother is doing and encourages the mother to quit preemptively.
– With sensitivity. Although some people do pump exclusively by choice, the majority of mothers are pumping exclusively due to circumstances outside their control and desperately wish to be able to nurse.
– Avoid using terms like “just” nurse. In the majority of cases if the mother were able to nurse, she would be doing so. Using words like “just” implies that nursing is easy and is something everyone can do and is often hurtful to the woman hearing these words. A large number of women who exclusively pump talk extensively about their yearning to nurse, often long after they have come to terms with pumping exclusively.
– Be sensitive and compassionate. Many women who exclusively pump are still actively grieving their inability to nurse. This grief is very real and in some cases, very severe, and so it is important to talk to the woman with sensitivity toward the way she may feel about pumping versus nursing and toward her relationship with her pump.
– With praise. What an exclusively pumping mother does for her child is extraordinarily difficult and filled with unique challenges present only in exclusive pumping. While it is important to praise nursing mothers for nursing, it is doubly important to praise pumping mothers for the myriad sacrifices they make to provide breast milk. Your praise or admiration may well be the only time the woman you are helping hears anything positive about her pumping journey, so don’t hesitate to let her know you value the hard work she’s engaged in!


About EP’er Allie:

I am a 36 year old, grad student studying literature (empire studies concentration) at University of Houston (did my undergrad there as well, though in mathematics), loves food and nerding out whenever possible. Married to a spectacularly awesome husband, with a very sweet 7-month old and an 8-ish year old persnickety cat.

My Journey: I started EPing when my daughter developed bottle preference. I didn’t know I was EPing, but I kept pumping while I tried to reattach her so I wouldn’t dry up. Eventually I had to accept I wasn’t going to be successful in reattaching her and I just kept pumping since I didn’t see a valid reason to switch her over to formula.