"The toilet is not an option": The do's and don'ts of pumping at work.

So the fairytale is over and it’s time to go back to work after a long and luxurious maternity leave full of rest and self-care. No more cosy sleep-ins with baby on organic cotton sheets. Goodbye to farmhouse lunches in your best earth-toned linen. Farewell to daily sun salutations. 

Oh I’m sorry. Wrong Insta feed. 

So the life-apocalypse of maternity leave is winding down so that the catastrophic carnival ride of working mummy can begin. I hear you, and I’m here for you. Let’s tackle one of the more intimidating elements of this particular panic-attack: pumping.

Watch: Luxurious breast pumps. Post continues after video. 

Video via Mamamia.

As a doctor in an emergency room I have had some pretty strange breast pump experiences which has left me with a few do’s and don’ts. So if you’re breastfeeding and planning to pump, then read on for all the tips and tricks I’ve learnt having done this whole pumping-at-work saga twice now (and soon for the third time). 

If your baby is formula fed and takes the bottle like a champ, then air-five yourself for being a legend who has it sorted.

First things first: 

Buy the right pump.

Don’t be lazy like me and just buy whatever is on sale at the scary baby warehouse down the road.


I had a strange and very agricultural experience with a cheap pump one time. I couldn’t get any milk out and was walking around with beach-ball breasts for longer than anyone would really want to. 

Do your research; ask your friends; subscribe to Choice magazine; or find a friend who already has a Choice subscription and use theirs. 

Always buy the double pump, not the single pump. Doing each breast individually will probably make you turn inside out with impatience. So leave your insides where they are and get the double pump.  

Breast pads.

Your buzzies are probably going to groan with milk for the first few days of work every week following a breastfeeding-filled weekend. And every now and then they’ll decide to suddenly turn on the sprinkler system. 

Don’t worry, no one will notice. It will be totally awesome. (Obviously I’m joking and it will be a nightmare and you’ll smell like yoghurt for the rest of the day).

To try and limit this problem, pop in some breast pads. If you forget them ( then some folded toilet paper or paper towel will do, and is sure to make you feel like everything is going smoothly and you totally have this handled. 

Photos and videos of bub.

This is one of the most important parts of achieving a good let-down on the pump – the process of your breast tissue pushing milk out of the breast under the influence of oxytocin. 

Oxytocin is essentially the ‘warm and fuzzy’ hormone that is released from your brain whenever your body senses the need to feed your baby. 


Image: Supplied. 

At work, when your baby is nowhere to be seen, you need to try and reproduce this. Thinking about and seeing your baby is one of the most effective ways to achieve this. 

For me, looking at videos and photos of my little one worked really well. I would always try and take a few extra pics or videos on the weekend with this specific purpose in mind. 

Good quality milk bags with two seals, and a good quality lunch box.

After you pump into a bottle, you pour the milk into a breastmilk bag. Now seal the bag. Then seal it again. Then seal that bastard one more time. Now pop it in an air-tight lunch box. 


I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to have a good leak-proof system for your milk. You’re going to feel very protective of the pumped breastmilk because of how hard you’ve worked to get it.

Spilt milk is wasted milk. And wasted milk is going to feel like a deeply personal loss (dramatic I know, but you’ll see what I mean). 

So having a good system of seals helps protect you from the complete devastation of finding your hard-earned milk all over your colleague’s chicken sandwich – trust me, I have had more than one awkward conversation with a colleague explaining that their lunch is now basted in breastmilk (seriously though, I did not know the bags were going to leak Gary). 

Having a good system of seals will help you avoid this particular diplomatic crisis. I promise you, you will have more friends at work if you stop leaking breast milk all over their stuff.

Snacks, water and/or lunch.

So you know how you’re somehow instantly thirsty when you start breastfeeding? Well, the pump is the same. 

Plus, you’ll have been buzzing about work all morning and probably haven’t had anything to drink for hours. 

Then you’ll turn on the pump and suddenly realise you’re as dry as a prune and desperate for water. Unhooking yourself from the pump to get a glass of water is about as easy as making a yule log one-handed (yes, a yule log), so take some water with you. This may also constitute your lunch break for the day, so eat if you can (after looking at all those lovely baby pictures and triggering your let down).


We talked all things feeding on This Glorious Mess: Little Kids. Post continues below.

Hands-free pumping bra.

This is important. This will keep your hands free for whatever use you need whilst you pump – look at baby pictures and eat/drink/scratch your nose. 

They’re not especially high tech and you might be able to fashion one yourself by taking a pair of scissors to an old bandeau or bra. 

Essentially, it’s a strip of stretchy cotton with creepy looking holes for your nipples. The pump funnel is held on to your nipples by the stretchy cotton, thus your hands remain free. Cue Facebook scrolling.

An appropriate breast-pumping space.

It is amazing the number of times I was offered an office with big windows overlooking the street and an unlockable door. Or a cubicle with three curtains for privacy. 

I also got offered (and had to use) the room we use to manage violent crime. These are not good options. 

Whilst I don’t really care who sees my boobs given they don’t really feel like part of my body any more, I still feel like it's frowned on to trot them about at work for anyone to see. 

And you feel really vulnerable when you’re pumping – because you’re missing your baby and you’re petrified that someone is going to burst in looking for a speculum at any moment (just my workplace?). 

It would be really nice if your work could just do you a solid and find you somewhere private and safe to pump. 

The toilet is not an option. If anyone suggests this to you then they are immediately obligated to eat their lunch in the toilet to see how they like it.


Your workplace needs to find you a door that locks, a power point and then either curtained windows or no windows at all. A sink is a delightful bonus if available.  

Realistic expectations.

This is probably the most important point.

Look, pumping is hard – it requires time, relaxation and focus on the baby. Often not things you find at work. 

You’ll probably struggle to fit it in with the regularity you’d like. I always aimed for twice a day but often only managed it once a day and then there were days I didn’t manage it at all. You may also find your supply drops. That certainly happened to me. 

Relax, it’s ok. You can try and bump it back up on the weekends and if that doesn’t work for you and you feel you need to provide a bit more, then there’s always formula.

Formula is great and we are so lucky to have it - it’s there if you need it (and I certainly do) and there’s no need to be afraid of it. Love for your baby is not quantified in breastmilk, but sometimes it can be easy to think that it is.  

Now, a couple of don'ts that have helped me along the way.

Don’t watch the pump.

Just like a watched pot never boils, a watched breast pump never fills. 

If you’re watching the pump it means you’re not looking at your baby pics. 

If you’re watching the pump it means you’re not relaxing and letting your body do its job whilst you recharge with food, water and BuzzFeed quizzes on which native animal you were in a past life (frill-necked lizard for those who are curious). Just turn the pump on and then ignore it.  


Do not bring work to the pumping room.

I tried this. It’s hopeless. You don’t get a good let down and your work is inadequate. You can’t focus on either activity and so neither works out. 

Just take it as a break and ignore work for however long it takes. If you really must work then at least give yourself five minutes of baby picture time first to enable a let-down. 

Do not do squats.

So you figured you’d get your body back and pump for baby at the same time. Kudos for trying. I tried too. But as above, you need focus and relaxation for oxytocin to do its work. 

You can tone your bum later (or never). Just try to chill out and think of the baby. 

A final thought on going to work after having a baby.

I went to work as a junior doctor on a full-time load four months after my first daughter was born. 

The internal conflict was huge – was I abandoning her, was I doing the right thing, was it selfish...

Well now that same little girl loves playing hospitals, loves learning about mummy’s work and is always setting bones and sewing up wounds on her teddies (who are concerningly accident prone). 

I feel confident that bringing work back into my life was positive for us both. I did similarly with my second child and they are both very confident and secure little people. Some days are really hard, and some days are so good I have to pinch myself. 

So if you are planning on going back to work and feel daunted, know that I did too (and I do again now, even though I’ve done it twice before). But it will be ok.


Your baby loves you and knows how much you love them. Breastmilk is just that – it’s just milk. And you are so much more than a dairy. So go and be all of those things.

Genevieve Tait is a doctor training to be a specialist in Emergency medicine, but no she doesn't want to look at your rash. She loves being a doctor and loves being mum, she just wishes both came with more sleep.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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