my coworker asked me to hide my breast milk because she doesn’t like seeing it in the office fridge

A reader writes:

I have been pumping breast milk for over a year and today came across an issue at work.

A coworker stopped me before I went in to pump to make a request: she would like me to keep my pump parts and breast milk bottles in a sealed bag. She said that it has been getting uncomfortable for her since “this is a community fridge and we keep our lunches in here.” She also mentioned that the other day I left my stuff in the fridge, and I do agree as a courtesy we should always take home any food from the fridge before we leave work for the day.

I told her that I was sorry, and that I had no idea it was making her feel this way. From a coworker standpoint, its a simple request and we should always try to make people feel more comfortable.

I am surprised, really, that the issue has been brought up at this point in time. When my baby was younger and I pumped three times a day I would sometimes leave milk in the bottles with the flanges on because I had a meeting to catch. In hindsight I see how that could be a problem if it knocks over and spills.

But now, I only pump at lunch and I pour my milk in a sealed bottle and put the pump parts in a grocery bag to take home and wash.

To insist that a sealed bottle with breast milk should be hidden seems unreasonable. I feel strongly that nursing mothers have just as much right to use the fridge for their milk as other employees who put their lunches in there. I also feel strongly that breastfeeding and pumping should be normalized. Breast milk is not dirty or gross.

I don’t want to turn this into an argument, but I’m worried that by accommodating her that I’m being complicit in the marginalization of all breastfeeding women in the workplace. Is there another way?

P.S. Initially I was unsure of she was bothered by taking up space in the fridge or the risk of milk spilling. In our conversation, I did clarify that her concern is “seeing it and knowing it’s your breast milk.”

Please go with your instincts here — breast milk is not dirty or gross. It’s food. You do not need to hide it like it’s something shameful.

“We keep our lunches in here” — your coworker’s reason for objecting — makes it sound like the lunches will somehow be contaminated by being in the presence of … your baby’s food? How squeamish does one need to be to worry about their sandwich being stored on the same shelf as a bottle of milk? I would be far more concerned about that old pack of bologna someone brought in 10 months ago and never threw out.

Now, it’s true that when you’re not used to thinking of something as food, it can be unsettling to see it in a fridge among everything else. Vegetarians often feel that way about hamburger meat, and vegans about cow’s milk. But when you’re using a communal fridge, you’ve got to accept that it’s not yours and you might see food that’s not part of your own daily consumption habits. So if you’re having an impulse to tell someone to hide something they’re storing there, you’ve really got to interrogate that impulse to figure out if it’s reasonable and fair. This one isn’t.

As for what to do, I’d just continue what you’re doing. If the coworker raises it again, you could say, “I gave it some thought and I’m not comfortable treating milk as something that’s dirty or needs to be hidden. It’s food and it goes in the fridge.” If you want to minimize awkwardness, say it cheerfully and then immediately follow up with a subject change. (If you wanted to be more pointed about it, don’t do the subject change. But then you’ll likely be drawn into a debate, which it sounds like you don’t want.)

Also, how supportive is your office of women in general, and nursing mothers in particular? If they’re pretty supportive, it could be worth talking to someone HR-ish to confirm they’re not going to back up your coworker, so you can then say breezily to the coworker, “Oh, I talked to HR and they confirmed it’s fine.” And maybe also, “We of course can’t tell women they need to hide all evidence of breastfeeding.”

(And really, if breast milk is gross and should not be seen, then the same must be true of milk from other mammals … but I’m betting your coworker hasn’t proposed keeping all containers of half and half in an opaque lockbox.)

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 863 comments… read them below }

    1. pleaset cheap rolls*

      Also, THIS: “I’m not comfortable treating milk as something that’s dirty or needs to be hidden. It’s food and it goes in the fridge.”

      1. LifeBeforeCorona*

        Yes, doesn’t the milk have to be stored in the fridge to keep it safe? It’s been years since I pumped and I can’t remember at all. If it needs to be stored safely then the co-worker has no standing to demand it’s removal.

        1. Cube Diva*

          It can be left out for up to four hours at room temperature, and 24 hours in the fridge. So during a workday, the fridge is the best place.

            1. TheSnarkyB*

              Not really – this depends on the circumstance and the baby, but 66 hours and 6 days is not best practice and for many babies could be actively dangerous.

        2. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

          Oh, not it’s removal.
          OP is of course welcome to use the fridge if she MUST, sigh. But hide it in the back, in brown paper bag like any other contraband so that when coworker opens the door to get her own food she doesn’t have to look at it.

          1. Lexica*

            Is this comment missing a sarcasm flag? OP has as much right to use the fridge for foodstuffs as the other employees do, and is not under any obligation to “hide” the milk in the back like “contraband”. What on earth. No.

              1. Lexica*

                Poe’s law is an adage of Internet culture stating that, without a clear indicator of the author’s intent, it is impossible to create a parody of extreme views so obviously exaggerated that it cannot be mistaken by some readers for a sincere expression of the views being parodied.

                https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poe%27s_law

                There are commenters in this thread apparently arguing in full sincerity that OP should be required to put the bottle of milk inside an opaque bag to hide it. Without some kind of indication that it’s intended to be sarcastic, the comment I replied to reads just like the other ones.

          2. Anonny*

            Honestly, I would be tempted to put it in a paper bag labelled with something that you might want to keep refrigerated but would be gross to keep in a food fridge. Like, “dead dove, do not eat.”

            1. 'Tis Me*

              As doves are a type of pigeon and pigeons are edible that might count as food? (I’m a vegetarian and have never eaten any variety of pigeon though!)

              1. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

                Totally edible. But probably a food safety hazard if it was found dead on the sidewalk, which is where I would assume a brown bagged dove in the fridge came from.

            2. TardyTardis*

              I would love to introduce the co-worker to the high school teachers’ fridge where my husband worked. The biology teachers used it too, you see…

        3. Observer*

          I used a pair of ice packs in an insulated bag. That was for MY convenience, not because anyone expected me to hide it.

          1. Batgirl*

            Which is what the co-worker should do for her convenience if they don’t like communal fridge items like breast milk.

            1. Jenny*

              I used ice pack bags but I also stored it in the fridge. The ice packs were primarily to keep it cold during my commute.

              1. ggg*

                I don’t really get how trying to hide it at this point helps the co-worker’s squeamishness — surely they will still know that the bag labeled with your name contains breastmilk, because they were the one who asked you to put it in there?

                1. A girl has no name*

                  OP, I will crochet you a bag cozy with a giant breast on it and “BREAST MILK” in big letters, if that would help.

                2. KateM*

                  A girl has no name, could you crochet a breast-shaped bag cozy? It would be so suitable for breast milk, after all.

                3. Remote Worker FTW*

                  I could be totally wrong here, and maybe the woman has an issue due to being a genuinely uptight person, but maybe just maybe she’s someone for whom the reminder of a baby and/or breastfeeding hits a little close to home? Some women want to breastfeed and can’t, some women can’t have kids but want them, perhaps she or someone close to her had a recent loss etc? I’m not excusing how she said it, but this might be extra personalf for her.

                4. Lizzo*

                  @Remote: if that is the issue here, then it should be explained as such, i.e. “The problem is me and my feelings and experiences, and I’m asking for some sensitivity. [The problem is not your breastmilk.]”

            2. Momma Bear*

              That’s always an option. I would also remind the coworker that its my baby’s lunch so it belongs in the fridge. If the grocery bag is opaque then the coworker shouldn’t care what’s in it.

              I used to keep a cooler by my desk because otherwise my baby-brain would forget it from the fridge. But that was my choice. If OP has been using the fridge for a year like this, I wonder why the problem now?

              I’d be tempted to buy a cooler labeled Baby’s Milk or something and put the bottles and parts in there – so they are out of sight but still in the fridge.

              What are the state guidelines for pumping at work? Anything about fridge access? If so, keep that handy for the next complaint.

        4. Artemesia*

          She doesn’t want to ‘remove it’; she wants to ‘hide it’. Which is pretty icky in and of itself. The more people take a stand for matter of factness re breastfeeding the sooner the day will come when it is treated matter of factly.

          And label it so people don’t steal it for their coffee — another problem with breast milk in the office fridge. Actually for that reason I would have kept it in a sack — but not to spare the delicate sensibilities of the ridiculous co-worker.

          I might be a little afraid she would tamper with it in retaliation though.

          1. Alice's Rabbit*

            When I pump, I put the baby bottle top on straight away, instead of the flat lid. Fewer people will mess with it that way, because it’s obviously not cow’s milk or creamer if there’s a nipple on there. (And yes, there’s a plastic cap that fits over the nipple)

          2. Phony Genius*

            Regarding accidentally using the milk for coffee, I know one place where this has happened.

            I’d be a little more concerned about reverse contamination. That is, people’s lunches contaminating the milk, if it’s not sealed well. (Imagine something left in the refrigerator started growing mold, and nobody noticed.)

            1. Putting Out Fires, Esq*

              Might actually taste good, but I would be mad at the theft because breast milk is a lot harder to get than international delights

              1. Momma Bear*

                You CAN cry over spilled milk. I certainly did when I fumbled a bottle and it spilled everywhere.

                1. Toads, Beetles, Bats*

                  Oh God I shed more tears over a spilled precious two ounces of breastmilk than any other kitchen travesty ever.

                2. Rosamond*

                  I once spilled pumped milk in hallway of my office and asked the IT guy who happened to walk by to get me paper towels…with tears streaming down my face. I can laugh about it now but man.

              2. Tabby*

                According to my brother, who once drank some of my cousin’s breastmilk accidentally when we were kids, it does not, in fact, taste the least bit good. :D

          3. Carlie*

            IfI were the OP, I would be tempted to put it in a nondescript brown paper bag, nice and discreet.
            With a huge label in black sharpie on both sides that says “(OP)’s BREAST MILK” in all capital letters.
            You know, just to make sure nobody confuses whose lunch is whose.

        5. Joan Rivers*

          Refusing to put your milk or your lunch into a bag, insisting on throwing it all into the fridge loose, would be silly, though. Because she’s not the only person using the fridge.

          Maybe she should suggest they ALL have separate containers or bags, for whatever they keep in there. That cuts down on stray food going bad too, it’s in someone’s bag.

            1. Joan Rivers*

              It’s silly when they all toss loose items in there and they spoil.
              But I’ve been in a job where no one ever was responsible for cleaning the fridge and it wasn’t my job either but I got told about it.

              Are we really saying it makes sense to bring your lunch loose in your arms from the car to the fridge? That it doesn’t make sense that it’s CONTAINED in, oh, maybe a BAG of some kind? That’s like saying people think it makes sense to carry a loose armload of groceries to their car after buying them instead of putting them in, oh, maybe a BAG.

              Of course it’s silly to be asked to “hide” milk but if it also keeps the fridge more organized, it’s not a huge issue to me.

              I can be the bigger person.

                1. Joan Rivers*

                  I’m not saying it’s not a silly request.
                  I’m just saying, why not suggest “we all” contain our fridge items. Everyone use a plastic bag. Big deal.
                  Sorry if I wasn’t clear.

                2. Mookie*

                  Because not everybody wants or can afford to waste disposable bags and re-using non-disposable bags in a communal setting that travel from home to transportation to work and back every single day is going to get unhygienic quickly.

                  There is precious little reason for everyone to clump together their individual items; that would minimize rather than maximize storage space (like size and shape work best next to each other and when placed on proper shelves according to fit) and at best solves one or two entirely separate issues (people accidentally taking somebody else’s property; people not being able to readily find or retrieve their stuff because of clutter). Describing this as “organized” seems obviously wrong to me or at best misleading.

                  “Organizing” by ownership elides what the co-worker is unreasonably asking for. As Alison says, no need to sugarcoat or sanitize the request.

              1. Ann Perkins*

                I don’t know why you’re so adamant about this. I bring my lunch loose in my purse every day… it’s only a 15 minute commute so I throw my sandwich and yogurt or whatever in my purse then put it in the fridge when I get to work. Then there’s nothing to bring home. What works for you might not be what everyone prefers. When I pumped I kept a small insulated cooler bag at my desk but would often use the fridge to hold pump parts (in a ziploc bag).

                1. Joan Rivers*

                  I’m suggesting it because I’ve been in an office where the fridge wasn’t up to me but I got the feedback, based on assumptions about “status.” It was left undefined and was a constant problem. Just one sign of dysfunction there.

                2. WellRed*

                  When I worked at the office, I took stuff from lunch bag to put in fridge. Lunch boxes and bags can be bulky and take up lots of space.

                3. GothicBee*

                  I always put my lunch stuff loose in the communal fridge. It’s only a problem if you work somewhere where people steal stuff. Plus if everyone’s shoving their own bag in there, it can take up a lot of extra space.

                4. Yorick*

                  I agree with WellRed: It’s much better for people to put small items in the fridge directly rather than use bulky grocery bags or lunchboxes when they’re not needed.

              2. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

                I might carry a pyrex in my hand from my car to my office fridge, yes. If I have a lot of stuff that day, I bring a big tote bag. I might throw a tupperware or a wrapped sandwich in there. I’m not going to put the whole dang tote in the fridge.

              3. Claire*

                I’ve never put my lunch in a separate bag; I keep all of my things in a tote bag and bring my lunch in from my car in the tote with the rest of my things. It does in fact make a lot of sense, thank you for asking.

                1. caradom*

                  Why would a sealed item need to be in a bag? We’re all meant to be reducing our bag use, not increasing it.

              4. Aquawoman*

                I don’t understand why something already in a sealed container needs to be put into another container. People have bottles of soda or juice or cartons of creamer in our work fridge (in the beforetimes) and also put boxed frozen meals directly in the freezer. Requiring all those things to be bagged seems unusual to me.

                1. GothicBee*

                  Same. The only time I bag something is if I’m concerned it might leak a bit (some of my tupperware isn’t entirely watertight).

                2. Deliliah*

                  In the beforetimes, I always put my lunch in a bag of some sort, because I had a LOT of stuff – A sandwich, a baggie of vegetables, a string cheese, a yogurt, maybe a granola bar or an apple. If I put all that loose in the fridge, it would have gotten lost. People didn’t steal, but they did push stuff around to make room for their own stuff. I would have been digging through the fridge for 10 minutes trying to find all my items.

              5. Alison*

                Hah. Since we have to buy plastic bags at the store in my state now I usually bring my own. But when I forget to bring my own (usually when I pop out for 1 or 2 things) I, wait for it, just CARRY them to my car in my ARMS. The horror.

              6. EnfysNest*

                The milk is contained in the bottles. If she was pouring it loose into the fridge, yes there would be a problem, it’s contained. Unless for some reason everyone is also required to put all their water bottles and ranch dressing and ketchup and all other things that live in clear containers into bags or boxes to hide what is inside them, then there is no issue here.

                1. BubbleTea*

                  I’m having visions of someone merrily hand-expressing straight into a fridge, just cheerily spraying milk all over the place while yelling “breastmilk is not dirty, dude!” It is an amusing image but I am absolutely certain that is not what is going on here.

              7. Toothless*

                I actually think it does make sense sometimes to carry a loose armload / handful of groceries or other items to the car / out of the car to my house. If I am only getting a couple things, why would I waste a disposable bag when I have hands? Or if we assume I remembered to bring the disposable bags with me, why make myself have to go put the bags back in the car later? Sometimes if I know I only need a couple things I’ll deliberately not even get a cart or basket so I’m not tempted to grab more stuff than I need.

                1. I take tea*

                  I often do the “I’ll just grab a few things, no need for a basket” and end up balancing a lot in ny arms… :-o

              8. Lizy*

                I’ve never used a bag for my lunch, unless I was going to the store on my lunch break. If I bring a lunch, it’s probably in a container of some sort – salad in a container or sandwich in a ziploc bag. But a separate bag? Nope. Never. Most of the time I don’t even have a lunchbox – I literally toss lunch goodies in my purse or yes – carry it in my arms.

                Same with breastmilk. It’s in a container because I can’t really just toss milk in the fridge. That would make a mess.

              9. Random commenter on Ask a Manager*

                I can’t be the only one who has carried lose groceries to my car because I don’t want to pay $.10 for a bag and I forgot my cloth bags at home?

          1. MusicWithRocksIn*

            Everyone putting their food in a big bag actually takes up a ton more space in the fridge. And also seems to make the fridge work harder to keep everything cold because all the air space is taken up by giant bags. I’ve worked at places with both put your food items where they fit culture, and everyone bring a lunch bag culture, and it was always impossible to find any space in the lunch bag culture place. Plus then people would get in the habit of bringing a giant bag of food for the entire week in a super big bag. Lunch bags take up way more space than the individual items do.

            1. Mayor of Llamatown*

              Keeping breast milk in a bag, especially the insulated kind, also makes it hard to keep it cold. It expresses at body temperature, so if you put it in an insulated bag, then put it in the fridge, it will take longer to chill, which isn’t the most sanitary option. My lactation consultant recommended I use insulated bags to transport, but to always take the bottles or bags of milk out of whatever carrying option I was using and put them right in the fridge when I got home, not leave it in the insulated case in the fridge.

              1. Engineering Mom*

                Current pumping mother here, and that’s a brilliant point I would not have thought of. If I was pumping at work, I would have put my just-expressed bottles into a cooler bag and then in the work fridge just to keep them all together. I also work in a very male-dominated industry, and I kinda hope I get the chance to pump at work if for no other reason than to make them all squeamish fight the good fight of normalizing breast feeding.

                As it currently stands, I’m WFH due to covid, so I can store my breast milk and pump parts anywhere I please :)

                1. Mizzle*

                  You might (have been) pleasantly surprised! My industry is male-dominated, but the responses I got to rinsing parts at the kitchenette sink were uniformly positive. “Ah, I remember my wife doing that,” and questions about the baby was doing.

              2. Seeking Second Childhood*

                THIS. It needs to be cooled quickly for sanitation.
                OP, is there a designated pumping room? My company gIves mothers a key to the first aid room which has 2 interior spaces with doors–and a mini-fridge only shared with medical supplies.

            2. Momma Bear*

              The only time I put my food in the fridge in a bag is if I want to separate say a week of frozen food from everyone else (a couple of us have the same tastes). Otherwise it’s in there wherever it will fit, sometimes not even on the same shelf. Boxes and coolers take up more space.

            3. Adultiest Adult*

              This is exactly why I switched from bringing a lunch bag to bringing loose items–in our work fridge, if more than 6 people bring a mid-sized lunch bag there is no room for another one, but you can fit things like a single yogurt or can of soda or a bagged sandwich around the edges of the bags. And it ended up being less for me to carry without a separate lunch bag.

            1. Friendly Ghost*

              Not really on topic, but I was drinking a lot of cow milk when I was breast feeding, and brought in a gallon each week, which would be pilfered by coffee drinkers. So I put a note on it that just said “Sandra’s milk, please do not use” — and somehow this got interpreted as being my breastmilk.
              A.whole.gallon.of.milk. And it was a biotech firm, so almost everyone had a MD or a very strong science background.

          2. Dahlia*

            It’s not “loose” either. It’s in a container. If I have a can of soda, I don’t have to hide it in a bag to not offend my coworkers.

          3. doreen*

            I’ve never worked anywhere where everything in the fridge was in a bag. Sure, people often had their sandwich/salad/leftovers in tupperware in a bag. But salad dressings, containers of milk, cans of soda, bottles of juice etc – those items were never in a bag. Not even when they belonged to individualpeople.

          4. Yorick*

            She’s not putting the milk in there “loose.” It’s in a bottle. If she was spilling the milk all over, the coworker would have standing to ask her to do something different. As it is, she doesn’t need to hide the breastmilk.

        6. MCMonkeybean*

          It sounds like they aren’t asking her not to put it in the bridge, but just to put it in a container that makes it not visible. It’s a very weird request. She is basically saying “If you have to keep it in the fridge, at least make it so I can pretend it’s not there.” It’s asking for OP to put in effort in a way that doesn’t actually change anything. I definitely would go with Alison’s wording and say you aren’t comfortable treating it like something to hide.

      2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        “I am unclear as to what is dirty about my baby’s food. Can you clarify?”

        Used this once at a school I was working at. The principal (whose wife was also a nursing mother at the time) got very quiet, and it was never brought up again.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Will clarify that I did this because I knew his wife was a nursing mom – and it was a fairly hypocritical stance on his part. I wouldn’t necessarily do this in every instance.

          1. INFJedi*

            Actually, I truly think that your question is a very good one in situations like OP’s. So, I’m gonna keep that in mind.

            (That your principal’s wife was a nursing mum is just icing on the cake ;-) )

            1. 'Tis Me*

              When my little sister was about 10, her teacher was pregnant. She was utterly horrified: “By announcing that she’s pregnant she’s basically announcing that she’s had SEX! I don’t understand how she can be all happy and proud about THAT! It’s disgusting and I can barely look at her because of it!”

              I don’t know why she was being so judgemental about it! Possibly a “starting to understand the implications, but not yet old enough to understand the appeal” thing? Strange that Where’s the Orchestra’s principal, as an adult, held the same Puritanical stance!

              1. Random commenter on Ask a Manager*

                Aww. Did she not realize yet that her parents had sex to get her here?

              2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

                Even stranger given that his youngest child was maybe two months older than my youngest child. I was just so caught off guard that he of all people had the problem (not any of the other staff, none of whom had babies at the time).

                (No, do not miss that principal or that job at all – I have a different one now where 90% of my coworkers and the leadership chain all act like adults and use their words – it’s sooo much nicer.)

              3. Ginny Weasley*

                Last year our guidance counselor and 5th grade teacher were giving the annual puberty lesson to a classroom of girls. During the “do you all have any questions” section, one of the girls got a dawning look on her face and said “Mrs. [fifth grade teacher] you have kids… and YOU [counselor] have kids… that means you’ve HAD SEX!!” You could tell they were just thinking about all the staff and who had kids and what that must imply… I felt very “self-righteous” that day being one of the few childless employees and thus, a sexual mystery.

      3. Joan Rivers*

        I don’t see why LW couldn’t put it in a nice bag, to keep it organized and protected.
        People bring their LUNCH inside a bag, they don’t toss their sandwich and banana in the fridge loose, what’s the diff? Does she carry lunch items loose in her hands? From the car? Along w/milk supplies?

        It’s a silly request but why leave things loose? It’s easier if everyone puts a lunch bag into the fridge than loose yogurts, etc. — maybe all should do it. Then it takes less time to find their stuff.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Gotta say at my job I don’t think anybody has a lunch bag – I see so many loose items in our communal fridge (which we rotate clean every Friday).

          1. This is She*

            Agreed, they do take up more room, but more importantly: lunch bags are not especially clean, in many cases. I don’t even want to think of the places one can set down a small tote (bus seat? trunk of your car? restrromm counter?) and I don’t want your possibly-grotty lunch bag on the same shelf with my sandwich.

            (Yes, yes, I’m sure many ppl wash their bag every time and bring it protected by another bag, etc. but most won’t and I don’t know who is who.)

        2. JimmyJab*

          People in my office (when we went there) left random food items in there ALL THE TIME. Especially half gallons of milk, pints of creamer, etc. Especially dorks like me who bring huge insulated lunch bags that take up way more room that necessary. So, you’re incorrect in your statement about what “people” do.

          1. Joan Rivers*

            SOME people use bags and SOME leave random items in there to rot. I didn’t say “all people.”

            1. Aquawoman*

              Things can rot inside bags. I used to keep salad dressing on the door shelf; how does a bag provide any benefit there?

            2. Cindy*

              Many people in my office (in the before times) brought unbagged food in (sandwiches in a tupperware or clingwrap, a yogurt container) and left them in the fridge, not to rot, but to eat for their lunch that day. People had an easier time finding their food when everything wasn’t bagged.

            3. Yorick*

              Why do you keep talking about loose items rotting? The bag doesn’t offer extra protection against going bad. Things will still go bad in there and still stink if left too long. In fact, they’re more likely to go bad because the bag “protects” the items inside from the refrigerator’s cold air.

              Sure, putting the breast milk bottles in a bag is what she could do if she decides to go along with the coworker’s request. But let’s not pretend that it’s objectively better for them to be in a bag than not.

        3. TCO*

          I put loose items in our office fridge because not everything in my lunch needs to be refrigerated. Putting a big lunch bag in the fridge, including both things that need refrigeration and things that don’t, would take up too much space in our shared fridge.

            1. Joan Rivers*

              If you keep your yogurt, etc., in the same pliable plastic bag you brought it home from the store in, then it’s your problem if it goes bad. The problem is anonymous people don’t have to clean the fridge when their food spoils.

              This doesn’t matter UNLESS you’ve been the one who gets TOLD the fridge needs cleaning but there is no designated cleaner.

              1. Joan Rivers*

                I’m dragging the “class issue” into the “female issue” here — I was the front desk person so it wasn’t my job to clean the fridge but there was the implication that if it was anyone, it should be me and not someone w/an MSW.

              2. Claire*

                This doesn’t make any sense. If someone brought a container of cow’s milk for their coffee, would you expect them to keep the carton inside a bag in the fridge? Also, the coworker doesn’t seem to be complaining about the fridge being unclean or disorganized- she’s just squeamish about this woman’s food for her baby.

                1. Aquawoman*

                  This. Also, the thing 100% least likely to go bad in the kitchen fridge is breast milk. The point of all food brought into the work kitchen is to have it at work; the point of breast milk is to take it away.

                2. Observer*

                  In fact, the OP actually noted that she asked if the issue was worry about spillage, and the coworker told her that that is not the issue.

                3. Yvette*

                  Actually I would with my name on it, lest anyone think it’s community property. I personally avoid using a communal fridge whenever possible. I would bring my food in an insulated bag with an ice pack and keep it in my desk or my locker.

              3. Galloping Gargoyles*

                I don’t bring my groceries home from the store in a plastic bag. I bring my own re-usable bags to bring them home. I also shop at warehouse stores which don’t supply bags. I do bring my items in a lunch bag but I only put things that need to be refrigerated in the fridge. Putting things in plastic bags in the fridge would take up more space as well as make it hard to know which bag is yours since as more people add things to the space items may get relocated. No one puts items in our work refrigerator in bags and I wouldn’t want them to either.

              4. Totally Minnie*

                The problem you’re arguing against is not the problem OP or their coworker have, and your comments here are in no way helpful to the OP.

              5. milkmaid*

                Believe me, as someone who is currently pumping the expressed milk is not going to be abandoned in the fridge. Way too much effort to go through to forget it at work. I feel like your ranting re: office fridge culture is not really related to the OP.

                1. INFJedi*

                  That’s what I’m thinking as well. Pumping is not something that takes a minute to do, it takes some time and can be uncomfortable. After you’ve done that, I doubt anyone is going to forget to take it home. And if it happens, it will only be once that you forget it.

              6. Hmm*

                Am I missing a part of this letter that mentions this offended coworker needing to clean a messy fridge all the time? Doesn’t seem to be what’s going on to me.

              7. Yorick*

                Why do you keep talking about food spoiling anyway? That isn’t an issue in the letter. Let’s stay on topic.

              8. SimplyTheBest*

                you seem to have a lot of trauma about your own work fridge. All of the issues about rot and spoilage are not something that has ever been a problem in any work fridge I’ve ever used. Your experiences are not universal.

              9. Anonymous 2*

                Every work fridge I have ever used has been on the disgusting side (and I work at a hospital). We would never have a co workers breast milk in our reg fridge (i doubt they would even want it in there!) and our patients breast milk (who are nursing ) goes into a Tupperware big container which is sealed off from every thing else to keep everything clean and separate

            2. WellRed*

              IF you brought home the items in a plastic bag in the first place. Just do us all a favor and admit it: You don’t want to see breast milk in the fridge.

              1. Tiny Soprano*

                So many straw man arguments here it’s starting to look like one of those giant wicker men.

            3. Momma Bear*

              Not everyone uses plastic to bring items home from the store. We pay for our plastic bags so I either bring my own or carry without as often as possible.

            4. BubbleTea*

              I don’t recall the last time I brought home food in a plastic bag, but I’m reasonably confident it was years ago.

        4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          When we were in the office, people brought their food in in lunch bags, but everyone’s lunch bags would’ve never fit inside a fridge all together, so it was considered good form to take them out.

          Either way, LW gave a great explanation of why she is considering pushing back. It would probably be easier for LW to hide her milk from this coworker, but her concern is that this would be doing a disservice to other nursing mothers at her work, present and future, and create an unhealthy environment at work, where being a nursing mother is considered gross and unseemly.

        5. Ann Perkins*

          Between pump parts and bottles it can end up being a lot of stuff. There’s really no logistical reason to crowd a fridge with another lunch bag for all the closed bottles to be in unless it’s easier for OP to do so. Working moms have enough stuff to carry to and from work every day while pumping, no need to add yet another bag.

        6. Eye roll*

          Does everyone use a lunch bag? I was the only one in my office (when we went to the office) with a lunch box, and that was only to keep things separate for allergy reasons, so I could store it in my office. Even then, I didn’t bag up drinks and small packaged items. Let’s not pretend the co-worker is demanding everyone contain their items to organize the fridge. The co-worker thinks breast milk is icky and gross and should be hidden like contraband.

        7. ADHSquirrelWhat*

          Yeah, but you’re talking regular office-fridge-organization politics. That’s /entirely different/ than “please hide the icky stuff”. Maybe it’s in something – clear! a clear bag! I keep all my stuff in clear bags where possible, because otherwise I will lose things!

          “office fridges are disgusting and disorganized” is one conversation. “breast milk is potentially unclean/offensive” is a different conversation. You’re trying to have the first one in a thread about the second one. I don’t think it’s the right place, and it’s very confusing.

          1. Anhaga*

            Yes, this! It’s fine to want office fridges to be organized better, but this isn’t the post for having that discussion. Honestly, it sounds to me like the OP is doing just fine on the “organized fridge” front, since she generally takes the stuff home every day.

        8. Observer*

          People bring their LUNCH inside a bag, they don’t toss their sandwich and banana in the fridge loose, what’s the diff? Does she carry lunch items loose in her hands? From the car? Along w/milk supplies?

          This is simply fan-fic.

          On the one hand, there is absolutely NO evidence that others are putting stuff in bags. On the other hand, not having stuff in bags is extremely common. Furthermore, the OP states that the coworker was explicit that it was about SEEING the milk and “knowing what it is” rather than mess.

        9. lemon*

          A lot of people carry loose items, yes. I hate plastic bags because they’re bad for the environment. So that means when I stop by a 7-11 or something on my way to work, and I’m just buying a few things, I carry those items rather than ask for a plastic bag just to walk 3 blocks. Even when I’m buying more items, I use a reusable bag, and that’s not going in the fridge because, you know, I need to reuse it.

        10. Salymander*

          A lunch bag full of food takes a lot more space than individual items. I have worked in an office where people kept their lunches in bags in order to keep things organized. There was never enough room for everyone to out their food in the fridge. Also, the bags frequently hid food that was spoiling, and more than once we didn’t know where the gross stench was coming from until we pulled all the bags out and opened them all in order to find the one with a fuzzy, stinky nightmare inside.
          Not sure why you are so insistent about this. Even taking your claim that being in favor of hiding the milk is a matter of organization at face value, it still doesn’t make sense.

        11. Lizy*

          It IS organized and protected. Being in a bag doesn’t make it “organized and protected”.

          My purse is a bag. NOTHING in it is organized or protected.

        12. Seeking Second Childhood*

          OP needs the milk lowered in temperature fast. An insulating bag will delay that.

        13. MHA*

          A bottle of breast milk isn’t any more “loose” than a bottle of soda (or a bottle of cow’s milk, for that matter!), both very normal things to put directly on the shelf in a fridge. (Also, no one uses lunch bags where I work because the fridge is so small– when I bring a sandwich, it DOES sit on the shelf in its little individual clear sandwich bag, much like breast milk can sit on the shelf in its bottle.)

        14. Alice's Rabbit*

          Putting the milk in a bag before refrigerating it will actually make it go bad faster. She’s expressing the milk at body temperature (obviously) and then needs to cool it down as quickly as possible. The extra insulation of the bag and the air it holds will slow down the cooling of the milk, making it spoil faster.

        15. Ronia*

          I often just put a banana or a salad in the fridge at work. We banned lunch bags because some people don’t wash theirs and there was…an issue.

      4. Sue*

        I would think that is sexual harrassment. She’s saying she’s thinking of her boobs as sex objects instead of food.

        1. Lorine*

          She is…not saying that? Look, I think the solution is for the coworker to make sure her own lunch is sealed and not to bother the LW about her breast milk, but this is a bizarre interpretation. If anything, the coworker is thinking of breast milk as just another bodily fluid rather than food. There’s nothing sexualizing the LW in the letter.

        2. mediamaven*

          Can we honestly not go there. Someone being squiqqed out by something may be weird but it doesn’t make it sexual harassment and it doesn’t make them a pervert.

        3. Spero*

          Hmmm…I don’t know about sexual harassment. I was sexually harassed about pumping (a male offered to ‘help me with it’ but this is not the same. Pregnancy discrimination – yes. And that is a subset of sexual harassment, but it doesn’t fit quite as well with the broader category label to me.

          1. allathian*

            Yikes, that’s truly awful. The more I read these stories, the more grateful I am to live in a place where long maternity and parental leaves are common and expected. Most moms have weaned their babies before they return to work, because most moms return to work when the baby is at least a year old. My son was two when I returned to work. It’s not a perfect world and many women return to work to find that their job description has changed for the worse, and the mom track is definitely a thing here, too. Still, I work for the government in a country where said government is worried about low birth rates, so it’s no surprise that the government is the biggest employer of women of childbearing age…

    2. Public Sector Manager*

      Having seen the inside of my office’s refrigerator, I no longer put food in it because it’s nasty!

      That being said, I concur with all of the above.

    1. Mr Jingles*

      I’d call it baby-food. Why should something a baby eats be gross? Babies are especially sensitive as well. Mommies need tobecareful not to get them sick. So it’s a given that any halfway decent woman will go out of their way to ensure the milk and bottle are as clean and pure as a spring morning in paradise! I bet other people ain’t half as carefull with their stuff.

      1. Code Monkey the SQL*

        I got through to two of my single male co-workers this way. I mentioned that I was glad that we were finally getting a pumping room, because it was illegal and gross to make people use the restroom for food prep.

        I could almost see the connection of “mom expressing baby milk” -> “baby’s food” -> “food doesn’t belong in bathroom” -> OH! Yeah, that makes sense

      2. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

        As a halfway decent man, my husband was in charge of ensuring the spring-morning-cleanliness of bottles and pumping equipment. I’m producing the goods, I don’t have time for the dishes!

        1. Spero*

          Same here! My then-husband was TERRIBLE with every other part of baby life (hence becoming an ex who rarely chooses to see the child) but even he gladly took on all pump & bottle cleaning duties.

        2. Input*

          While I was breastfeeding & pumping, we divided the labor between “input” and “output.” I was responsible for dealing with input, husband was responsible for dealing with output. Seemed fair.

    2. Mayor of Llamatown*

      Seriously. How to people think we get milk from cows? It comes out of their bodies. Just like human milk. Yet we don’t get squeamish about putting in on our cereal or drinking it straight.

    3. Duckles*

      I don’t get people pretending to not get what’s gross about it at all. It’s a fluid that came out of someone’s body. I would be grossed out if someone kept their urine sample (also perfectly natural, sterile, and has to be refrigerated) in the office fridge too (or even, like, a bloody steak on a plate as Alison mentions, or uncleaned fresh eggs). I thought the coworker sounded polite in her request and asking to just put it in a bag is a reasonable thing to do if someone asks— same as I would not ask a coworker to not eat meat, but not to leave a raw meat in the fridge where it could be touching my food packages too.

      1. Zelda*

        So much this. There are *regulations* about what can and cannot be done with bodily fluids!! Any kind of a bloodborne pathogen will also turn up in milk, and cleaning up drops of blood in, say, a bathroom is considered to be a specialized task requiring training and the right PPE. Storing your blood in a communal fridge would be Right Out.

        So, unless OP would like to go get tested for HIV, hepatitis, and a score of other things, and post the negative results on the fridge door, I don’t think putting everything in a fresh, sealed plastic bag is a ridiculous thing to ask.

        1. Tired of Covid-and People*

          It’s totally ridiculous. A bloodborne pathogen is just that, in the BLOOD. For heavens sake, enough of this breastmilk hysteria already.

          1. Tired of Covid-and People*

            Oh, and I would be a lot more worried about catching covid if I was forced to work outside the home as opposed to catching anything from something in the dang fridge.

          2. Zelda*

            NO, it is NOT ridiculous. (Former pahrmaceuticals chemist here.) Blood-borne pathogens are not *restricted* to only blood, they’re just named that because everyone has blood , while not everyone lactates. They *do* show up in breast milk.

            1. Anon Lawyer*

              Oh come on, normal workplaces do not follow the same restrictions as pharmaceutical chemicals laboratories and nor do they need to.

              1. Zelda*

                I am explaining why I use the term “bloodborne pathogen,” and why I know that Tired of Covid’s assertion that bloodborne pathogens are not in milk is incorrect.

                If anything, the lab was *less* uptight about bodily fluids than some other workplaces I’ve been in– we *all* had the relevant PPE and training, and wash bottles of bleach every two feet along the bench, so a spill would be dealt with easily by anyone, and the normal “hmm, the clinic got a drop of plasma on the outside of this tube as well as the inside” is covered by the normal “wipe down the bench with bleach before you walk away; turn gloves inside-out as you remove them.” Whereas I’ve seen other places shut down a bathroom until the specialty cleaners can be called, because no one else is permitted to risk their health by coming into contact with a few drops of someone else’s blood.

          1. Zelda*

            The likelihod of imperfect transfer when pouring into the bottle– setting the whole thing in secondary containment is easy and protects against drips on the outside of the bottle,

            1. milkmaid*

              You don’t pour the breastmilk into a bottle when you’re pumping. The bottles connect directly to the pump and the milk goes directly in them. There’s really no drippage on the outside of the bottle (possibly on the flange, but the LW clarified that those are being stored inside a bag already.)

        2. Ann Perkins*

          From the letter: “P.S. Initially I was unsure of she was bothered by taking up space in the fridge or the risk of milk spilling. In our conversation, I did clarify that her concern is “seeing it and knowing it’s your breast milk.”

          The OP already has everything sealed away. The coworker is specifically asking her to make sure it’s hidden.

          Stop with these comparisons to urine and blood. Breast milk doesn’t transmit the same way those do.

        3. littledoctor*

          Even if OP does have HIV, there’s still no issue with her keeping breast milk in the fridge. It’s almost impossible to transmit HIV through breast milk while taking antiretrovirals. Lots of HIV positive women breastfeed. It’s literally recommended by the WHO—breastfeeding is the healthiest option even when a mother is HIV positive. There’s nothing dangerous about the breast milk of most HIV positive people. HIV is incredibly common. You’ve certainly shared washrooms and fridges with HIV positive people before.

          And even if the milk did have some sort of dangerous component (which it wouldn’t, necessarily, regardless of someone’s HIV status), a sealed bottle of milk isn’t going to contaminate other people’s food. There’s no problem whatsoever with her keeping it in the fridge.

        4. Momma Bear*

          Firstly, I think the OP’s coworker would still object b/c she has to see it and OP confirmed it was the seeing and knowing that was the problem.

          Secondly, unless the OP’s coworker is handling said milk, she should have nothing to worry about. If you want to talk bodily fluids – I hazard to guess that OP and her fellow coworkers use the same restroom and that’s not treated like a hazmat scene.

        5. Bobbitt*

          pregnant women get their blood tested during pregnancy for all kinds of things. Let’s assume OP knows her own medical status and doesn’t need her medical information to be publicly regulated on the front of a fridge in her place of work.

        6. Yorick*

          But the coworker doesn’t want to see it because she thinks it’s icky. So a clear sealed bag wouldn’t fix the problem.

        7. No Name #1*

          This comment is extremely stigmatizing towards people with HIV and Hepatitis C and does not at all reflect how HIV/HCV is actually transmitted. I am saying this as someone who had Hepatitis C and as someone who did HCV/HIV prevention education and testing for a living. Hepatitis C spreads through blood to blood contact. HIV is spread through blood/semen/vaginal fluids/breast milk having **direct contact** with a mucus membrane or through sharing syringes in the case of IV drug use ie the blood is getting directly injected into a person’s bloodstream. In cases where it spreads through breast milk, it is when the milk is being consumed by an infant. So if an individual had HIV and did not have an undetectable viral load put stored their breast milk in a sealed container in the fridge, even if it did somehow spill, unless it is coming into direct contact with another person’s mucus membranes, there is NO RISK of that person contracted HIV (or Hepatitis C).

          You are perpetuating a deeply harmful myth that has direct consequences towards people living with HIV and/or Hepatits C and despite the fact that you have pharmaceutical chemistry training, your insistence that breast milk in a sealed bottle in a fridge is a biohazard is completely unscientific. This is the exact same type of rhetoric that led to the complete isolation and fear of people with AIDS during the epidemic when people thought you could “catch” HIV from shaking hands with someone who had it. We are in the year 2021 and it is high time that we put a stop to the stigma towards people with HIV & Hepatitis C because it kills people.

        8. Botanist*

          Nope. There is a reason that breastfeeding is almost never contraindicated no matter what the mother is sick with. Because the pathogens don’t turn up in the milk!

      2. Salymander*

        We aren’t pretending that we don’t think breast milk is gross. We just don’t think it is gross.

        Also, breast milk and urine? One of these things is not like the other.

        And a sealed bottle of breast milk will not contaminate any food sitting next to it. It isn’t contagious or radioactive. It is in a sealed glass or plastic bottle, unlike the paper and plastic wrapped package of bloody meat you compare it to. Which might bleed onto nearby lunches? I suppose? I mean, if the milk was in an open container, that might lead to being spilled on everything in the fridge. That would be annoying and a big mess. But it isn’t toxic waste for goodness sake.

        1. KayDeeAye*

          Exactly. We don’t have to pretend to think we don’t think breast milk is gross. We actually do NOT think it’s gross. Because – and here’s the thing – its not in the least bit gross.

          It should not be necessary to point this out, but I will anyway, and it’s that breast milk is intended to be food – something that untold billions of people have been consuming since the dawn of time – whereas blood and urine and all the other substances that humans excrete are not. So stop with the ridiculous comparisons already. And yes, they are ridiculous. You are probably more likely to catch something nasty from old lunch meat or aging bean sprouts than you are from breast milk, and you are definitely more likely to catch something nasty from undercooked poultry.

      3. Tired of Covid-and People*

        Wow. That’s all, just wow. Working at home for the win, so as to not have to deal with nonsense like this. Breast milk is like urine, ok then.

      4. lemon*

        These aren’t accurate comparisons, though. Urine isn’t meant to be consumed, which is why it would be weird to find it in a fridge. A bloody steak on a plate would be a problem because it isn’t adequately covered, but a steak sealed up in a tupperware wouldn’t be a problem.

        The OP is putting a sealed bottle of breast milk in the fridge. The accurate comparison there is putting a sealed bottle of cow’s milk in the fridge. People don’t tend to find it particularly “gross” to find a bottle of cow’s milk in the fridge– the thought of it contaminating food just wouldn’t happen. Why should a sealed bottle of breast milk be any different? It’s a sealed food liquid in a bottle. It’s not going to contaminate anyone’s food. Leave it alone.

        1. Zelda*

          Cow’s milk would be pasteurized. I would absolutely object if someone tried this with *raw* cow’s milk, which definitely has the potential to contaminate other food.

          The idea that “intended to be consumed” = “clean” is, unfortunately, not accurate.

          1. nona*

            This is wrong. Unpasturized cow’s milk that is in a bottle will not contaminate other food in the kitchen. The cooties can’t escape the bottle.

            Pasteurization is necessary to make the shelf-life of milk commercially viable, but it is not necessary to make the milk suitable for consumption. You can drink the milk from the cow without any further processing. I would only recommend doing that if you are milking the cow yourself and understand the cleanliness of the process, and so is not recommended for commercial operations with information asymmetry between the producer and the consumer. But if the spouse of a dairy farmer brought in milk (or cream) for their own consumption that day, it has absolutely no impact on anything else in the fridge.

            1. Zelda*

              Notice I did not say not to put the milk in the fridge. Just that secondary containment is a reasonable thing to ask.

              Pasteurization is about killing pathogens, especially listeria. Whether it’s safe to drink milk directly from the cow without pasteurization depends on the health status of the individual cow, and, as you say, the cleanliness of all of the equipment involved. Without testing, I wouldn’t do it.

              1. nona*

                Why is secondary containment necessary? That’s what I’m not clear on. The milk is in a bottle with a lid. The outside of the bottle is clean. There’s no need for secondary containment.

              2. Autistic AF.*

                OP’s coworker noted that the issue wasn’t potential spillage, but having to look at it knowing it’s breast milk.

            2. goducks*

              yes.
              I’ve spent enough time on dairy farms to understand why pasteurization is necessary. It’s not about the milk, per se, it’s that the entire process has so many places where bacteria can get into the milk and then just contaminate hundreds of gallons.

              If a person is certain that the milk they’re getting from their own cows hasn’t had any cross-contamination (or if they’re consuming it so quickly that bacteria can’t breed), that’s their choice. And them storing a closed bottle of it in a communal fridge won’t be an issue for anybody else, unless they spill it on other people’s food. Which is a problem even if the milk were pasteurized.

              1. Student*

                A discussion on raw cow’s milk is VERY tone-deaf in the middle of a discussion about an adult woman storing her own breast milk in the fridge.

                It is beyond rude and insulting to equate an adult who is capable of ensuring her own sanitation in milk processing with th process used for a farm animal. Doubly inappropriate since the letter writer specified this was not a sanitation concern; her co-worker was just grosses out by breast milk.

                1. Mama llama*

                  as someone who has stored her breast milk at work – it is really similar to cow’s milk! I don’t get what’s offensive about that. And there are SO many rules you have to follow to keep your baby from getting sick. Because it is raw milk. And if you’re going to give it to a different baby, it gets pasteurized, screened for hepatitis, everything. It’s a bodily fluid!

        2. MHA*

          Leaving aside the fact that milk is literally a food product and urine is literally a waste product, and leaving aside the fact that Fergus’s two-week-old takeout in a flimsy styrofoam container is a much bigger risk to the cleanliness and sanitation of the fridge than a clean, sealed bottle of breast milk– expressed urine also isn’t actually sterile (despite the common misconception, it picks up bacteria in the act of leaving the body), making it an even poorer comparison!

      5. Dweali*

        breast milk =/= urine. Also a sealed bottle of breast milk is not akin to leaving raw meat touching other people’s food packages.

      6. Elenna*

        I mean, the milk is in a bottle, though? So it’s not going to be directly touching anyone’s food. I can’t imagine OP wants their baby’s food to be contaminated by adult food, either! So it’s definitely sealed.
        Similarly, I’d be annoyed if a coworker left a raw steak just openly on a plate, but if it was wrapped up in a package or box or something, I wouldn’t care because that’s exactly how I hold steak in the fridge at home. Same thing.

        Re: “it’s a fluid that came out of someone’s body”, isn’t cow milk also just fluid that came out of someone’s body? And yet nobody is asking people to put bottles of cow’s milk in unlabelled bags. The only difference is that the “someone” is a cow and not a person. IMO, cows are generally less clean than humans, not more…

      7. Rosie*

        Urine is an absurd comparison. Urine is a waste product. Milk is basically the opposite of waste.

        Breast milk is different than all other bodily fluids because it is food for human babies.

        It’s just milk. The same basic stuff that cows and goats and literally every other mammal makes.

        It’s also not like she’s pouring breastmilk on other people’s food. She’s putting it in a bottle. Like all the other milk in the fridge.

        If you have no problem with other animal products, you should have no problem with this.

        Fresh milk is less likely to damage you than the questionable leftover thai food in the fridge.

      8. Lizy*

        Uncleaned fresh eggs don’t go in the fridge. They go on the counter. WASHED eggs must be refrigerated, as does boob juice.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          *minutia side note to prevent further derailing. US & UK have different egg processing standards which result in opposite storage requirements.

        1. anon for this*

          One can pretend all day that there is *no* comparison to be made. It may not be the right comparison for us to make – but it can be made. I am someone who had milk come out of their breasts – when I was neither pregnant nor nursing a child – and it WAS gross. Medical thing – fixed now. It was a bodily fluid that was not welcome nor useful to me. It was more like menstrual blood than urine because it leaked out at inopportune moments, but it was a bodily fluid and nothing more to me. I can certainly be accused of internalized misogyny, but I found it awful. That doesn’t mean anyone should make this comparison to a nursing mother, but it is a possible one to make.

          1. Ann Perkins*

            Urine, fecal matter, menstrual blood – those are all waste byproducts of the body. The body isn’t using the substances so it sheds them.

            Breastmilk – the body takes the nutrients – the proteins, good sugars, antibodies – and processes them into milk. The milk will even evolve as it picks up on the baby’s specific biology in order to better suit that particular baby. It’s the opposite of waste – it’s known as liquid gold because it has so many unique properties to it and is designed by the body to be sustenance for little babies.

            People need to stop comparing the waste byproducts with breastmilk. Lactation is a normal function of women and acting as though breastmilk is dirty is seriously harmful and offensive to working mothers in particular.

    4. bleh*

      Actually all milk is somewhat gross to me, but that has little to do with this person’s weirdness. I might be grossed out by milk, but I wouldn’t say it *out loud* and ask others to deal with my problem.

    5. TRexx*

      If I read her letter correctly, OP states she is also putting her breast pump in the fridge. Why is the breast pump in the fridge? That may be the bigger reason why this coworker is reaching out.

      1. Botanist*

        TRexx- I believe she is putting the components of the pump- the flanges, which attach over the breasts- in the fridge. This could be a way to eliminate the need to thoroughly wash and clean them between pumps and is not uncommon practice. Just to give you the background on why she might be doing that.

    1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

      Yeah. I’ve encountered this attitude. It’s exhausting. Women pumping at work have a list of one billion and ten things that they need to prioritize before your feelings about boobs.

      My only caution would be – don’t leave milk unsealed in the communal fridge or put flanges in there that you plan to reuse. Not because your baby stuff is gross for your coworkers. Because your coworkers are gross and unsanitary, and you don’t want them near anything that will get fed to your baby.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        This. You are in charge of the cleanliness of your baby’s food supply. Don’t leave it around for other people to get dirty.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          However, I’m going to clarify that it sounds like OP is already doing this, so it sounds like the coworker is being just a touch unreasonable.

      2. Heather*

        Also, though, it’s a bodily fluid and if OP was sick or something it could potentially be hazardous for coworkers. I would never object to it in a closed container, but if it was in something that might spill if tipped that really isn’t cool.

        1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

          Yeah, like any other food, breast milk in the office fridge should be stored in a way that will not drip on or otherwise contaminate other items stored in the fridge. Sounds like the OP is currently doing that, though.

          1. Lacey*

            Yes. There are some people who leave nasty casseroles in poorly secured tupperware. I’m more worried about that.

        2. ElizabethJane*

          I mean it’s not great but it’s no different than improperly stored leftovers. But I don’t get the impression that the issue was sanitary storage. It was just seeing it and knowing that it came from OMGBOOBS!

        3. Liane*

          “Also, though, it’s a bodily fluid and if OP was sick or something it could potentially be hazardous for coworkers.”
          And if you were sick with salmonellosis, shigella, NOROVIRUS, etc., *your food* would be *hazardous for coworkers.*

          1. Raven*

            And, in the case of norovirus, everything else you touch. There’s a reason it rips through schools, daycares, camps … and offices … the way it does.

        4. Dahlia*

          And peanut butter and shrimp can kill people.

          Nobody who is pumping is using badly sealed bottles. It’s too much work – no one would risk it.

        5. Risha*

          I’m 8 months pregnant so coincidentally yesterday was my breastfeeding reading up day. One online class specifically made sure to tell us ” agree that breast milk is not hazardous and does not requiring special storage or handling like other body fluids” or words to that effect. (In the chapter about pumping as a working mother.)

          1. Risha*

            In front of “agree that breast milk is not” was meant to be the words “long list of government bodies including the FDA”, but I made the mistake of putting it in tags.

            1. amcb13*

              Thanks! This is just what I came to the comments to learn. I wonder if the person asking for the milk to be bagged up doesn’t know this? As someone without firsthand info, I wondered about whether there would be health concerns (when I heard “sealed bag” I thought, like, Ziploc, in case the outside of the bottle had any drips on it? Like I said, no firsthand info.) Anyway, maybe the office should provide this info and be like “so as you can see, this is FINE, everyone be cool.”

        1. SyFyGeek*

          I just tossed a bottle of ketchup that expired in 2017 from our fridge. I’d much rather see a clean container of breast milk, or anything, than 3 year old ketchup.

          1. Blackcat*

            I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I once found 2 year old breastmilk at the bottom of the chest freezer. Much too old to be used, I looked at it sadly as I chucked all 30oz into the trash.

        2. MusicWithRocksIn*

          Exactly. Baby milk things get sterilized frequently. I bet nothing else in that fridge does.

      3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Oh, shoot, I just had a thought. (Also you just described the reason why I hardly ever used the office fridge, and instead kept my lunches at my desk in the cooler bags I’d brought them in – because the office fridge was gross.) If OP pushes back, would the coworker be likely to tamper with the milk to teach OP a lesson? or am I way overthinking this?

        1. anonymous 5*

          Would it be possible to put some kind of tamper-proofing on the lid? I’d be nervous about that, too, but I’d hope that a heads-up to HR and some kind of indication that the bottle had been opened would be enough of a deterrent.

        2. Jo*

          The coworker seems to be grossed out by the breast milk just being there, so hopefully that means they wouldn’t want to be touching and opening a container with the milk in! It’s also a big jump to not wanting to see breast milk to actually tampering with it. But maybe a tamper proof lid would be the way to go if the OP had any concerns.

        3. pancakes*

          This isn’t overthinking so much as wild, unthinking speculation. There’s nothing in the letter to indicate that this coworker is so extremist or unhinged as to want to harm others.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            I was thinking along the lines of pushing it out of the way, knocking it over, throwing it out… whatever a person would do if they saw a bottle of coworker’s urine in the fridge, because obviously, that’s how this coworker sees breastmilk. (Does this make the coworker look unhinged in my eyes? Yes, yes it does.)

  1. Cassidy*

    If it helps, as someone who conscientiously chose not to have children, I have no objection to breast milk in the workplace refrigerator. It’s FOOD, for cryin’ out loud.

    I really wish some people would choose to evolve. Alas…

    1. Spooncake*

      Yep, same. I chose not to have kids of my own too and the extent of my reaction to finding breast milk in the work fridge would be “oh, huh, guess someone’s pumping.” Just because I don’t want to do it myself doesn’t mean other people can’t.

      1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

        As a fellow happily childfree woman, I agree with you 1,000% ! Just because we don’t choose to do something ourselves does NOT mean that we’re grossed out by other people doing it.

        And does anyone else wish that finding pumped breast milk in the office fridge is the biggest problem they had right now?! Sheesh…

    2. Anonymous Tokophobe*

      I would honestly be squicked out with breast milk in the work fridge. But that’s a me problem – I just happen to have a severe pregnancy phobia. I would never DREAM of inconveniencing a new mother/parent because of my personal problems! Even if they needed to use MY personal fridge at home!

      It’s possible that the person who brought this up to OP has similar feelings to me, but that’s not OP’s problem. I do recommend that OP be a bit gentle if something like tokophobia is part of all of this, but in this case I think the needs of the baby outweigh the needs of the adults.

      1. Grapey*

        Same – a coworker started storing milk and pump parts in the fridge and I just walked 3 minutes longer to another fridge. IDK what the answer would be if that was the only fridge onsite. Non refrigerated PB&J lunches I guess.

        “Necessary body fluid from coworker” doesn’t negate the “body fluid from coworker” grossness for me, but I understand that’s my problem. Maybe it was seeing the parts that latched onto the body that made it worse. Seeing cows get milked with industrial machines is super gross to me even though I sporadically consume milk products.

          1. Input*

            It inhibits the growth of bacteria so you don’t have to wash the pump parts between each pumping session. If you’re pumping multiple times a day, it’s a huge timesaver.

          2. Bear Shark*

            You either have to clean and sterilize the pump parts after each use so any residual milk on them doesn’t spoil and contaminate the next use, or you can refrigerate them between uses during the work day and clean and sterilize at home. Depending on the person, they may have to pump 2 or 3 times a day at work.
            The other option is having multiple sets of pump parts but that is expensive and takes up more room.

            1. Yvette*

              I see no problem with breast milk in the fridge, but LW said she only pumps at lunch. I don’t see why the pump parts need to be left in the fridge taking up room. Breast milk needs to be there parts do not. They can be rinsed out at work and sterilized at home.

              1. Pat Benetardis*

                Unless something comes up and she has to work late,or any other scenario where she has to unexpectedly pump more than once.

            2. Run mad; don't faint*

              Twenty-five years ago, I was told that I needed to wash the pump parts immediately after use and let them air dry. I would have been thrilled to be able to leave them in the fridge. (I pumped in my office; there was no other place. But since I wasn’t in my office most of the day, I officially shared the office with the roaming HR duo who covered all the offices rather irregularly. This led to one or two difficulties because they did not like seeing drying pump parts on my desk the infrequent times they came to our office.)

          3. Shhhh*

            See, I didn’t know why either (have also never pumped), and I have to admit that there was a part of me reading this letter that was like “huh, why do the pump parts need to be in there? Is that a legitimate thing for the coworker to not want stored in the fridge?” Because I do think the pump parts are different from the bottled milk in this context (as they’re in a grocery bag, not a sealed bag) BUT I would also never say anything and would have just Googled it (or asked my mom or a friend who has pumped if it was reasonable) if I were in the coworker’s shoes.

      2. Arts Akimbo*

        I understand! Until I actually, physically did it myself, I was phobic about breastfeeding. I didn’t want to see it, I didn’t want to be reminded of it, anything. But, like you, I realized it was a jerk move to inconvenience nursing humans with my discomfort.

      3. Sylvan*

        Same here, possibly being a little uncomfortable while knowing it’s very much a me problem. I mean, I also don’t like seeing food I don’t like in the fridge, but that’s nobody else’s problem! It’s a shared fridge.

      4. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Severe tokophobic here (been asking the nhs to remove my uterus for years because getting pregnant is literally my worst nightmare).

        Yes, I have serious mental problems with being near pregnant people and would likely have problems with breast milk on my desk for instance…but that’s very much something I can’t expect the world to accommodate. If I asked someone to hide all mentions of babies and pregnancy from me I think the reaction that would cause me the least harm would be for them to say, gently, that they are simply not able to do that.

        Heading a gentle, but firm ‘no’ let’s me know where I stand. Often it would set me to apologise a LOT afterwards for having crossed a line. I think hearing long explanations, or ‘what if I’ statements would actually make me worse.

        1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

          Keymaster, what about having your tubes tied? That’s NOT the major surgery that a hysterectomy is, it’s often done as an elective procedure and has a far shorter recovery time.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            NHS kept telling me I was too young and would regret the decision. Now I’m over 40 I get ‘well, just wait for menopause’. Which given I’ve had multiple surgeries for endometriosis s a bit effing rich.

            1. kitryan*

              They suck and that sucks. I’m sorry you had to go through that. Everyone should be able to make those decisions for themselves and saying that you’re too young to make decisions about your own body is simply another way a paternalistic health care/govt controls the bodies of people with uteruses.
              (I have some strong feelings about this)

            2. allathian*

              I’m so sorry. It’s just another example of how women’s health issues aren’t taken seriously enough by the paternalistic healthcare system. I hope you inherit a fortune or win the lottery so you can go private. The consolation here might be that endometriosis greatly reduces your risk of getting pregnant, but living with excruciating pain every month is not something that should be forced on anyone.

              I hope that the next time you need surgery for endometriosis they’ll reconsider. My MIL had a hysterectomy for endometriosis in her 40s. The difference was that she had two kids and she was extremely adamant about not wanting any more children. To have her kids, she needed endometriosis surgery both times. She’s a retired RN, and for as long as I’ve known her, she’s been extremely open about her medical issues.

              A friend of mine who had severe endometriosis so that she missed at least two days of school or work every month, was actually happy that she got breast cancer in her early 40s, because her treatment involved estrogen blockers. No more periods and no more endometriosis.

      5. Aquawoman*

        Thanks, I’ve been uncomfortable with some of the unfair assumptions people have been making about the co-worker. I agree that it’s her problem to deal with but assuming she’s rude to people on the bus or hates boobs or whatever seems a bridge too far. Probably she’s just squeamish about bodily fluids. It’s also possible that someone would be uncomfortable seeing breast milk if they were struggling with infertility or had been subjected to the vicious guilt-tripping mothers can get these days for not breast-feeding.

        1. pancakes*

          This is all speculation, too, and it isn’t necessary to or helpful with addressing the letter writer’s problem.

      6. Mona*

        I have 3 kids and pumped with all of them (I’m still pumping with #3). I get grossed out if I think about it too much. And I also don’t like thinking about how cow’s milk comes to be.

        But this is all on me. I’m a squeamish person. It’s something I have to deal with. No one else.

  2. Caramel & Cheddar*

    “this is a community fridge and we keep our lunches in here.”

    Yes, my baby’s lunch, glad we’re on the same page, Cersei!

    1. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

      You know this woman is the one on the bus, shushing people speaking to each other, not even on the phone “this is a community bus, we don’t have conversations here.”
      May whatever power exists in the universe save me from those looking out “for the community.”

    2. Batgirl*

      This evoking the community bullshit is like a Captain Awkward title “The whole family agrees with me and other manipulative logic “. There should be a word for this. OP can certainly bat back using the same technique. “I thought about what you said about it being a community fridge and I decided to simply focus on ensuring no spillage. I don’t want mothers to feel like their baby’s lunch is gross, or for people generally to feel that anyone’s dairy based lunch is generally considered gross. Of course, that’s why communal fridges aren’t for everyone.”

      1. Arts Akimbo*

        HA! I love that, especially the last line implying the complainer should be the one keeping her lunch elsewhere! “Return Awkwardness To Sender!”

    3. KateM*

      That’s what I actually thought when I reached that part: “‘we keep our LUNCHES here, but this is your baby’s DINNER’ – nitpicking much??”.

  3. Ashley*

    The exception I could see if this was a person who was really struggling with infertility or loss of a baby and was on the no baby talk side of things. Some women carry that to an extreme but depending on the circumstances I could see making an effort to try to accommodate the request under those circumstances.
    This also seems odd given how long this has been going on but maybe this person schedule changed and they are just noticing it more now because they are packing their lunch?

    1. Job Carousel*

      This was my initial thought too — maybe this coworker is struggling with infertility (or has recently miscarried) and even seeing someone else’s breast milk reminds her of what she “can’t have” — but even then, asking LW to hide her breast milk isn’t a reasonable response.

      1. NoviceManagerGuy*

        If that’s the case, coworker should stop using the fridge. I’m deeply sorry for people in this situation but the real babies that exist still need to eat.

        1. Batgirl*

          I think someone who was very upset would just..do that? Surely having a discussion about it on top of seeing it, is more upsetting material than just grabbing a to go sandwich or putting their lunch in a cool bag. The whole “we all feel this way” vibe projected by the coworker doesn’t support this theory but it might be a potential trapdoor for OP to consider how lightly to tread. Maybe start with “Is there a reason this would upset you?”

        2. Alice's Rabbit*

          Or, if they need the fridge, pack their own lunch in a brightly-colored bag that draws the eye and distracts them from anything else in the fridge. It’s a trick I learned from a friend who was weak-willed against the soda and snacks her office provides; if her bright, cheerful lunchbox full of tasty, healthy foods could distract her eyes from all the junk food available, it made it easier for her to eat healthy.
          Might help in this case, too.

    2. SJD*

      Agreed. Is there any chance that it’s less that she’s offended by it, and more that it makes her sad to see? I know some women struggle with either infertility or inability to breastfeed, and seeing it may be frustrating every day. Not saying that you necessarily have to hide it for that reason, but there may be other motivators besides just thinking that it’s gross or unsanitary.

        1. littledoctor*

          Yeah, I have three children who died, it’s all very sad, but it’s ludicrous to demand people hide their pregnancies or breast milk or young children from you. People die sometimes. Many people have wanted children and been unable to have them, have had miscarriages, or have had children die. The real, living children who actually exist are still allowed to live and have needs. The world doesn’t stop when yours does.

    3. Veronica*

      Following that line of argument, then pregnant women should not be visible to those with infertility. Infertility is hard. It’s important to be sensitive, but that’s in how we choose to discuss or overdiscuss children and childbearing in the office setting.

      1. Hogsmeade AirBNB*

        People on this site go *way* overboard when trying to accommodate those with fertility struggles.

          1. Alice's Rabbit*

            An excellent point. Other people have a right to go about their daily lives. Does that sometimes mean you get hurt? Yes. But they aren’t meaning to hurt you, nor do they need to stop their lives to accommodate your pain.

          2. Courageous cat*

            Yep. It is not rational to try to accommodate anyone’s fertility issues unless it’s something as simple as “I don’t talk about my baby around this person much”. This speculation is kind of unnecessary and shouldn’t factor in imo.

    4. Hogsmeade AirBNB*

      No, I’m sorry, no. I have sympathy for women who struggle with infertility, but some of the suggestions that come from this site are just insulting and infantilizing to grown women.

      1. AMT*

        I’m with you there. I don’t agree with the logic of “someone feels sad, and therefore something must be done to prevent or soothe that sadness.” Sometimes, people feel sad over irrational stuff. You don’t have to bend over backwards to prevent that. It’s okay to just…let them feel sad.

        1. AJ*

          Or “someone is offended”. People can be offended about anything they want, but it’s not beholden on everyone else to do a darn thing about it.

          Last time I looked someone having the sadz or hurt fweelings, or being offended because ‘normal everyday things that are part and parcel of being alive’ are not crimes against humanity. We have to stop acting like they are.

          But in this case it’s someone doesn’t want to see something – and expects something to be done about it. The world doesn’t – yet – work like that.

      2. Ryn*

        Seriously. If you want a real trip, Reddit’s Am I the Asshole and Relationship Advice are filled to the brim with people who’ve used their fertility issues as an excuse to bully, harass, and generally be cruel to anyone and everyone in their life. People struggling with fertility issues — just like anyone struggling with any mental health issues — are deserving of care and compassion, but they don’t get to bully or domineer people who are simply going about their life.

    5. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

      This was my initial thought, but when coworker channeled Hyacinthe Bucket, I lost empathy.
      “this is a community fridge and we keep our lunches in here”
      She gets creeped out thinking about where it came from.
      She should get more creeped out thinking about where her own food comes from!

      1. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

        Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral thank you for the Hyacinthe Bucket reference. And yes I read the quote in her voice.

      2. Hazel*

        I think that’s the issue – some people see breast milk and think “oh no!! breast = SEX! Aaaaaaaa!”

    6. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Even being a very sympathetic person to mental problems (I rely on MANY meds to make my brain function) I’d consider that a step too far.

      If she was putting stickers like ‘babies are best fed by breast!’ or something all over the bottles then heck yes hide them because there will be people reasonably upset by that. But this is a nondescript bottle of milk. We can’t ban sight of everything because someone finds it quickly. See Alison’s notes about vegans etc. getting offended over the sight of someone’s ham sandwich in the fridge.

      I don’t have or want kids and get really offended over people giving me a hard time for it. But milk is just food, it’s got a right to be in the fridge. Doesn’t matter what mammal it has come from – I am willing to bet this complainer doesn’t want all the cow’s milk etc brown bagged.

    7. Observer*

      Seriously? What else is the OP supposed to hide? Is she supposed to pretend that her child does not exist and never mention that said child exists? Are pregnant women supposed to start working from home to hide their pregnancies?

      Sure, it;s important to be sensitive about this stuff. But that does not translate into hiding the existence of your pregnancy or child(ren). And that includes the existence of your child’s food!

      1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

        There is already pressure on mothers to hide the fact that they have kids, not out of sensitivity to other women, but out of well-founded fears for their careers and about judgements towards working moms. So I also don’t like the idea of encouraging women to hide pregnancies or children.

        However – If you think you can escape those judgements and economic penalties by being a SAHM, I also have bad news. And when I think about the cruel insensitivity I’ve seen directed at women dealing with fertility issues, I get genuinely queasy. Think you’ll escape it by being childless by choice as a woman? Whoo boy. I have some bad news there, too. (Flashing back right now a twenty-year campaign by a friend’s family to get her to have kids – when she knew from age ten she would never want them…) It is almost like women can’t win for losing.

        Wishful thinking, maybe, but I would like to live in a society where nobody would think about hiding anything – or boasting about anything – related to their family status or reproduction, because *of course* nobody would judge you on this.

        1. Observer*

          You are right about the ridiculous pressure women often face. It’s definitely a matter of women can’t ever get it right – they had kids too soon or too late, too many or too few, they stayed home or they didn’t stay home.

          Asking women to hide their breast milk just perpetuates the problem.

      2. caradom*

        Exactly, Like the agony aunt Dear Prudence said, you can’t avoid babies. But to claim this reaction is due to just the sight of breastmilk is ridiculous. On the off chance that it is due to this issue then the person needs counselling to help, not being given into!

    8. Bagpuss*

      Even then, it’s not reasonable to expect someone else to hide their milk. I am childless, not by choice, and there are times when it hits me (sometimes out of the blue for no apparent reason) and seeing someone else’s scan pictures, or the baby card going round at work to be signed, is really hard, but that’s my issue to deal with, it’s not reasonable to expect someone else to hide the evidence of their fertility!

      I think the only valid objection would be if you were leaving the milk in an open container, and that’s a ‘don’t leave open containers in the communal fridge’ issue, not a ‘breast milk shouldn’t be in the fridge, issue’

    9. altheaspectrum*

      As someone who is BOTH infertile and has lost a child, thank you for saying this and having this compassion. I’ll admit that though it’s been a long time, it can be rough on the feelings when friends, coworkers etc. get pregnant, have babies, etc. That said, there’s also an important issue of wisdom in knowing that it’s not reasonable for me to expect other people not do be pregnant, not to do the routine parts of care for their children (that I did for my deceased child during her life, and for my living child). Just because something is emotionally hard for me, does not mean everyone else has to accommodate that. There can certainly be behaviors that cross the line where maybe compassion dictates they shouldn’t be done, but I think just being a breastfeeding mother using the fridge in the way necessary to maintain that part of child care is not one of them. But, again, I just want to thank you and anyone else who holds bereaved parents or people with infertility in the light of compassion.

    10. I'm A Little Teapot*

      I mean, yeah, but then it’s on that person to manage their behavior. Emotions aren’t wrong, but behavior can be.

    11. Polly Hedron*

      I doubt that, because the coworker said “we keep our lunches in here” rather than “it makes me sad”.

      1. Salymander*

        You are very right, Polly Hedron. This isn’t a storybook. Every jerk doesn’t have to have a sad backstory. Sometimes, people are just ridiculous and inappropriate and they choose to make other people pay the price for it. Making up fictional excuses for bad behavior is not very helpful to the real OP, who is dealing with an actual, non-fictional problem with a real co-worker. One who doesn’t seem to be very kind or reasonable.

      2. allathian*

        Yeah. The breast milk grosses the coworker out for whatever reason, but that’s her problem, not the LW’s. It’s clear she isn’t worried about hygiene, just that she thinks breast milk is gross and shouldn’t be kept in that fridge. If she’s so grossed out by it, she should consider keeping her lunch in a cooler, or eat something that can be stored at room temperature.

        That said, one solution would be to keep a small fridge in the pumping room. I don’t like this much because it’s a bit like pandering to an irrational individual, but… The fridge could be switched off when there’s nobody who needs it at the office.

        1. Pat Benetardis*

          Or maybe outside the pumping room. I had a situation where multiple people were using the room, and the milk could be behind a locked door.

    12. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Nah. I’d be willing to bet money that it is not the case. If this coworker is trying for a baby, or had a baby, then she would have to/already had to pump and store milk at work, and would be very understanding of it.

      I was envisioning someone my age, whose children are grown and who has no memory of having been a nursing mother herself. Or she’s thinking “I was forced to hide my breastmilk at work when my children were nursing, and OP should too.” But really could be any demographics, internalized misogyny comes in a lot of variations.

    13. Lacey*

      But it still would be an unreasonable ask.

      I’m struggling with infertility, that can make some conversations or announcements a little painful and sometimes they’re more painful than others, but that doesn’t make it ok for me to punish everyone who is able to have a baby.
      Or, even just the people I don’t like who can have a baby (because, this is where I have my unreasonable moments, “That JERK gets to have a baby?!!” that I have to keep to myself). They still get to use the fridge and talk about their kid.

    14. caradom*

      No, like Dear Prudence always says, in some way shape or form babies will be around you. Actually, your example is a classical example, you’ve gone from what people usually mention (seeing babies) all the way to simply seeing breastmilk. There is no accommodation for such extremes. If, on the slightest chance your interpretation is correct then the person needs to seek counselling. The reason is because the work world is just that and no one can simply decide to interject their personal issues into the workplace.

      Do they need support? Absolutely yes. But giving into someone trying to push you out of your workplace status? No, never. That is what therapists are for.

    15. iliketoknit*

      I have to admit I wondered if the LW had passed over some magic “acceptable amount of time to breastfeed” threshold and that’s why the coworker is bringing it up now. Like, breast milk in the fridge for 6 months or even a year = fine. Over a year = you’re one of those creepy attachment hippies whose kid will be breastfeeding after he can walk/talk, aren’t you. (Not saying that makes any sense or has any validity! But people are so weird about breastfeeding.)

    16. Aisling*

      Hard disagree. I’ve just discovered I’m infertile after years of trying to conceive, and there’s a breastfeeding mother in my office. The two things are not connected. I may feel sad when she talks about her newborn bundle of joy, but I’m also really happy for her, and in no way want or need her to hide her life for the sake of making me feel better. My issues are mine to deal with. I wouldn’t dream of making her manage my emotions for me.

    17. Salymander*

      No. It would be sad if coworker is struggling with infertility, but that does not mean that she can demand that all evidence of breast milk be hidden away so that she isn’t reminded of babies. A person may be very sad. I would try to be really kind and supportive of them. That does not mean that all their demands are reasonable or necessary.

      Besides, as other posters said, coworker didn’t say, “I am sad when I see breast milk because babies.” She said, “I don’t want to see breast milk in the fridge. My food is in there and the containers might touch!” Or some such nonsense. People seem to be working very hard to excuse the coworker’s very ridiculous and overreaching demand to keep breast milk out of sight.

  4. Quickbeam*

    My office has a separate refrigerator for breast milk in the lactation room. The reason is the mothers did not want to put breast milk into our usually digusting communal refrigerator.

    1. Shenandoah*

      Yep. In pre-Covid times, I was incredibly grateful for the separate fridge in my office’s lactation room. Our communal fridge wasn’t too bad, but I felt better knowing that no one was likely to unintentionally mess with it.

      1. Artemesia*

        If there are negative people about breastfeeding I would be afraid they MIGHT mess with my cleanly pumped milk. We live in a society right now where hostility is being openly expressed.

        1. Lostnformed*

          Yep, this is why I got a personal fridge. I’m more worried about the gross communal fridge contaminating my breast milk than the other way around. The thought of anyone even touching my bottles of milk to move it out of the way grossed me out. My milk is clean, my co-workers not so much.

      2. SweetTooth*

        Yes, I had just a tiny 6-can sized cooler at my desk, provided by my company, for milk and pump parts. Granted, we didn’t have a communal fridge for lunches, but it was nice to have something where I didn’t have to worry about others doing anything and accidentally contaminating the milk or parts.

    2. Delta Delta*

      This is so reasonable and great. Unless someone finds the fridge and discovers it’s cleaner than the other and starts storing other stuff in it. This is a new level of fridge wars, I suppose.

      1. AnonInTheCity*

        Usually lactation rooms are locked and the only people with keys are those who need to use it for its intended purpose.

        1. Mid*

          Ooh that’s a good way to handle that. A friend of mine is currently expecting and her office is trying to figure out best practices, since they haven’t had a person who was breastfeeding in the office in around 10 years (because they also offer a lot of remote work positions, not because they only hire people without the need to breastfeed.) I’m going to suggest this idea to her to pass on to her company! They have a room that they’re planning on making into a lactation room, and they also have 3 or 4 more women who are all office-based workers and who are planning on pregnancy soon (they also share a lot of personal details in her office!)

          1. Carlie*

            If the office is tight on funds, little cube mini-fridges are always on special in summer during back-to-school sales and can be had for cheap. Bonus that they are big enough for the purpose, but not big enough to be enticing for people on the prowl for alternate lunch storing.

          2. Bear Shark*

            It can be helpful to have a schedule for use if you have more than one person using it. If some of the other women planning pregnancy end up overlapping time frames they need it.

            1. idkmybffjill*

              I worked at a wonderful office that had several little cubes within a larger lactation room (they were partitioned and curtained). It was lovely and private… AND I became very close friends with the other ladies I pumped with at the same time.

        2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Wow really? That’s great if so. We had a lactation room. It did not lock. No idea if it even had a lock. One time I was passing by it and the door was open, I looked inside and there was a guy happily working at a desk (contractor?) Another time we were interviewing people for open positions and our management straight up tried to schedule interviews in the lactation room. I pushed back and offered my own office instead and they thankfully agreed.

          1. Miss Muffet*

            An interview in a lactation room! Oh my word. That would be awkward – the ones that the companies I have worked for are pretty clearly meant for just lactation!
            One place I worked had a separate room that you had to go THROUGH the women’s restroom to access, and even then you had to have your key card especially coded to allow you in. But it was nice once inside – two or three separate spaces with doors and then the little fridge in the common area.

    3. Marzipan Dragon*

      I was just coming on here to state that I would be more worried about the typical nasty break room fridge contaminating the milk than vice-versa. A separate fridge is a great idea.

    4. Khatul Madame*

      Yes, in OP’s situation I would be more worried about the gross food contaminating the breast milk.

    5. AnonInTheCity*

      I think this is the only good solution. Not because anyone should be offended by breast milk but because office fridges are GROSS 100% of the time.

      1. Bagpuss*

        I feel offended on behalf of our office fridge, which is actually clean most of the time!
        (And people are pretty well trained to bring their own containers, so mostly if something gets forgotten, it’s only that individual’s tupperware that gets gross, not the fridge as a whole)

    6. Batgirl*

      Much more reasonable angle. OP, if you want to bag this as a perk you could innocently blame the suggestion on the “boobs make me yak” coworker.

    7. Mona*

      I work in a school and the nurse offered me the nurse’s fridge for my milk for this exact reason.

    8. warmeverythingbagel*

      Yup! My old company had a quiet room that people could use to pump (and it also was available for people to put their kids in to nap), and there was a mini fridge in there for milk!

    9. Snark no more!*

      In the U.S. employers are required to furnish a fridge in the lactation room, along with a comfortable chair and a table.

    10. Blackcat*

      Sadly, the one time my breastmilk disappeared, it was out of a lactation room fridge.
      I bought good mini-cooler and ice packs and kept milk at my desk after that.

  5. Delta Delta*

    Because I am terrible I would put the milk (in its container/bag) in a bag or other container from Hooters.

    Because I am a realist, I suggest continuing doing what you’re doing, and when management speaks to you (because you know she’ll escalate it) you can blink and say, “what?”

    I woke up on the sassy side of the bed.

    1. Kvothe*

      See I would put in a clear ziploc bag lol

      I have a feeling someone complaining about breast milk would probably prefer the Hooters bag because honestly people/society sucks like that

    2. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

      OMG can someone please do this* and report back?

      (*In an office with a sense of humor, that is.)

    3. Keymaster of Gozer*

      The malicious competence part of me would consider decanting the milk into an empty ordinary milk container, then slapping a label like ‘MYNAME ONLY as I have oral herpes’ on it.

      Source: one of my long ago fellow students of virology did that :p

    4. MissDisplaced*

      Actually I would love it if someone kept their breast milk in a Hooters cooler in the fridge as long as I don’t have to look at what’s in the bag I don’t care what’s IN the bag.

  6. LoriD*

    Maybe it’s the mood I’m in, but the malicious compliant person in me would put it in a container that clearly says “Caution: Contains Human Breast Milk which some people may find offensive” but that’s my $0.02.

    1. Green great dragon*

      I would also put on my milk container ‘Note: Contains Cow Udder Milk, please let me know if you find this offensive’.

              1. Keymaster of Gozer*

                I used to get biohazard symbol stickers out the lab and slap them on my bottles of milk when I lived in shared accommodation. And my cheese. None of my stuff ever got stolen…

                (I do not recommend my really evil tactic of putting Petri dishes in the fridge to see what I could culture out of my roommates food though. Educational but ewww)

  7. JMR*

    I am almost embarrassed to admit this, but I can see where the co-worker is coming from. Yes, breast milk is food, but it’s also someone else’s bodily fluids. I don’t think I’d want to store my lunch anywhere near it, either. Not because I think my lunch is going to get contaminated somehow, but more of a general “ick” factor. That said, I absolutely realize that the co-worker has a right to store breast milk in the fridge, and I would probably just start bringing in lunches that could handle being on my desk until lunchtime without spoiling. I would definitely recognize that it was inappropriate to ask a co-worker to change their habits to accommodate my squeamishness.

    1. Kittens&Ponies*

      I agree with this too, it’s not food in the same way a sandwich is food. It’s body fluids OP admitted could spill, and that is gross.

      1. Shenandoah*

        As a note, OP has changed the way she is storing the milk to prevent spills – the milk is now being stored in a sealed bottle.

        1. There's probably a cat meme to describe it*

          I do wonder how much OP’s previously lax storage methods contributed to her coworker’s reaction. Have the unsealed containers spilled or almost spilled before unbeknownst to OP, or have pump parts come out of the bag while people rummaged through the fridge trying to get to their lunch?

          If that’s the case I could understand why the coworker is asking her to ensure it’s kept sealed and in a spot where people are less likely to knock it over. Same as any precariously stored food, but I can’t deny there’s a bigger ick factor for me at the thought of my coworker’s breastmilk spilling over my sandwich.

      2. SarahKay*

        But surely all milk is body fluids? OP has admitted she wasn’t originally sealing the bottles, but she’s now changed that. Beyond that, I think objecting to human milk and not cow milk is the objector’s problem, not the OP’s problem.

          1. kt*

            But have you ever heard of anyone objecting to raw milk in the fridge if someone brings it in?

            Think — really think — about how cow milk (pasteurized or unpasteurized) is basically sweat squeezed out of that udder. (Sweat and milk have a number of similarities in composition.)

            I really squicked myself out thinking about that for a while, a number of years ago. Never regained a taste for cow’s milk.

            1. H2*

              Well…but human breast milk could contain human diseases. It’s legitimately more of a health concern.

              I was/am passionate about breastfeeding—was a member of LLL, donated hundreds of ounces of milk to milk banks, etc, and I do see that breast milk should be properly stored as a bodily fluid. It’s not apples to apples to compare with cow’s milk from a public health standpoint. But if the containers are sealed then it should be fine. I would not put used pump parts in the fridge (if nothing else they take up a lot of space).

              If the situation is otherwise breastfeeding friendly I would just put my sealed bottles in a lunch bag and move on.

            1. Elizabeth*

              I would have a stronger reaction to raw cow’s milk than to breast milk. Raw milk is a known vector for multiple zoonotic infections, many of which are known to be fatal in humans. Breast milk is almost always free of such infectious diseases, because if a woman has them, she wouldn’t be breastfeeding or pumping.

              1. H2*

                Your last sentence isn’t true, though. Women breastfeed through infectious diseases (in fact, it’s encouraged as it may help babies build immunity). And breast milk does contain a multitude of infectious human diseases. A cursory google search will bring up lots of peer-reviewed articles on the subject.

                I’ve donated hundreds of ounces of my breast milk—I had a preemie and had extra milk—and that milk is pasteurized before giving it to other babies, because of the risk of infectious disease.

                1. allathian*

                  Thank you! I’m so grateful to everyone who donates breast milk. My son was born with hypoglycemia and spent two days in NICU, although I was allowed to breastfeed him some so he got the benefits of colostrum. He was born full term but with a low birth weight, which meant that he wasn’t allowed to lose any weight at all in the hospital, and that meant feeding him with donated breast milk, as well as glucose through a drip.

            2. Keymaster of Gozer*

              From a purely bio containment standpoint there are hundreds of things more risky to human health to have in an average fridge than breast milk that I seriously doubt the complainer is objecting to.

              Start with…pretty much anything out of date or stored at room temperature for several hours prior to being put in the fridge. Given the objection is to the ‘sight’ of the milk and not the presence of it as such I’m willing to lay bets that they are not thinking of cross contamination at all, merely their instinctive ‘eww’ factor to human milk.

              (I’d have more concerns about live yogurts in the fridge before I ever looked at milk, and people have bottles of yakult in our office fridge)

        1. Deliliah*

          For me, it has something to do with the fact that we eat cows but we don’t eat humans. So one human eating another human’s bodily fluids feels wrong to me. I’d get squicked out drinking dog milk too. But I fully recognize that this is my own issue, it’s horribly illogical and I wouldn’t object to breast milk being stored in a fridge.

      3. PT*

        If breast milk spills, it has to be cleaned up according to bloodborne pathogens protocols, with a 1:10 bleach solution, and the person cleaning it up must wear appropriate PPE.

        If anything else in the fridge spills, you can just wipe it up with whatever cleaning supply is at hand in the break room. (Of course, raw eggs, meat, or flour spills need to be disinfected for salmonella and e coli, but people typically do not bring those to work.)

        1. Risha*

          Can I ask where you got that recommendation? I just googled, because I haven’t seen that before, and all I see is stuff on the best way to get it out of carpets and mattresses, and those all seems to boil down to “treat it like other kinds of milk.” And I just took an online class yesterday that specifically said that the (US) government says breast milk requires no special bodily fluid handling or storage.

        2. JS*

          HAHAHAHAHA oh yes, absolutely. At 2:30 in the morning, when I spilled a bottle of breast milk, I definitely donned my PPE and hauled out the clorox. And when my milk first came in, and would often leak, hell, I looked like one of the evil scientists from E.T.

        3. Lizy*

          If by “cleaned up” you mean I wipe either mine or my baby’s sleeve on it (whichever is closer), and if by “wear appropriate PPE” you mean I hope my boob doesn’t accidentally squirt and creates more of a mess when Baby detaches to see why I’m cleaning up the spilled milk, then yeah, sure.

        4. Keymaster of Gozer*

          No. No. Just no. I’ve worked in viral research labs where they’d autoclave the students if they could get away with it and never heard of any such protocol.

          That’s germophobe behaviour. Not medical professional.

      4. caradom*

        Unless you’re a vegetarian sandwiches contain meat. If you’re not squeamish about that then seriously, priorities.

      5. Nita*

        I do agree with that. Breast milk is food – but yes, it’s also a body fluid, so I can see why the coworker would want it to be in a bag to prevent spills. It’s not the same as cow milk which goes through pasteurization and all that (and is not likely to carry human viruses etc. – which breast milk may contain: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11795036/)

    2. Caramel & Cheddar*

      This seems fine? Insofar as if you have a problem with it, you’ve identified it as a “you” problem and will make your own adjustments, rather than putting it back on the coworker.

    3. A New CV*

      This is what was fundamentally missing from the coworker’s request: acceptance that your own squeamishness is no one’s issue but your own. Having a feeling of ick is not the problem, but expecting others to accommodate it is.

      1. Littorally*

        This.

        Yeah, it’s true that breast milk is a person’s bodily fluids. I’ll admit to having a similar instinctive mental categorization of it. I have to take a second to think to myself, “No, it’s food first and foremost.” But that’s an important process, because it is food first and foremost.

        The coworker who made this request needs to acknowledge that this is their own subjective feeling (that breast milk shouldn’t be stored with other foods), not an objective state of reality.

      2. Lacey*

        Yeah. I’m icked out by wet paper. It’s silly, but I can’t help it. It’s fine for the coworker to have an irrational “ick” reaction, it’s not fine to make it someone else’s problem.

    4. CDel*

      I understand what you’re saying, but assuming you’re ok with cow’s milk being in the fridge, why is one animal’s bodily fluids more acceptable than another’s? Milk is used for nourishment, no matter what animal it comes from. Cow’s milk might be part of your lunch, breast milk is part of LW’s child’s lunch. Both lunches need to go in the fridge to keep from spoiling.

      1. Vegetarian*

        I think milk is disgusting! Eggs too. If I think about either too much, I start to get grossed out. (I am a vegetarian.)

        1. Vegetarian*

          I should add that I would not ask a co-worker not to keep breast milk (or any other type of food) in a community fridge. I don’t use work fridges to avoid grossness.

        2. Bostonian*

          Ha! I’ve heard of milk described as “bovine growth fluid” and find it to be a pretty accurate way of looking at it.

          1. Vegetarian*

            Yes I’m aware of the definition of vegetarianism. Source: I’ve been one for 20 + years. I mentioned it because people were discussing the similarities between human milk and that which comes from other mammals, and how people are grossed out by one but not the other. Or how meat is an animal product that grosses some people out.. My point was that I, as a vegetarian, happen to think all milk is gross. I didn’t say vegetarians don’t drink milk or eat eggs; some do and some don’t.

        1. never comments*

          And breast milk doesn’t need to be processed in order for it to be consumed by humans. What is your point?

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Technically it has been processed. By the complex systems inside the human body (which are generally fantastic in filtering out toxins etc.)

          2. Emma*

            Breast milk is still a bodily fluid and there are diseases it can transmit. Commercially processed milk has been pasteurized and has no such potential contaminants. That said, I don’t have a problem with sealed containers of breast milk in a communal fridge. I DO have a problem with the components of the pump being left on their own in the fridge. If she’s putting them in the fridge, then presumably they were not cleaned, because if they were cleaned then there would be no reason to put them in the fridge in the first place. Either they need to be in a plastic bag so nothing leaks anywhere, or they need to be cleaned and stored elsewhere if for no other reason than they’re taking up space which should be used for food. (Idk about LW’s office, but pre-covid, space was a problem in the fridge at my office.)

            1. Insert Clever Name Here*

              Considering that LW’s coworker is *JUST NOW* complaining about the sealed bottle of breast milk, I think it’s safe to say LW wasn’t leaving her flanges exposed in the fridge. Don’t make up problems that don’t exist.

              1. Emma*

                “… she would like me to keep my pump parts and breast milk bottles in a sealed bag.”

                This certainly makes it sound like they are not currently in a sealed bag.

                1. Dahlia*

                  If you bring a bottle of pop to work, do you need to put it in a bag before you put it in the fridge? The milk goes in a sealed container.

                2. Emma*

                  Dahlia, please scroll up and re-read my earlier comment. My problem is with the parts, not the bottles.

      2. RBF*

        Cow’s milk is generally pasteurized by the time it gets into the office fridge. And it is generally aggregated from lots of different cows. Breast milk is generally raw. And very personal.

        It’s like the difference between having some turkey from the deli in the office fridge and the feathered carcass of a wild turkey that a co-worker shot on a pre-work hunting trip. (true story)

        Also, the request isn’t to keep it out of the fridge. It is to put it in a box or bag before putting it in the fridge.

        1. Cubicle_queen*

          Your equivalence is ridiculous. It’s a sealed container that visually looks similar to any other milk. And honestly if people are going to be squeamish about breastpumping things, it should be the flanges themselves, which she already puts in a grocery bag & is not visible.

        2. Autistic AF*

          A bottle of breast milk is ready for consumption whereas the feathered carcass is not. I understand that breast milk is generally pasteurized if it’s not going to be consumed right away as well (i.e. with breast milk banks). Would you object to someone having a cow and keeping her milk in the office fridge, pasteurized or not?

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            I did once have a manager who was diabetic and a coworker complained about his insulin in the fridge because ‘I’m phobic of needles and that makes me think of your injections’.

            My boss at the time….well I think ‘get over it’ was the most polite part of what he said. (She’d also told him to inject in the bathrooms, not a sensible thing to say to your manager!)

          1. Georgina Fredrika*

            doesn’t come from the butt, and most honey in grocery stores is actually pasteurized unless specifically labeled raw haha

      3. Georgina Fredrika*

        It does sound like OP wasn’t originally capping it properly, though, and it could’ve spilled. She’s been doing it correctly since then, but from the co-worker’s perspective it could seem like she just doesn’t bother when she’s in a rush – like there’s no guarantee there won’t be spillable milk in there again.

        I think there is also a difference between human milk and cow milk – not a huge one, but yes, it is a body fluid, and an untreated one at that. Cow milk is pasteurized and whatnot. I realize that to some people this makes little difference but I could see how it has more of an ick factor, in the same way I would find it really gross if someone left raw meat in a fridge without anything covering it.

        Likely to actually cause a problem? No. But something that takes two seconds to cover just in case? Ja.

      4. Heather*

        Cow milk has been pasteurized. I’m okay with a hard boil egg in the office fridge, but I probably would object to an egg picked directly from underneath a farmyard chicken, with feathers and straw stuck to it.

        (I think this is completely moot for a closed container of breast milk, but OP seems pretty cavalier about sometimes leaving open containers of something that could conceivably contain infectious viruses, for example, in a fridge where other people store food.)

        1. Anon Lawyer*

          Oh come on, a virus is not going to magically travel from a container of breast milk to a sandwich. It’s a fair point to package it so it won’t spill, but OP says she’s now doing it. This is an “ick” factor thing, not an actual safety risk.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Thank you! Viruses are not motile. They have no method of self propulsion at all so can’t crawl onto other things.

            OP says they are using sealed containers now. I do not see a problem with cross contamination. Frankly you’re more at risk from someone’s loosely packaged cheese sandwich that might have been left out on the side for 24 hours beforehand.

        2. londonedit*

          I agree that if the bottles/containers are all properly closed then it’s a ridiculous thing to complain about. But I probably would have to say something if a co-worker was leaving open containers – of anything, let alone breast milk – in the office fridge. Not because breast milk is icky, but because having an open container of food/milk/whatever in a communal fridge just doesn’t feel sanitary to me.

          Having said that, though – do your eggs not sometimes come from the supermarket with feathers and dirt still attached? Ours do! Though I guess eggs are washed in the USA before they’re sold? I guess that would get the feathers etc off. Our eggs literally are picked directly from underneath a farmyard chicken and packed into boxes.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Yeah, eggs are washed in the USA. It’s one reason why they can’t be imported into the UK. And ours can’t be exported to the USA because we don’t wash ours. We had a whole module at university about different food hygiene standards around the world – very fascinating!

          2. Dilly*

            In the US, eggs that are sold in stores are washed which is why the require refrigeration. Unwashed eggs (my sister keeps laying hens) can remain at room temp for about 2 weeks.

          3. Tiny Soprano*

            I’m honestly a bit shocked by how many people think that eggs or breast milk are inherently gross! I’m glad to see that some people understand that it’s a them thing and manage their feelings in a reasonable way, but some others in this comment section are getting a serious side-eye from me.

            But then again maybe I’m not easily grossed out? I’ve had chooks, I have a bestie whose baby is a messy eater and prolific pooper, I’ve worked in the arts and hospitality (both surprisingly gross in different ways) and I have an elderly cat who is honestly the grossest creature to ever live. Milk in a bottle in a fridge wouldn’t even be a blip on my radar.

        3. Me*

          I would be less squeamish about a freshly laid egg as opposed to a hard boiled egg.

          But then again, I raise a back yard flock. My eggs can sit on the counter for a few days or weeks until I use them *because* they haven’t been washed.

        4. Batgirl*

          I’m not the most squeamish person (I seriously cannot fathom caring about straw) in the world and I still opt for my own cooler bag rather than having my food standards jostle with others in the fridge. This is an option for handling ones own feelings and standards, no?

    5. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

      It’s one thing if there’s a risk of spillage…yes, it’s a bodily fluid. It’s not inherently gross, but unlike commercial milk, it’s right from the source and could theoretically contain HIV, and I guess other viruses? So throwing it in there with the flanges on isn’t ideal, although presumably no one’s lunch is unwrapped and uncovered in a communal fridge. The bigger risk is to the pumping mom, because seeing that bottle tip and the results of a pumping session spill out is a big bummer. (Ask me how I know…)

      Otherwise, I appreciate that you categorize that as a personal ick factor, not as an actual risk or something that’s objectively gross, because it’s not! I’m not vegan or vegetarian so no agenda here, but a lot of cows’ milk is produced under conditions that most people would find much less sanitary than pumping in a conference room.

      1. Rectilinear Propagation*

        In the US, the CDC advises mothers with HIV not to breastfeed. Very few illnesses can be transmitted through breast milk and the only two the CDC mentions by name require there to be blood present in the milk. That would be unlikely with pumping.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Most viruses can’t cross the blood/milk gland barrier in humans, as there’s ridiculously few that can multiply in breast milk. HIV is a very unusual virus in how it works (another reason why there’s no vaccine for it yet). In terms of biohazard, freshly pumped breast milk is incredibly low risk simply because it’s of no evolutionary benefit for a pathogen to specialise in inhabiting it.

          1. goducks*

            Exactly. If human breast milk was a frequent path for viruses, feeding it to infants who barely have an immune system would have resulted in our extinction a million years ago.

            1. Keymaster of Gozer*

              *hands you an honorary virology degree*

              (Seriously this past year has made me want to emboss mine in lead to hit people with. So much disinformation regarding viruses.)

          2. Batgirl*

            I think some people are incorrectly translating “milk needs to be pastuerized” as “milk is dirty”. No, the reason milk has to be pasteurized is because people are dirty and we don’t store things as carefully as a breastfeeding mother would. Milk is a product that was consumed freshly and locally, but as we grew into industrial societies, the chances of human error in storing milk past its narrow window for consumption before spoilage grew.

        2. Carcosette*

          Thank you! I am SO FRUSTRATED with the amount of breast milk misinformation in this comment section. Lactating is normal and natural!

          I did get really lucky, I only had to pump at work for 5 months before we were sent home to work because of the pandemic and I got to pump from home for the next 6 months, and pumping at home was a lot more convenient.

      2. inevitable spills*

        Throwing her flange-topped bottles into the communal (or frankly any) fridge is reckless and irresponsible. Unless LW is using a fundamentally different system than the ones I’ve seen, I don’t know how they even stayed upright. If someone put a cup of coffee or soda or cow’s milk in the fridge in such a top-heavy container, I would object to that too.

    6. McThrill*

      It might be useful to try and figure out why human milk gets an “ew” from you and other animal lactations do not, because you never know when you’re going to be sharing fridge (and office) space with someone who is breastfeeding and needs to pump and store milk. Even if you never say anything to them directly, chances are they are still going to catch on to how you feel.

          1. Emi*

            As a matter of fact many manufacturers recommend against frequent sterilization of bottles and pump parts because it degrades the plastic.

        1. Lisa*

          I’m not sure why this is relevant. Still seems like an issue that stems from anxiety rather than reason. In other words, it’s not the mother’s responsibility to fix, it’s the complainant’s issue.

        2. Mr Jingles*

          Then it is opened, carried around, sometimes for days, touched with unwashed hands, maybe even freshly after a session on the loo…
          Just sayin.
          Do you really believe someones Milk for own consumption is handled with more care than a moms breast milk she intends to give to her beloved baby as food? I doubt it! I know what can fester in and on an opened container of unsanitarily handled food, thank you. This is why I never used office fridges for anything! Fridges are cold but not cold enough to prevent mold or bacterial growth. It’s also moist and often not cleaned well…. mmmmmmhhhhhhhhhh…gross!
          Brestmilk is not a problem in an office fridge! Trust me! Several (mostly unwashed) hands touching everything else in there are. If I’d be pressed to use that fridge I’d rather have my food right next to the mommie-bottle than next to anything else in there… Who knows how people treat your own food! But it’s reasonable to believe that a mother will do everything to make sure their babies food is safe.

          1. goducks*

            Yes. I stored my milk in a bag with ice packs in my office because my children were too precious to have their food stored near all the ick that lives in the office fridge.

        3. Batgirl*

          Yes, though I’m not sure why everyone is focused on this when lots of common animal products are not pasteurized. Also, there are sanitary spills which would be considered OK are there? If a co-workers pasteurized milk spills on my food, it’s still getting chucked out.

      1. Chevre*

        I can’t speak for others, but for me at least, my sister is breastfeeding. And her baby is the cutest baby on this planet, but whenever I pass my sister a bottle from her fridge, there’s a split second where I get uncomfortable. And it isn’t because breast milk is gross or anything, but… seeing my sister’s breastmilk makes me think of my sister’s boobs, which is not something I particularly care to think about. Again, not because they’re gross or anything, but because I don’t want to think about anyone else’s breasts. Other milks don’t cause me that problem, because when I put cow’s milk in my coffee, I don’t know the individual cow it came from, it isn’t like I can picture it.

        1. Batgirl*

          You’re entitled to feel privately however you like. We tend not to have much say in how we make random associations, except to accept that we are unique. For example, when my sister would get the breast milk out the fridge my instinct was to think about feeding the baby because that tended to be the job I volunteered for. And I have no problem picturing a cow’s udder without having made the particular cow’s acquaintance. We’re all different! The problem is when a co-worker suggests her feelings are a) The Norm and b) An external problem for someone else to solve for her.

          1. Chevre*

            Yes, I agree that this coworker is out of line in asking the Letter Writer this. I was responding to McThrill and giving one perspective on why “human milk gets an “ew” […] and other animal lactations do not”.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Amateur analysis: because human milk makes people think of their coworker’s boobs. Which makes them feel uncomfortable.

        (That’s why breast milk used to squik me out. Until I did some self reflection on just how silly that was)

      3. Georgina Fredrika*

        I think it’s unnecessary to act as if there’s no difference between coworker’s body fluids and cow’s body fluids. Our brains naturally create the difference.

        People would be upset if I kept cooked cat in the fridge, but not cooked pork. Not because cats are more worthy living creatures than pigs, but because they’re human companions.

        People would be upset if I kept (carefully stored) human eggs in the fridge, but not fish eggs.

        Etc

        1. Caramel & Cheddar*

          Those aren’t “natural” differences, those are culturally conditioned differences and that’s why people are pointing them out and asking for those who hold them to examine why they feel the way they do. Using your “human companions” example, there are lots of people who might eat things we consider to be pets and vice versa (keep as pets things that we ourselves eat). This isn’t our brain somehow magically coming up with a line to draw in the sand, but humans making choices about how we categorize things.

          1. Georgina Fredrika*

            I feel like the comments on this would have been a lot more nuanced if the discussion was about “can I keep my edible dog head” in the fridge or whatever, but maybe that’s just me.

            Maybe natural was the wrong word here since anything your brain does is natural, in that sense, but our approach to germs and cleanliness is *completely* culturally conditioned. Partially because it’s easier to take an overly clean approach, than assess every single item case by case while referencing the latest CDC data.

            You could also keep straight up cold blood in the fridge and if it was closed up properly, there’s a zero percent chance of it hurting anyone. Zero. And some cultures do use blood in dishes. But is it logical that after a lifetime of conditioning to keep everything properly separated, it might make people squeamish to see it in the open? sure.

            1. BBA*

              What?? Breast milk is a different thing than an edible dog head. The discussion isn’t about an edible dog head because the OP did not write about edible-dog-head-in-the-workplace-refrigerator issues. Many other things the OP also did not write about are also not topics in this discussion.

        2. littledoctor*

          “People would be upset if I kept cooked cat in the fridge, but not cooked pork…because they’re human companions.”

          In your culture, sure. Not in all cultures. If you had a coworker from a culture where cats or dogs were commonly eaten, it would obviously be incredibly racist to act like they weren’t just as welcome to keep cat or dog meat in the fridge as other people are to keep chicken or ham in the fridge. In some cultures, cat meat is considered a lucky food or a food that’s warming to eat during winter.

          Your own personal reactions to other people’s food are your problem, not theirs.

    7. Veronica*

      This is definitely a comfort thing that gets more normal as you get used to it. It felt weird to hand bottles of my breast milk to my baby’s daycare. It was my bodily fluid that I was handing off. It became more normal when I attached it in my mind to the baby.

    8. Rectilinear Propagation*

      But isn’t most milk a bodily fluid? It just comes from the body of an animal (cows or goats, etc.) instead of people.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah, the disgust people have is because (a) boobs and (b) we get culturally used to thinking of some things as food and then don’t apply logic to those feelings — it’s why people would be grossed out by, say, dog milk but not cow milk. Or by eating a cat but not a chicken. We know cats aren’t dinner, but for some reason we’ve decided chickens are. And I mean, cow milk is another species’ weaning food, but people don’t think about that.

        1. Georgina Fredrika*

          but using this logic, would it be okay to keep cat or dog meat in the shared fridge ? I feel like animal lovers would literally riot, both in the office and on this forum

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            That’s the point I’m making — this stuff is culturally conditioned. As a culture, we accept cow’s milk as food. We accept human milk as baby food. We don’t accept cat milk as food. There’s no real logic to it.

          2. Ermintrude*

            I would be hella squicked by meat that happened to be cat or dog meat, but I would totally put kangaroo meat in a work fridge. Anyone who decided to riot about meat is out of their gourd.
            By the same token, A Hindu would possibly be disgusted and upset by beef, since cows are sacred to them, and likewise a Muslim and pig meat. They would also be expected to stay calm since nobody is asking them to eat it. They can also store their food elswhere in an office if they’re bothered enough.

            1. Ermintrude*

              I mean, Muslims consider pigs unclean, so have their own reason to not eat pig meat or product.

            2. Tiny Soprano*

              A French coworker of mine a few years ago would buy kangaroo mince patties from Woollies and then eat them raw at lunch like tartare. Most people who thought it was gross objected to the rawness, but just at the point of consumption. In a meat container in the fridge that wasn’t an issue. They mostly got over it when they realised she wasn’t doing it AT them. Now, I presume nobody’s chugging the breast milk at work…

      2. asterisk*

        Yes, but I think there’s a difference in how people tend to think of animal products that they get from the store vs. the same things with a much shorter…supply chain from animal to product. I remember being quite taken aback once when visiting a friend who was from a different country. I heard a rustling in the hallway but didn’t see anyone until I realized it was coming from a cardboard box on the floor. I asked what it was and she nonchalantly said, “oh, that’s the chicken I bought for dinner tonight!”

        I mean, I *know* that chicken comes from CHICKENS, but culturally, I’m much more used to the idea of “chicken I bought for dinner” coming in sterile shrink-wrapped plastic. And at Thanksgiving I don’t usually ask someone “would you rather have a slice of quad or pectoral muscle?” Same with milk, I think of it as a product that comes in cartons or jugs. I don’t put a lot of thought into where it was before that.

        All that said, I think the employee who finds it ick needs to realize it’s their own personal issue and not the other person’s responsibility to hide it from them.

        1. Batgirl*

          My friend who used to come foraging with me used to work with someone who got squicked out by hand picked apples! “EWWWW. It’s got nature dirt all over it”. I swear he believed that things were grown in cellophane packets.

    9. I know . . .*

      I’m with you on the bodily fluids “ick” factor, and I also agree with and understand the other side! Would putting it in a paper bag be helpful to the OP?

      I was also the person who cleaned out the fridge on Fridays so it didn’t get disgusting with leftover adult food. And it didn’t help that the woman who stored the breast milk did so sloppily, as she did with all food (she would leave her own half-wrapped, mostly eaten food in the fridge: food that most people wouldn’t bother to keep — eat it or toss it category — and forget it). She was also guilty of squirreling food away in her office and leaving dirty plates on her desk for days. But back to the breast milk issue: if it’s stored hygienically (and it ought to be for baby’s sake) and perhaps in a paper bag or fabric lunch/breast milk sack, I wouldn’t necessarily know or care. Until Friday, afternoon, that is — ha!

    10. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I’m reminded of a long ago letter where the writer’s boss wanted all sanitary towel boxes etc hidden under additional wrapping in an out of the way area because it grossed them out to even think about people requiring such items.

      1. Pop*

        I think it’s more likely that OP’s coworker is objecting to the potential contamination issues than objecting to the sight of breast milk.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          In a sealed bottle? Unlikely. The only way cross contamination is going to happen from that is if someone opens it and slops it around.

          1. Pop*

            OP admits that she has not properly sealed the container in the past so it’s reasonable for the coworker to be concerned.

            When I was breast feeding, several people and sources recommended putting the bottle inside of another container before putting it inside a shared fridge. This greatly reduces the likelihood of cross contamination of both the milk and the other items in the fridge. Cross contamination is unlikely, but it there’s still a chance and this is a really easy precaution to take.

            1. meyer lemon*

              The end of the letter says this: In our conversation, I did clarify that her concern is “seeing it and knowing it’s your breast milk.”

              So I’m pretty sure the coworker just finds it icky and is being weird about it. In general I agree that telling a coworker to seal their fridge items (of any kind) is fine, but telling a coworker to hide items that offend your delicate sensibilities is crossing a line.

    11. BananaPants*

      I’m pretty grossed out by it too, but I recognize it’s not rational and would keep it to myself.

    12. Leah K.*

      CDC does not list human breast milk as a body fluid to which universal precautions apply. So, objectively, there is no difference between keeping a bottle of breast milk in the fridge and a bottle of unpasteurized cow’s milk. Your “ick” reaction is your problem to deal with – not the breastfeeding woman’s.

      1. Ann Perkins*

        This! There are very few things that can be transmitted via breastmilk, and if those were at play the OP wouldn’t be using that milk for the baby anyway. It’s not at all the same as other bodily fluids or raw meat like the example above. Sure, it should be contained so it doesn’t spill, but it’s not going to contaminate anything else in the fridge.

      2. Rectilinear Propagation*

        To be fair, JMR did say that this was their own issue and they wouldn’t say anything to the mom about it.

    13. bubbleon*

      The ick factor for me is more the pump than the milk. I know it’s got to make it into the bottle somehow and as a person with breasts I understand how it all works, but I don’t necessarily want to see the pump and think about the process. That’s probably a little childish, so as long as things are relatively contained (which it sounds like OP is doing perfectly well) I can’t say that I’d complain to a coworker

    14. Observer*

      Yes, breast milk is food, but it’s also someone else’s bodily fluids.

      And a cow’s (or sheep or goat’s) bodily fluids does NOT have an “ick factor”.

    15. Hogsmeade AirBNB*

      Are you seriously comparing breastmilk to, say, blood or semen? There is a world of difference.

      1. Mademoiselle Sugar Lump*

        It doesn’t feel like it to me. Blood, semen, saliva, breast milk… all kind of icky.

    16. DuskPunkZebra*

      I was going to say something like this – it’s weird because it’s a) HUMAN breast milk, which is just somehow weirder, and b) because it draws conscious attention to a part of a coworker’s anatomy that is generally considered very private in our culture and something one actively makes a point not to draw attention to in a work setting.

      However, I also recognize that that weirdness is a me problem and in my own head, and that human breast milk is not any more gross than cow’s milk. The unfortunate thing would be someone mistaking it for a bottle of cream and “borrowing” some for coffee, assuming the person wouldn’t miss a little bit. But it’s a problem for this coworker to handle in their own head, not to ask OP to hide it, ESPECIALLY this late in the game.

    17. AndersonDarling*

      I was also wondering if the person in question has an actual psychological condition that requires them to keep their lunch non-contaminated. I worked with someone that could not tolerate the thought of fizzy drinks and could not eat anything that came in proximity to a soda/seltzer. They asked that we keep our sodas in our lunch bags so they couldn’t see them and make a contamination by proximity association. Not a problem. I know breast milk is more personal that a Pepsi, but it may just be a personal space issue, not a “breastfeeding is gross” issue.

      1. Observer*

        I worked with someone that could not tolerate the thought of fizzy drinks and could not eat anything that came in proximity to a soda/seltzer. They asked that we keep our sodas in our lunch bags so they couldn’t see them and make a contamination by proximity association

        One can argue whether it’s reasonable to expect people to hide their food to accommodate someone’s mental health issue. But, AT MINIMUM, if you are doing that you need a acknowledge that it is YOUR ISSUE. You don’t get to act as though the thing that is giving you an issue is generally gross. If your coworker had simply told people “you can’t have seltzer in the fridge. People keep the LUNCH in there. At least HIDE it!” people would almost certainly have refused to even discuss it with her.

    18. New Englander*

      Agree. I don’t have a problem with breast milk, I disagree with the line of reasoning (milk is milk). Meat is meat, but I think most people would find dog and cat meat in a fridge objectionable (pretend this is pre-2018, when it was still legal in ~44 states) or mice purchased at lunch that will be fed to a reptile later in the day.

      Breast milk belongs in the fridge because it needs to be kept cool in order to be used.

      1. AndersonDarling*

        Company owner once stored his pre-taxidermy ducks in the work fridge for a day. Technically, meat is meat, but … gag. I can’t look at a dead duck with head and feathers and not think about it touching my sandwich. I know it didn’t do anything to my sandwich. It didn’t transmit dead duck soul. But I didn’t want to eat my sandwich. I’m not a bad person for not being on board with having a dead duck in the fridge, but the owner would definitely argue that “meat is meat” and I’m being a wuss for feeling squeamish.
        Most toxic job ever.

      2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        Thing I said to my housemate once: “Hey, there weren’t this many rodents in the freezer yesterday. … Most people don’t have cause to say that calmly, do they.” He has four snakes in the basement and his own shelf for snake food storage in the tertiary freezer. But aside from having his own shelf, his feeder rodents are also all individually sealed in plastic and contained in boxes until such time as he takes them out and downstairs to prep them for feeding of danger noodles.

    19. NYC Taxi*

      I think it’s totally unsanitary to have someone’s body fluids stored in a communal refrigerator. It’s not like pasteurized liquids or food. Totally gross. It should be removed.

      1. Salad Daisy*

        Think about that the next time you drink milk, eat cheese or ice cream, or eat an egg. Did you ever think about where that nice juicy steak comes from? Unless you are vegan, you are consuming bodily fluids and body parts every day!

        1. NYC Taxi*

          In an article from US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health entitled “Transmission of Infectious Diseases Through Breast Milk”:

          The concern is about viral pathogens, known to be blood-borne pathogens, which have been identified in breast milk and include but are not limited to hepatitis B virus (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV), cytomegalovirus (CMV), West Nile virus, human T-cell lymphotropic virus (HTLV), and HIV.

          So yeah, I don’t want that near my food.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Putting on my old virologist hat for a sec: you need to read more than just the abstract of one paper.

            Those viruses are found in breast milk where there has been blood contamination, not in pure milk. The viruses that can breach the blood/milk barrier on their own are a) rare and b) extremely serious ones where the pumping woman would KNOW she has them and 100% have been told not to breastfeed at all.

            Therefore your likelihood of encountering a human pathogen from fresh breast milk is exceptionally low, and unless you were splashing it into an open cut on your hand the risk of transmission to you even lower. Most of those viruses are destroyed by stomach acid so even if you accidentally drank the contaminated milk you couldn’t catch them.

            Basically, you’re at the same risk as sitting next to a woman breastfeeding her baby. Which is to say darn near none.

          2. Metadata minion*

            Unless you’re drinking your coworker’s breastmilk or getting it in an open wound, in which case there are way bigger problems here, even the very remote chance of the milk being contaminated with any of these pathogens isn’t going to be a problem for you. Lunches in a communal fridge are potential vectors for all manner of foodborne illnesses; gross office fridges are practically a cliché. Compared to that, someone’s milk in a sealed sterilized bottle poses no risk to you.

          3. GothicBee*

            Unless your coworker has any of those viruses, they’re not going to be in her breast milk. And if she has a virus, you’ve already been just as exposed to it as you would be with a sealed container of breast milk were in the fridge. You’re not going to get HIV because her sealed container of breast milk occupies the same shelf as your tuna sandwich.

          4. Observer*

            That’s a total red herring. No pathogens are getting from a closed bottle of anything to your food.

            If you are REALLY worried about pathogens, you should be worried about anything with mashed eggs or mayonnaise, as those tend to be a real problem as well. Anything with raw fish or “deli meat” has a different set of pathogens.

            The bottom line is that it’s just not true that breast milk in a closed bottle poses any greater risk to your health than any other enclosed food.

            1. Keymaster of Gozer*

              I’m not afraid of breast milk in any shape or form, from an infection standpoint. It’s simply darn impossible to catch anything serious from it.

              Now, getting a c.diff infection from the guy who never washes his hands, never washes his food…THAT scares me. I’m terrified of Covid. I spent years studying viruses. I am not afraid of breast milk at all.

          5. Student*

            Your perception is not aligned with the real risks. Just because it sticks you out does not mean you’ve done a reasonable or correct risk assessment.

            If your co-workers are only one tenth as bad as mine, they are storing a lot of expired, badly prepared, contaminated, or actively rotting food in the communal fridge on a regular basis. Those things are also very, very unlikely to harm you unless you actually steal and eat them. But they’re still much more likely to harm you than breast milk.

            My co-workers are in a special league of their own for fridge hazards. I have now had to explain to people that they can’t keep radioactive samples or biological samples (swabs with potential diseases on them for further analysis, not something nice and simple like urine) in the human-food fridge; they must use a special fridge that is designated for lab work only. Stopped using communal work fridges after the first incident – I’ll stick with chips for lunch, thanks.

            1. Tiny Soprano*

              Holy heck, that is on par with the guy who had an asbestos sample posted to our office without stating it was for the Hazmat people. I basically passed all unlabelled post through the Hazmat team first after opening that…

      2. Leah K.*

        Once again and louder for those in the back: the CDC does not classify breast milk as bodily fluids.

          1. Tiny Soprano*

            I know! It’s like, that is food for coworker’s precious child, the light of her life who she made herself and definitely does not want to harm? Bob from Accounts is not going to die even if a weird gun-toting fetishist held the office hostage and made him drink it.

      3. Sylvan*

        Is there another refrigerator to put it in, though? If not, it’s going to be in the available fridge.

    20. Build Trust*

      Long ago I worked in an all female office that was extremely supportive of pregnancy and new mothers…though I am female, neither of which were going to apply to me. Like, bring your newborn into the office all day, every day, supportive. This was also an office with super inappropriate boundaries and uncomfortable behaviors from the top. e.g. Head of organization showing everyone her breast lift scars. It was wonderful and toxic on many many levels.

      The communal fridge was a microcosm of that wonderful and toxic environment. One day I brought in a frozen lunch and the SAME DAY someone ate it and left a note saying that they were hungry and would repay me. Though it was my intended lunch for the day it was somehow MY issue that repayment was insufficient…I really just wanted someone to not take my lunch.

      Anyway, I did make a complaint once because someone who was breastfeeding left their milk in the freezer for months at a time and it just kept piling up. They were not someone bringing their baby into the office at this point and it just seemed like a discourtesy to their coworkers to not remember to take home their milk and instead it just sat in the freezer. I did make a complaint about this eventually and it was removed quickly.

      Reading this thread I do reflect now and wonder if I was the jerk in this situation? But the social and cultural issues surrounding this topic seem to make any questions kind of weighted.

      1. Freya*

        Regarding the freezer : a community resource was being monopolised unnecessarily.

        I often have a frozen meal in my work’s freezer. Usually because I bring one to eat that day and one for the next time I forget my lunch. But it’s a home packed meal that’s about the same size as a sandwich; there’s enough space in the freezer for my coworkers to do the same and more. No one person is using a majority of the space.

      2. NYANTA*

        If you were clear in your complaint that the issue was this person was taking up more than their fair share of freezer space in the communal freezer and other people couldn’t put things in there, and not that it was breast milk specifically, then no, you were not the jerk. People who are pumping have a right to store their milk in their work fridge/freezer. But anyone who takes up an excess amount of space/lets their food go bad without cleaning it out in a communal fridge setting IS being a jerk, regardless of whether the food in question is for infants or adults.

      3. Atlantis*

        No, I don’t think you were a jerk in that case at all. The issue was that it had been there for months and piling up, preventing others from using that space. The same thing could have happened with frozen meals or bagged ice or groceries or whatever – it was that one person was taking up a disproportionate amount of space for their stuff for months at a time.

      4. Ermintrude*

        Maybe your coworker didn’t have a spare freezer available at home, but if they were just absent-minded they were the jerk, and they should’ve asked if it was okay to keep leaving their milk there otherwise.

      5. Mona Lisa*

        I don’t think you were the jerk in that situation. At that point, it’s akin to someone stockpiling too much of anything in a communal space and making unusable for the other employees. If someone started keeping multiple cases of pop in the fridge to the point that people couldn’t put their lunches in there, they’d be asked to reduce the quantity of stored beverages. The co-worker presumably had a refrigerator in her home where frozen milk could go, and she could bring it back to the office in smaller quantities if necessary.

      6. MCMonkeybean*

        No, it sounds like your issue was not with the breast milk itself but with the amount of space one person was monopolizing in the communal freezer for an extended period of time. That is a very reasonable complaint in my book.

      7. Salymander*

        No, you were not being a jerk to ask that the freezer be available for everyone and not just for one mom’s breast milk. It isn’t meant for her long-term storage so that her home fridge is freed up for more stuff. I think you’re good.

        You weren’t the jerk unless you said that you were upset because it might contaminate your ice cream and lean cuisines just by being in the same freezer. Because breast milk is soooo dangerous.

        I know you were not saying that, I’m just still feeling a bit snarky after reading some of the more ridiculous comments above about how breast milk is gross and a hazmat risk. For goodness sake, people!

      8. Akcipitrokulo*

        Nope. You’re fine.

        I’m very supportive of rights around breastfeeding. If you had complained over a few days’ worth… not taking too much room… you’d be a jerk. Taking up inordinate space for months? Complain away.

        The issue was not breastmilk. It was hogging freezer space.

    21. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      A lot of the food in our office fridges that my coworkers brought in was squicking me out. (I would probably be voted the Least Likely Person to steal coworkers’ lunches, because ewww.) But, like you suggest OP’s coworker do, I kept that to myself.

    22. Joielle*

      Yeah… same. It’s a baby’s food, and ALSO it’s a bodily fluid. I would absolutely never say anything to anyone about it, but I would stop using the fridge myself. I’m just not a kids or pregnancy person, I think the concept of expressing milk from any species is kind of gross, and I’ve never tried to overcome my aversion because I’m not having kids anyways and I don’t eat dairy so it doesn’t matter.

      But I don’t make everyone keep their coffee creamer (or breastmilk) somewhere else, because that’s my own non-majority opinion and definitely not a hill to die on. This is one of those times when the coworker has to recognize that their own preference is superseded by someone else’s needs.

        1. Courageous cat*

          I mean, what the CDC says doesn’t really weigh in here. This is not about science, this is about gut feelings, which is that: a fluid that came out of someone else’s body = not generally known as great to be around. It’s just a cultural reaction of some kind and trying to bring logic into it doesn’t always work.

          I say this as someone who has shared a lunch in a fridge with breast milk and didn’t care, but can see why it might feel weird to others.

          1. Joielle*

            Yeah, this. It’s literally a bodily fluid – a substance that came out of someone’s body – regardless of its legal definition. I’m not concerned that breastmilk is a disease vector or something, it’s just… ick. (Same with all milk, in my opinion. It’s a liquid that was squeezed out of an animal.) But I intellectually know that this is illogical, so I would never say anything about it!

    23. Mockingjay*

      I breastfed and pumped 28 years ago and kept the bottles in the office fridge.

      I can’t believe that we’re still debating the acceptability of storing food for (tiny) humans in an office fridge an entire generation later.

      It’s noteworthy that in the male-dominated industry and office I worked in at the time, there was not a single objection.

    24. Frustrated Fitness Professional*

      If it’s safe for the baby to eat, it is safe to sit in a sealed bottle in the same fridge as your wrapped sandwich.

    25. alienor*

      I breastfed my daughter until she was over two, so I’ve had plenty of exposure to breast milk, and I admit I’d still be mildly grossed out by a coworker’s milk in the company fridge. It’s someone else’s body fluid, and while I’ve certainly come into contact with other people’s body fluids in the past, I consented to that, as opposed to just finding them stored next to my lunch bag. That said, my squeamishness is my own problem and I wouldn’t complain to the coworker or ask them to do anything differently. I might bring unrefrigerated lunches until they were done pumping, though.

      1. Dahlia*

        I mean, for all you know, all the food your coworkers has brought has been pre-licked and contains their bodily fluids.

    26. Mademoiselle Sugar Lump*

      I feel the same way, but I consider it my problem and not use the refridgerator.

    27. MissDisplaced*

      I admit I feel like a bad person, because my first thought about breast milk in the work fridge was also a big ICK! My nose wrinkled as I read it even. Objectively, I know it’s nothing TO gross out over, but it still feels…gross to me.

      I also would feel less grossed out if it were kept in its own bag/cooler/tote so that no one inadvertently touches it while its in the fridge (actually wouldn’t you want that too?) IDK it’s just one of those things that’s somehow “separate” from lunches.

      Maybe it’s nonsensical, but there it is.

  8. Precious Wentletrap*

    Worked in an office where people got weird about this, or maybe the one woman nursing wanted to keep a closer eye on the goods, maybe both, but the reasonable accommodation was she got a mini-fridge at her desk. Eventually someone else got pregnant and this became the designated people milk fridge. Did I mention this company never had more than 20% women? That may be relevant.

    1. Seriously?*

      If I were pumping in an office I think I’d prefer that – that fridge is bound to be much cleaner than the regular one, and much lower risk of someone knocking something over or accidentally taking it.

      1. Precious Wentletrap*

        As a bonus, the two other people whose desks abutted hers (like mine) got to use the fridge to keep their own food and drink stashes, any source.

  9. Michelle W*

    Do you want people touching your bottle to move it out of the way? Esp during covid… plus office fridges are gross.

    I am a mom, who pumps… and supportive of women but don’t want anyone else touching my bottles. I don’t think there’s any harm in discretion here.

    1. Nikki*

      I’ve pumped for two kids and I agree with this. When I was pumping, I would keep the milk under my desk in an insulated lunch bag with ice packs. I hated the idea of my baby’s milk being in the fridge where other people might move it around, spill it, spill something on it, etc. Breast milk is fine being stored like that for the duration of the work day, and then I’d put it in the day care’s fridge when I picked up my babies so they’d have milk for the next day.

    2. Ginger*

      This was my first thought too. Especially when the OP mentioned she would put the bottles in the fridge with the flanges still attached.

      When I pumped, I put the bags in a cooler in the fridge. Not because I was protecting my dear coworkers sensitive eyes from seeing breast milk but because I didn’t want anyone touching it by accident or risking a spill. And community fridges are gross, IMO, a cooler was an extra barrier against germs.

    3. Massive Dynamic*

      I came to say this too, also a former pumper (to 13mo for each of my two kids). Office fridges are usually small and people constantly have to pull food out to rearrange it. I didn’t want my milk being a part of the constant reorg being touched by the unwashed masses, pandemic or not, so I actually stored both milk and pump parts in a separate cooler that I kept in the freezer. I wanted my milk frozen at the end of the day anyway so it worked out well.

    4. Cass N*

      This is kind of where I landed (as someone who exclusively pumped a few years back for my now 2.5yo). It’s a little crass for coworker to ask (especially if framed as “breast milk is icky” rather than “this is my issue but I’d appreciate your support”), but to OP’s first instinct, I don’t think it’s a big ask. Using a reusable lunch bag for pump parts and milk is an easy way to ensure your stuff doesn’t get contaminated with other people’s fridge gunk, or touched/moved by someone whose hand washing practices you can’t be sure of, so it seems like a win-win to me.

    5. Insert Clever Name Here*

      But the mom who actually asked for advice doesn’t have a problem with someone potentially touching her bottles to reach their sandwich — if she did, they wouldn’t be in that fridge, or they’d already be inside something else.

    6. Alice's Rabbit*

      There actually is harm. When you pump, you want to cool the milk as quickly as possible. Adding an insulating layer between the bottle of milk and the cold air in the fridge (like a bag of room temperature air) slows that down. Which then causes the milk to spoil faster. You absolutely do not want to bag your milk bottles before refrigerating them.

  10. Introvert girl*

    Yeah, people store cow’s breast milk, parts of bodies (meat) and killed vegetables in a fridge. She’ll just have to deal with the human breast milk as well.

    1. TPS reporter*

      completely agree. as a vegetarian I’m horrified by the meat consumption but I know I cannot reasonably say anything. The smell especially makes me ill. but that’s how it is when you go into an office.

  11. AMB*

    I can also see this side of the argument too, even though I disagree with it. Some people are squeamish about it. But, I personally feel that the issue is more how we as a society view “bodily fluids” and that we need to adopt a different mindset around breastfeeding as a whole. As Allison said, it’s food, and it’s really not comparable to, say, blood or urine. I also second her “milk from other animals” point because, well, those are bodily fluids too, regardless of the processing they go through. (And from an arguably more-gross animal, hygienically speaking.)

  12. Observer*

    In my head I’m responding to “we keep our lunch in there” with “yup, and I’m keeping my baby’s lunch in the fridge, too.”

    I honestly don’t know what I would ACTUALLY say though.

    Leaving the bottles with flanges on was a bad move, that’s because 1. I wouldn’t leave an open container of anything around nor anything that could be easily tipped over and the flanges do make the bottles more likely to tipped over as well as allowing the liquid to spill. 2. It’s technically possible, though unlikely, that some milk could drip off the flanges and that creates a bit of a mess (the same way that cows milk or juice would.) But if that was her issue she should have said so.

    She doesn’t get to tell you that you need to hide the presence of your milk.

    Loop back with HR, and just keep on leaving your milk in the fridge. If she says anything afterwards, Alison’s breezy response is perfect.

  13. Satisfactory Worker*

    We once had a worker who was offended one morning because someone had fresh eggs from a chicken sitting in a basket on her desk.

    “You can’t have those in the office. Don’t you know that came out of a chicken’s butt?!!”

    She was eating an egg sandwich as she said this.

    (I realize chickens have cloacae–just one of many silly things about this comment)

    1. Delta Delta*

      I would LOVE for someone to bring me a basket of fresh eggs from their chicken(s). Like, I’d be over the moon for this.

      1. Akcipitrokulo*

        At old office colleague had rescue chickens. He’s bring in fresh eggs and a donation box for local chicken welfare charity, leave put in communal area; people helped themselves and put something in tin.

        It was brilliant!

    2. o_gal*

      On one of my previous projects, a coworker would bring in fresh eggs every 6 weeks or so. He’d save them up until he had 10 or 12 dozen, then bring them in. The stampede to get to his desk when he would email that he had eggs available (first come, first grabbed) was epic. They were straight from the chicken’s butt – straw and “stuff” on them. If I was able to snag a carton I’d come home and announce that I had “chicken butt eggs”.

  14. Sami*

    Long ago I had a mini-fridge that only I and one other colleague used. She pumped at work and stored the milk in there. Zero problem by me.
    However once I had some SUPER spicy chicken in there and it somehow made the milk a bit “off” too. I felt so bad!

  15. Confused*

    Aren’t you already putting your pump parts in a inconspicuous bag? You said you were putting it in a grocery bag once you are done. It’s not like you are just leaving the parts spread all over the fridge…

    As my wife just finished pumping, I would have to agree with what others here have said. I think the bigger issue is the cleanliness of the fridge for the pump parts. Not the pump parts “contaminating” everything else.

  16. Joe in Frederick*

    I know it’s flippant and not kind enough for the workplace, but I’m always inclined to answer “What? Oh, naw, man.” to this kind of request. And not a word more.

  17. SusanB*

    I had a co-worker refer to breast milk as “body fluids” and also said I shouldn’t keep my body fluids next to her lunch. The other nursing moms and I asked HR if they’d buy us a mini fridge for the pumping room and they said no so . . .I didn’t have much of a choice.

  18. ScienceMommy*

    Seeing breast milk in the fridge should not be a problem as long as it’s in a sealed container.

    I will say that the OP was wrong to put the milk with flanges in the communal fridge though. Breast milk, though food for a baby, IS a bodily fluid that can contain bloodborne pathogens, including but not limited to HBV and HIV. In this time of COVID, I would be especially cautious. Any pump parts and the milk itself should be stored in clean, completely sealed containers of some sort, the same way any possibly infectious material would be.

    1. Yellow Warbler*

      This was my question–how the current state of the world plays into this. I assume all bodily fluids can contain Covid, not just what a mask covers.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Ahh no. Not all bodily fluids can contain Covid. It can’t, for example, survive a trip through the gastric system – you can’t catch it by eating it, or by handling human fecal matter.

        (There’s a LOT of other infections that can though, so always wash your hands after the loo!)

    2. JelloStapler*

      In a bag would be fine- as someone said up top I’d be more worried about germs getting on MY pump parts than the other way around. I’d keep it contained as I would for food, not because it’s infectious. I put my parts in the zippered bag between “sessions”.

  19. Bossy Magoo*

    When I pumped at work 100 years ago (j/k…but seriously it was 21 years ago or so), there was one time when my breastmilk DID spill in the fridge all over someone’s lunch!! Lucky for me I have (because I still work there) wonderful supportive coworkers with senses of humor. The person whose lunch was spilled on still reminisces about the time my “liquid gold” (as she called it) spilled on her lunch and we have a good chuckle.

  20. Another pumping mom*

    Are you keeping the pumped milk in a sealed labeled container? Yes? Then it’s a here problem. If not just a cautionary tale, a friend was pumping and produced a LOT of milk. She would bring in sterilized Mason jars to keep the milk in inside the fridge. She did not label. We live in a fairly rural area and at the time it wasn’t unheard of for a family to keep their own milk cow or to get un-homogenized milk (which was pasturized but still separates) from a local dairy.
    One day a fairly oblivious male coworker thought the unlabeled mason jar contained cream and used some in his coffee because he had run out of his own. Coworker began labeling after that. I refused to keep mine in the communal fridge knowing that this had occurred.

  21. Secret Identity*

    I cannot for the life of me understand the whole breast milk is gross mindset. People seem to view it like it’s the equivalent of poop or something – it’s really just crazy to me. I think they’re thinking “bodily fluid” and imagining they can get communicable diseases from it maybe? I don’t know, but just stop it.
    And, I disagree with OP’s comment that we should always try to make people feel more comfortable. Not always. I think maybe it’s better to say we shouldn’t actively try to make others uncomfortable, but I think we’ve gotten a little crazy with the whole “I must be comfortable at all times in my life and everyone around me must accommodate that” mindset. There are times when people are just going to be uncomfortable and they should be able to deal with a little discomfort. It’s different if someone is being outright (or even on the DL) unkind, mean, racist, bigoted, etc. But just living your life? No. Sometimes a “suck it up, buttercup” is appropriate.

    1. goducks*

      I get so mad at the “but it’s bodily fluids!!1!!1!” argument. As if the fact it comes from a body makes it inherently toxic and infectious. If it was unhygienic, gross, infectious, WHY ON EARTH would I be feeding it to the most precious thing in my life? Yes it comes from bodies, but it’s designed to feed and nourish the most vulnerable members of our species. If it was some nasty vector of infection, we’d never have survived!

      1. Ryn*

        The idea that women’s bodies and their natural bodily functions are gross is straight up misogyny. Same mindset of “period blood is gross and therefor women on their periods should be kept out of public.” Absolute nonsense meant to police women’s bodies more than they already are.

    2. Batgirl*

      Sometimes it’s said in a tone that suggests it’s actually a type of waste.. I mean, why else say it? Do they really think a breastfeeding woman is unclear on where it came from?

  22. indigo64*

    Fellow pumper here- echoing everyone else that your coworker is being ridiculous!

    That being said- I recommend the Pumperoo from Sarah Wells (they make breast pump bags). It’s a zippered pouch specifically designed for pump parts, and it also has a “staging mat” for getting set up/breaking down. It has a plastic lining that makes it easy to clean. It has allowed me to pump discreetly- I put my bottles in a matching lunchbox, and store everything in the community fridge. I’m sure everyone in my area knows what I’m doing when I grab those bags from the fridge 3-4 times a day and lock my office door, but I appreciate the illusion. Pumping at work is not, and should not be a big deal, and it’s no one’s business but yours.

  23. Gossip Whisperer*

    Where I work we give mother’s mini fridges so their breast milk can stay close by (we have offices for pumping) and so that someone’s moldy spore producing cantaloupe that we told them to take home and they always forgot. I swear if I roll my eyes any harder they ain’t never coming back down.

    1. Gossip Whisperer*

      that someone’s moldy spore producing cantaloupe that we told them to take home and they always forgot *wouldn’t pose a health hazard to it.

      See my eyes are already stuck.

  24. Not trying to be rude, just good at it*

    Had a newbie teacher who I was mentoring (why they would assign anybody for me to mentor always surprised me) that came to me with a similar issue. I took a marker out and wrote her name on my brown paper lunch bag and handed it to her. Didn’t say a word or offer an opinion, just gave her an option that seemed to make everybody involved happy.

    1. Observer*

      That’s all good and fine for the first day or two. After that, that’s a lot of extra work and waste. Why?

    2. MCMonkeybean*

      She might have been okay with that but just for the record, if you were mentoring her and you gave her that bag without saying anything at all I think it is highly likely she saw it not as an you “offering an option” but as mandatory.

    3. Alice's Rabbit*

      That was a horrible thing to do. Not only because it encourages the stigma and shaming of breastfeeding, but because bagging the milk actually makes it go bad faster.
      Breastmilk is pumped at body temperature, obviously. You then want to cool it as quickly as possible. Adding a bag of warm air around the milk insulates it, and makes it take much longer to cool, giving any bacteria that may have gotten into the bottle more time to reproduce and spoil the milk.
      You’re quite right that you should not be mentoring if that’s the sort of advice you give.

  25. Midwestern Weegie*

    I’ve nursed two children in the last three years, and had a small cooler for breast milk- it looked very much like a small black lunch box, and I labeled it with my name. I was absolutely terrified someone would knock my bottles out of the fridge if they were loose (anyone who says “don’t cry over spilled milk” hasn’t had pumping struggles, that’s for sure…), or get pushed to the back and forgotten about, and it kept it a little more secure. I don’t think you should have to hide it, but it’s a small, not unreasonable compromise.

    I’m expecting my third and I’m very excited about my newly permanent work-from-home status because it’s going to make pumping and nursing much more convenient.

    1. Nita*

      I’ve got one of those too! Still using it (now it’s for picnics and long car trips). I think it might be just the thing for OP – it keeps the milk cold, it’s less likely to spill, and you don’t have to worry about a coworker getting into it because they think it’s regular milk by mistake).

  26. Previous Nursing Mother*

    My workplace had a separate fridge for nursing mothers to use in the pumping room. No one left their milk out in bottles or bags – everyone stored it within their personal coolers in the fridge.

    1. Dahlia*

      A cooler in a fridge is a waste of a fridge – the cold air isn’t getting in as coolers are insulated.

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        Coolers don’t actually hold coolth in very well. Put some ice in a cooler and leave it out for awhile (not in the sun, just in the room). Check it after 4 hours – in a small cooler, that ice will be melted. Now put some ice cubes in a bowl in the fridge and check them after 4 hours.

        So, the cold air isn’t getting into the coolers, but warm air isn’t surrounding them, either.

    2. Alice's Rabbit*

      Puttimg the bottles in coolers in the fridge makes it take significantly longer for the milk to cool down, letting bacteria grow for hours before the temp drops from 98 degrees down below 40. That’s dangerous.
      Bottled breastmilk should not be in any sort of bag in the fridge, as it needs to cool as quickly as possible. Any insulation, even a paper bag, slows that down.
      Coolers are for transportation, or for bottles and ice packs if no fridge is available. Putting bottles in a cooler in the fridge defeats the purpose. The laws of thermodynamics are really not that complicated, people!

  27. Interviewer*

    OP, I’m in HR, I nursed my 3 kids and pumped at work, and I would die on this hill for you. I campaigned for sinks, mini-fridges and microwaves in our lactation rooms, along with locking doors & keys only issued to nursing moms, and I won.

    If HR won’t get you a mini-fridge for the lactation room or under your desk, tell them you’ll send the complaining woman straight to them next time, and they can tell her to leave you alone. Sometimes HR gets to thinking about that confrontation, and it can spur action/change.

  28. Liberal Co-worker*

    “she would like me to keep my pump parts and breast milk bottles in a sealed bag.”

    I would have absolutely no problem with someone storing breast milk in my office fridge….but to just put the pump parts on the shelf…

    Regardless of what the pump parts are used for, I would hope any device that is in contact with the body is at least cleaned before going into the fridge if they aren’t in a bag. Both for the sake of others using the fridge, and for the OP (no office fridge is ‘really’ clean). Or have I interpreted this incorrectly?

    1. Lifeandlimb*

      This is the problem I would have with this: any pump parts that are potentially in contact with the body or bodily fluids being stored directly on a shelf with communal lunch food. Forgive my ignorance but do all the pump parts need to be stored at cold temperatures, or is OP just keeping them in the fridge for convenience so it’s together with the milk bottles?

      I’m all for pumping at work, and there shouldn’t be any problem if the bottles are spill-proof sealed (and perhaps labeled for clarity), but if your pumping tools are unsealed and taking up space in the fridge, I might feel uncomfortable putting my lunch next to it.

      Also consider the possibility that coworkers may feel uncomfortable putting their food near the breast milk because they’re concerned about contaminating OP’s stuff, not just because they’re grossed out for themselves.

      1. goducks*

        Things in a communal fridge touch all sorts of body parts.
        For all you know, Jim from logistics never washes his hands after using the bathroom, and he puts his lunch that he’s touched with bathroom hands in the fridge next to your lunch. Or someone’s lunch bag regularly rides on the floor of their car, where the bottoms of the shoes they walk around the dog park or a nightclub have been repeatedly.
        A nursing mother’s breasts are almost certainly washed with some frequency, making them just… skin. No different that someone’s lunch touching a hand, or wrist or forearm, or any of the other places a lunch might touch.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          yes, the breastmilk needs to be sealed because of Jim from logistics, not because the breastmilk is dangerous in any way.

      2. Red lines with wine*

        Pump parts should be ideally washed and sanitized after every use, unless you put them in the fridge. It sounds like OP is busy and doesn’t have time for washing between uses, so the fridge it is. I used to use the microwave sanitizer bags between uses until I discovered the fridge trick. Leaving them loose in the fridge and not in a zipped bag is gross though, so OP needs to at least do that. (Sarah Wells bags FTW!)

      3. Mona Lisa*

        OP said she was putting them in a plastic grocery bag in the fridge. I’m not sure where people are getting the idea that she’s putting them loose on the shelf. She said she sometimes left the flanges screwed to the top of the bottles in the past but no longer does that.

        “But now, I only pump at lunch and I pour my milk in a sealed bottle and put the pump parts in a grocery bag to take home and wash.”

        1. HBJ*

          I can’t imagine anyone putting flanges and stuff loose in the fridge. When I was at HOME, I put my pump parts into a ziplock in the fridge. Some of those small parts could fall between the grates. And I certainly didn’t want my pump parts touching even the surfaces of my home fridge where I know exactly when it was last cleaned.

    2. Person of Interest*

      Agree – no problem with bottles of milk that are just like any other food, but random pieces of pumping equipment that have touched your body in some way and then just placed in the fridge (even if you tell me they are clean)? That should maybe be more carefully stashed away. As a person who has zero knowledge of what pumping entails and the necessary equipment, and how it is used and may or not be cleaned and such, seeing this would gross me out too.

      1. Gray Lady*

        How is that different from random plastic containers, pieces of Saran wrap, or paper bags that “have touched your body in some way?” I don’t think any of the food levitates itself into the fridge.

        I agree that the pump parts shouldn’t be stored unwashed and uncontained, but it’s interesting that somehow touching “that part” of the body makes something not reliably clean “even if you tell me they are clean,” but all of the other objects in the fridge that touch people’s hands (the dirtiest parts of them that ever actually touch things other people come in contact with) don’t raise an issue.

        1. Roci*

          Because touching parts of the body normally covered by clothing is psychologically gross? Or is it OK for me to rub my buttcheeks against your lunch, after all it’s just skin?

          We usually wash our hands before handling food.

    3. Susie Q*

      Also pump parts are supposed to be washed and sterilized after each use. The CDC recommends against the fridge hack for pump parts.

      1. Dahlia*

        Most people can’t sterilize things at work. Most people also don’t like the idea of dealing with rotting milk at the end of the day.

      2. HBJ*

        The CDC also recommends not to eat raw cookie dough. There are a ton of things the CDC recommends that many people don’t follow exactly.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Yeah. In 20 years as a breastfeeding counsellor, I have never seen any babies get sick because of mothers not being as hygienic as they should with their pumped milk, and boy have I seen that! There was one nanny who kept the bottle on the radiator if the baby didn’t finish it, to keep it warm for later. While I would absolutely say not to do that, none of the babies she fed like that got sick.

      3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        There is absolutely no need to sterilise pump parts outside of hospital settings (because of the extra risk of germs in hospitals).

  29. JQWADDLE*

    OSHA has an interpretation re: breastmilk. They say Breastmilk is not included in the definition of “other potentially infectious materials” because no worker has reported getting sick from someone else’s breastmilk. They do recommend people dealing directly with breastmilk (at milk banks or in a hospital setting for example) should wear gloves because breastmilk is known to transmit HIV and Hepatitis perinatally.

    That seems to say community refrigerator use is ok.

    I personally put my milk in a big lunch bag and tucked it in at the back of the fridge. I didn’t want anyone touching my milk. I didn’t want my milk moved to the front of the fridge when the fridge is being opened frequently throughout the day. Plus as much as I would like to tell people I was really stringent about breastmilk related cleaning, I wasn’t really diligent about washing the outside of my milk bottles between pumping and putting them in the bag. To me there is a small risk for germs, but no worse than the coworker who doesn’t wash their hands after using the bathroom.

  30. voyager1*

    LW,
    Sorry but I am kind of the same boat as your coworker. I think the problem is not just your milk but that you were storing it where it could spill. That is pretty inconsiderate no matter the liquid be it breast milk or just water. Can’t you find something to put this in so people don’t know what it is? Maybe one of those lunch bag cooler things?

    1. HJG*

      The LW clarified they used to sometimes place the bottles with flanges attached, but at the point when the coworker raised this issue she was exclusively placing sealed bottles in the fridge, so spillage was no longer the problem.

      1. Nita*

        Whew, I’m glad she’s not doing the thing with the flanges any more! If I had a penny for every time I had to cry over spilled milk because I didn’t take off the flange right away. One wrong move, the whole thing tips over because it’s top-heavy, and the milk comes right back out…

    2. pancakes*

      Saying that it should be concealed “so people don’t know what it is” makes it abundantly clear that a potential spill isn’t really the issue for you.

    3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      People need to know what it is so they don’t steal it for their coffee!
      Also, I’ve had it up to here with people wanting breastfeeding mothers to pussy foot around them, when breastfeeding should be normalised so that nobody gets icky over it. Looks like we still have a long way to go.

  31. Superb Owl*

    I actually wonder if this is even legal or if it borders on discrimination or harassment. Nursing and pumping are protected in the workplace.

    Maybe if she doesn’t want to see the breastmilk, you could bring your baby in and nurse by her desk. If she can’t stand milk in a bottle, she’s probably not going to love having your boobs out.

    1. Tiny Soprano*

      Especially if the baby is like my friend’s son who likes to tap the keg and then get distracted, unlatching and swivelling his head around to look at anything that’s caught his attention. Leaving my poor friend with milk everywhere, titty akimbo. On the regular. He doesn’t appear to notice the havoc he causes. Won’t nurse under a blanket either. He’s a delight in every other regard, but boy is working from home a blessing for my friend right now.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Nursing under a blanket should not be a thing. I mean, how many of us typically dine under a blanket?
        I would suggest that your friends tells her child he can only breastfeed if he behaves himself. Or go to a quieter room to breastfeed if he gets distracted too easily. If he’s causing havoc, he’s probably old enough to understand that Mummy doesn’t want her boobs exposed to all the Sopranos.

        1. Tiny Soprano*

          Given he’s 8 months old and not verbal yet, telling him to behave himself wouldn’t be very helpful.

  32. HJG*

    My coworker once got in a mild amount of trouble for labeling a box of cake “Dead Dove- Do Not Eat” (Arrested Development reference) and that’s a move I would employ here. Simple paper bag over the bottle!

  33. LGC*

    Reasons I’m glad I’m not LW: I probably would have been fired because I’d have trolled the hell out of the coworker. (Suffice to say, there are highly inappropriate yet also highly apt pieces of attire I’d have worn around her.)

  34. Not A Manager*

    I completely disagree with the majority here, and with Alison. I nursed my children for well over a year, I pumped at work, I stored my breast-milk in my home refrigerator and freezer. I support nursing mothers, I support the right to breastfeed in public.

    But this is a simple request based on someone’s not-unreasonable feeling of being squicked out by having human body fluids visible in the communal refrigerator. You can rules-lawyer all you want about milk being milk and food being food, but it’s not going to change how she feels and, in fact, rules-lawyering works both ways. Milk is milk but human milk isn’t domestic animal milk, which is why Starbucks doesn’t offer it to you in a latte. And as other people said above, there are a lot of “foods” that some people would find repugnant in a communal refrigerator. Horse steak, for example.

    I understand that many times one person’s rights need to trump another person’s private feelings. But in my opinion this isn’t one of those times. The OP isn’t being asked not to pump at work, or not to store her milk safely. She’s simply being asked to put the sealed bottle into a paper bag or an opaque box. The cost to her of accommodating her colleague is as close to zero as one can get.

    I think it’s petty and completely counter-productive to the *actual* acceptance of nursing and pumping as normal human activities to push back against the request.

    1. Moxie*

      You put into words that which I could not. This might be the first time I’ve disagreed with this blog. I’m a child free woman who totally supports the breastfeeding mothers around me. However, OP put the pumping parts in the fridge, uncovered at one point. (I’m glad this was fixed.. but for goodness sakes.) Breast milk can contain HIV and other blood borne human pathogens.

      Putting stuff in a secondary container so that people are more comfortable is really not that big of a deal.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Okay, I’m going to ask that people trying to explain that ‘breast milk can contain HIV!’ at least read some CDC/WHO/NHS (delete where appropriate) guidelines.

        The fact is that breast milk very very rarely can contain pathogens. If it does it’s from blood contamination in the milk (which a nursing mother would notice). The viruses that can pass through are ones where you’d have to introduce the breast milk into your own blood via direct blood contact in order to contract (you cannot contract HIV, Hep B etc via touching or even drinking infected milk) so unless you’re cutting your hand and pouring the milk into it there’s really no risk.

        There is no more risk to you than if you were sat in the same room as a woman breastfeeding her kid. Seriously.

        There’s far more danger of you touching the fridge door and then touching your face before washing your hands than anything that’s going to be present in breast milk.

        So the discussion shouldn’t be ‘ewww viruses’ at all. It’s just ‘should a coworker have the right to get offended over the sight of breast milk and demand it be hidden?’.

        1. Mona Lisa*

          Thank you for all of the education that you are providing on this comment section. The amount of misconceptions and misinformation is astounding.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Thank you. This past year has made me regret moving out of the virology field a LOT.

            (I work in IT now. I used to study herpesviruses.)

        2. Batgirl*

          Thank god you are here keymaster. I would have thought this common sense but clearly some people need a full rundown of the science.

        3. Moxie*

          “Since breast milk can contain HIV, U.S. perinatal guidelines state that women with HIV should not breastfeed, and instead feed their babies with formula or banked breast milk. Without antiretroviral therapy (ART), the risk of HIV transmission from mother to baby during breastfeeding is about 16%.”
          -San Francisco AIDs foundation

          Seriously. I used to work in a clinical lab. Human bodily fluids are handled and discarded properly for a reason. You can’t even put them in a regular trash can.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            And I used to work in a viral research lab, so what? Breast milk in a fridge cannot give you HIV.

            …I give up. There’s too many people intent on believing that breast milk is some kind of huge viral vector of every disease known to man and everyone is at risk of catching deadly diseases (like Covid, hiv) from it.

            There’s only so much one person can do. Ffs the original post was about someone complaining that just seeing breast milk was the problem. There was no mention of diseases.

            Just say ‘no’ to this unreasonable person’s request/demand. OP: you’re doing nothing wrong. At all.

            1. Moxie*

              I think I’m mostly trying to communicate the reality of perceiving breast milk as a biohazard. In other words, the co-workers remark may be a very real concern and not some attempt to victimize the OP.

              1. Philly Redhead*

                Since the co-worker’s potential concern is not based in reality, it’s not on OP to accommodate.

              2. Myrin*

                But by the coworker’s own words, her only real concern is seeing the bottles and knowing they’re filled with milk from OP’s breasts. Are you suggesting that she just made that up to somehow hide her actual health-based concerns?

                1. Myrin*

                  @Moxie, that might be an objective reason (or not; I certainly don’t know enough about the science behind this to dispute one way or another, although I’m very much inclined to believe the Keymaster here) but it’s not the coworker’s reasoning, which is what is ultimately pertinent to this letter.

              3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                Breastmilk is not a bio hazard, it’s food and has been classified as such by the CDC, meaning it is perfectly appropriate to store it alongside other food.

          2. Dahlia*

            Unless you’re planning on drinking your coworker’s breastmilk, that would not be a concern for you.

          3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            So, if women in the US are advised not to breastfeed if they are HIV positive, we can logically conclude that if OP is in the US, she is not HIV positive. Not to mention that there is no chance of getting HIV from a sealed bottle of breastmilk next to your lunchbox,

        4. anonforthis*

          Thank you. “Person contracts HIV through proximity to breastmilk equipment in work refrigerator” is a headline that has never been written. Seriously, you can also get herpes through having someone put a drink they sipped into the fridge and having one drop on another person’s food, and no one is asking that only drinks in sealed containers in brown paper bags be permitted in the community fridge. This person would likely object to having a lactation room, because calling it that means she knows women are pumping in there. Breastmilk is food, and it’s not the OPs job to manage her coworkers inappropriate discomfort.

          1. Moxie*

            You don’t get to tell someone what inappropriate discomfort is. Breast milk is a disease vector, just like blood is a disease vector. The fact that it is also food does not make it ok to leave uncovered breast pump parts out in the fridge. I can’t believe this is a discussion. That is absolutely vile and disrespectful to everyone around you.

            1. anonforthis*

              Please stop equating breastmilk to blood, and breastfeeding to menstruation. Yes, there is evidence about women with uncontrolled HIV potentially transmitting the virus to the babies they are feeding, but this woman is not breastfeeding her coworkers. There is no evidence that a person could “catch” a deadly disease because the OP is putting breastmilk in a sealed container in the fridge, and my point (and several other people’s points) is that even if she were putting the flanges in there, there is not a legitimate risk that someone could catch a disease (they are far more likely to catch other diseases from food or coworkers not washing their hands). You are welcome to say you perceive putting flanges in the fridge to be unsanitary, disrespectful, and vile. But please stop cloaking your objections in science. There are mountains of evidence on working mothers facing discrimination in the work place, and due to misinformation like some that you are asserting, many countries and U.S. states have had to passed legislation to enable women to pump for their children. OP – I hope you disregard this discussion on breastmilk potentially being a vector for disease. Having your milk in a sealed container in the fridge is perfectly acceptable, and should be normalized.

            2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              The uncovered pump parts are now history, the colleague specified that it was just knowing that it was breastmilk she could see that was making her uncomfortable.

            3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              Actually we do get to tell someone that their discomfort is inappropriate. I’m not comfortable with seeing meat in the company fridge, because to me it’s a dead animal, but I don’t say anything, because I’m tolerant of my meat-eating colleagues.
              Breastmilk is far more likely to cure than spread disease. Stop shaming breastfeeding women.

              1. Blue*

                Look, it’s not new information that lots of people perceive breastmilk as a ‘bodily fluid’ -which it is- and consciously or unconsciously reacting with the same ick factor that we instinctively have for bodily fluids that are waste products or possible infection vectors -which it’s not. Lots of people have that instinctive ‘yuck, bodily secretion’ response to breastmilk on some level.

                The point is that that reaction is *wrong*. Breastmilk is different from other bodily fluids because it is food, not waste, and it is not an infection vector. It’s just not. The perception that it is is widespread and somewhat understandable, but it’s *not accurate* and it needs to be challenged, not catered to. We are reasoning beings and we can examine and retrain our instinctive reactions if they’re wrong!

                Jeez, I have no kids and never will and honestly am a bit grossed out by the whole process myself, but I’m *aware that that’s irrational and on me to deal with.* Honestly.

                1. Blue*

                  Plus this is moot, anyway, because OP’s coworker has explicitly said her concern is that it’s yucky and she doesn’t want to see it, not that she has any health concerns, however misguided.

      2. goducks*

        Let’s just say for a second that the OP has HIV, and is breastfeeding (which would be against all medical advise, but let’s just say she was). Do you think that the HIV virus could somehow crawl up through the lids on her bottles and on to other people’s stuff and somehow infect them (even though HIV is a very fragile virus and needs to be introduced to blood to infect)? And in that land of viruses that are self-propelled, you think that adding a bag would stop them?

        1. littledoctor*

          Yeah, regardless of the question of whether an adult can contract HIV through drinking HIV-positive breast milk, it’s really a non-issue as long as no one actually drinks their coworker’s breast milk.

      3. Observer*

        However, OP put the pumping parts in the fridge, uncovered at one point

        That was a problem, but is no longer relevant – the OP is no longer doing this. And the coworker actually said that the mess was not the problem. They simply have a problem with seeing / knowing the milk is there.

        Breast milk can contain HIV and other blood borne human pathogens.

        Total red herring. Any food in the fridge can have extremely dangerous pathogens. The breast milk of a healthy woman is highly unlikely to have these pathogens, but in any case, that’s why any and all food should be kept in closed containers. But the milk IS in a closed container. The only change that is being asked is that it be HIDDEN, not made more safe.

        1. Moxie*

          If the pump parts were laid out in the open fridge at one point, of course it’s not irrelevant. No wonder someone is squicked out after that!

          Menstrual fluid is also mostly sterile (minus blood borne pathogens), but putting a used tampon in the fridge isn’t cool either.

          1. Shenandoah*

            A used tampon =/= a bottle of breast milk – this doesn’t feel a reasonable analogy to make. No one is going to be consuming the tampon and that breast milk is food for someone.

            And the coworker is not merely asking for a secondary container – they are asking to not have to SEE it. There is a difference, and one of these requests is a lot more reasonable than the other.

            1. Moxie*

              You and Keymaster are correct– this was a bad analogy, and perhaps insensitive. Breast milk is food and its place is in the fridge. I’m just trying to get the point across that other bodily fluids, that pose the same risk (however small) are considered biohazards. It is not unreasonable to want a barrier from that. I think I’m just caught up on the fact that the flanges were once left out in the fridge. It’s such a rude thing to do to your co-workers. And it certainly can reasonably be perceived as a biohazard risk.

              1. Shenandoah*

                Thanks for acknowledging this. I hear you on the flange front- no defense on OP’s previously leaving the flanges out; even in my office’s lactation room fridge, I would not have appreciated a coworker leaving used flanges out. (I also would have been very worried my clumsy self would have knocked it over.)

            1. Tiny Soprano*

              But god am I now also responsible for isolating myself during menstruation as well? In case I get blood on my pants (a reasonable concern for anyone with a heavy period) and that might squick someone out because BODILY FLUIDS?

              Thanks for all the educating upthread, Keymaster. You’re doing the community a real solid today.

      4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        I’m afraid that if you ask breastfeeding mothers to hide their breastmilk, you are not at all supportive of them.

    2. Lizy*

      Starbucks doesn’t offer it to you in a latte because no mother would give up her milk for someone else’s latte.

      For their own? Sure. I think I’ve done it myself, but honestly can’t remember cause mom-brain and all.

      1. Moxie*

        Starbucks and other companies do not sell breast milk commercially because of many valid reasons. It would put them at a liability to do, for one thing.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          In France it would be illegal, you’re not allowed to sell any body parts or bodily fluids.

    3. Observer*

      someone’s not-unreasonable feeling of being squicked out by having human body fluids visible in the communal refrigerator.

      Key problem #1 – this IS an absolutely unreasonable thing. There is simply no reasonable reason to consider human “body fluids” any more gross that body fluids from other mammals.

      And as other people said above, there are a lot of “foods” that some people would find repugnant in a communal refrigerator

      And generally, no one is being told to hide their food on that basis.

      She’s simply being asked to put the sealed bottle into a paper bag or an opaque box.

      Which is easy on one level. On another level, it is hard because she is being asked to stigmatize pumping and breast feeding.

      Continuing to hide something never helps to gain acceptance for that which you hide.

    4. JelloStapler*

      I also think that some people need to understand that others do not need to set themselves on fire to keep other’s warm. To me, this is the equivalent to hiding my tuna sandwich because someone is a vegan and doesn’t want to see it.

      1. Moxie*

        But are you saying you wouldn’t hide your sandwich, or you would? I’ve been in a similar circumstance, and “hid the sandwich” so to speak.

        1. Batgirl*

          Honestly, I would not want to be the woman who nods meekly and hides all breast milk from people who are too sheltered to deal with its existence. There’s an argument for sealing it up and securing, as with any food. There’s no argument for hiding its existence. For stigmatising any and all signs that there are breastfeeding mothers in the building. If it’s a new situation for said person, if they’ve never encountered pumping at work they should probably consider that a form of naivete. And be very quiet while they wonder about why that is and what that says about their previous work cultures.

        2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          As a veggie I’m totally grossed out by tuna, but no way would I ever expect anyone to cover up their sandwich for me!

    5. BBA*

      It’s not rules-lawyering. Breast milk IS food. Food that many babies consume. It exists for no other reason…. at least when in a workplace refrigerator.

    6. littledoctor*

      “there are a lot of “foods” that some people would find repugnant in a communal refrigerator. Horse steak, for example”

      And that’s their problem, for them to deal with. It’s none of their business what their coworker is eating. I, for example, eat unusual meats sometimes, particularly seal and polar bear meat. I understand that that makes some people uncomfortable, but it’s their issue, not mine. It’s no one else’s business what food someone keeps in the fridge, as long as it’s stored sanitarily.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        gulp, that sounds horrendous. I wouldn’t want to come across that in the company fridge. But no way would I ask you to hide it either!

        Whatever happened to tolerance, I wonder?

    7. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      No. This is a case where the person feeling icky has to get over it. Breastfeeding mothers should not have to pussyfoot around people who haven’t been around breastfeeding women enough to feel comfortable with it. Breastfeeding has to be normalised. There’s nothing wrong with it, and it’s the single best thing anyone can do for their baby’s health.

  35. CupcakeCounter*

    To lead off, I don’t think you need to change anything. Your coworker is being ridiculous and you are free to continue as you have been doing. However…
    As it happened, I always kept the milk I pumped in a cooler bag in the fridge. There were several of us with very young babies at the time and most of us had similar storage bottles so it was more out of not wanting to get the bottles mixed up than anything else but I never found it a hardship to do. It’s ridiculous that someone is requesting you hide the milk because of an “ew” factor though. Maybe if you had a neon sticker on it that read “OP’s Boob Juice” I could see someone getting offended but I’d probably laugh and wish I had thought of it.
    I can see being not okay with having the pump flanges and tubing in the fridge though. I totally get why you store them in there (easier to clean later as the milk doesn’t dry and/or “spoil” so more sanitary long term) but since it is a communal fridge and grocery bags aren’t always totally opaque, I would probably stop putting them in there. I was spoiled at work because the architect of our remodel was pregnant at the time the project kicked off and she designed several really awesome spaces with a sort of lobby area with a sink and lockers for our stuff. It was super easy to wash everything and hang to dry in a locker so that wasn’t an issue for me.
    Personally I would either start putting the milk bottle in the grocery bag with the parts or get a large cooler bag that can hold everything and leave it in the fridge. The latter will take up more space but since it doesn’t sound like you pump until around lunch time anyway, there should be room enough for it later in the day. And if someone complains about how much space your lunch bag takes up, tell them that Coworker was offended by my grocery bag and milk bottle so I had to get this giant thing to conceal all evidence of normal human lactation.

    But really…just continue as you have been doing and if she says something again, just tell her that breastmilk is a natural and healthy food product and requires refrigeration.

    1. Ermintrude*

      I was thinking if I were OP, if I were getting out or putting away my milk and saw this coworker in the kitchen, I’d pull a face and intone ‘BOOOOB JUUUUICE’ at her.
      OP should probably not do that though.

    2. Dahlia*

      If you’re using an insulated bag in the fridge, you might as well stick an ice pack in it and leave it at your desk. Insulation also keeps cold out.

      1. Alice's Rabbit*

        Yup. Putting your bottle in a cooler in the fridge is actually dangerous, because it makes it take that much longer to cool down from 98 degrees to below 40. You want to cool the milk as quickly as possible, so it doesn’t start to spoil. Putting it in an insulating bag slows that down, sometimes by hours.

  36. Spicy Tuna*

    I think the company should purchase a mini fridge for the pumping employee to keep under her desk. Yes, it’s food, but it’s also a body fluid.

    1. anonymous slug*

      This is what I was going to say. This is actually what my company does (or did, when we were in the office). There was a locked fridge in the wellness room (which could be locked and was fairly tucked away) for milk to be stored. I would take this up with the company and ask for something along those lines. Not to accommodate the person who is being weird by asking to hide the milk, but it feels like a safer/better option for ALL nursing mothers.

    2. Batgirl*

      That would probably be the best way to protect (likely to be fresh, time costly) breastmilk from (there’s always one green one) general lunches.

    3. Spicy Tuna*

      anonymous slug – that’s a perfect accommodation for everyone at the workplace. Especially if there are multiple breastfeeding moms, space in the fridge could get tight.

      Batgirl – I posted separately about my BF accidentally using an employee’s breastmilk in his coffee.

      I understand that pumping / nursing / workplace accommodations are a touchy subject, but there are ways make everyone feel comfortable

    4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      The CDC classifies it as food, no need to keep it separate from other food. It may be a bodily fluid, but it’s really not comparable to urine.

  37. Full of Milk*

    I used a communal fridge because that’s what was available, and I just kept everything in an insulated lunch bag — it kept my milk and parts together and away from people’s nasty leftovers. I like the idea of labeling it HUMAN MILK.

  38. CircusMonkey84*

    If I had to hazard a guess, it has more to do with the length of time it’s been happening rather than the fact it is.

    Not a mother (don’t plan to be) but have many friends with kids and all but one had stopped by the time the kiddo was a year old.

    LW has been doing it for over a year, which starts conjuring images of toddlers hanging off their moms, walking up and just whipping a boob out for a snack