updates: the hidden breast milk, the wedding chaos, and more

It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager, when I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are four updates from past letter-writers.

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

I followed your advice initially and let my coworker know that I just didn’t feel comfortable keeping my milk hidden. I thought we had worked it out but it got brought up again and the next conversation we had left a bad taste in my mouth.

At that point I contacted my supervisor, and I told her that it was getting to the point where I felt harassed. In her mind, I needed to be more considerate of people who aren’t comfortable with the sight of breast milk whereas I felt like her feelings of discomfort were hers to deal with and there’s just nothing unusual about breast milk in an office fridge.

My boss reviewed the policy in our company which said “nursing employees may bring their own cooler or use a designated fridge if available.”. Ultimately, she ordered a mini fridge for breast milk but I did offer my opinion that a fridge is a basic amenity that the company should commit to making available for nursing employees. After all, no one else has to bring their lunch in a personal cooler. She passed that onto upper management and HR but I don’t think the policy had changed.

This is really an important issue for a lot of working women. It’s great that the law requires employers to give nursing employees the time and space to pump but without a place to store the milk or their pumping components it can make it impractical for some women.

Thanks for your suggestions.

2. If the caterer mentions my mom at my dad’s wedding, all hell will break loose (#2 at the link)

The wedding has happened.

Thanks to your response, I quickly wrote the caterers an email and got a wonderful reply. My tone was like “yeah, this is just not a good idea to mention, oh, and here’s an update.” I’m also glad I emailed because my sibling has changed names and wanted them to be aware.

Someone said in the comments something about it being not as bad or similar to someone faking being straight in order to keep the peace at a wedding. Well, we actually had that situation, too.

Overall, this is a super uneventful update because nothing bad happened, for which I am eternally grateful. My dad and his new wife are happy, I’m happy for them, the worst thing that happened for anyone depended on how you feel about mask wearing, and it was a beautiful day.

Thanks again for your advice.

(And yes, I saw that red flag, too. There are many more.)

3. Great new hire has terrible internet (#3 at the link)

Unfortunately, my company wouldn’t cover the cost of an upgrade, so I had a direct (but understanding) conversation with him at our 1 on 1 where I highlighted that his internet speed was impacting our ability to be a functional team and recommended a few local providers that could be affordable options for him to look at. It was a surprisingly easy conversation to have because he had just been putting off upgrading his internet–there just hadn’t been an urgent need before our conversation. We spoke on a Friday and by the following Monday he upgraded his internet to a faster speed with their same provider. We haven’t had connectivity issues since and I’m really enjoying having him being a part of my team!

4. Asking my old job for their work templates (#4 at the link)

You previously answered my question about asking my old job for their consulting templates. Before writing, I tried to recreate them off memory but couldn’t remember the entire thing and thought mine looked too simplistic. After your answer, I researched industry best practices, applied them to fit my new company, and managed to make a template I’m happy with. It has already helped me organize my projects in a way that is getting recognition within my department.

What reminded me to write an update is I actually just found half of a ripped paper with the first part of the original template, and everything I would need from it is also on the one I recreated. I’m guessing the part that got torn off is also very similar to mine. It was nice to get some proof to counter my insecurities about knowing what I’m doing.

{ 331 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    I’ve removed some really problematic (and some outright offensive) comments comparing breast milk to feces, semen, and all sorts of things; comments arguing about formula vs. breast milk, and a range of comments that were simply off-topic. All comments on this post will now be going through moderation so there may be a delay before they appear.

    Reply
  2. Even In an Emergency*

    Still on the side of LW 1’s coworker in that I don’t think breast milk belongs in a work fridge with people’s lunch. I wouldn’t have said anything myself but I would have also been icked out. It may be 100% natural but it still came from
    my coworker’s body and that will never not be weird to me.

    But I definitely think work should provided a separate fridge from the get-go and make pumping easy, private, and safe.

    Reply
    1. High Score!*

      Since people often store cow’s breast milk in shared refrigerators, human breast milk should be fine to store there as well.

      Reply
      1. Even In an Emergency*

        The difference is that I don’t work with cows.

        I realize it may just be a “me” thing, and I wouldn’t have said anything! But I think a separate fridge is the best option for everyone, no?

        Reply
        1. jenny*

          You can be weird and icked out – that doesn’t make it “the best option for everyone,” you haven’t said anything about why it’s the best option for anyone other than you who are icked out

          Reply
          1. LTL*

            It’s the best option because no one gets icked out and there’s no cost to working mothers. Where’s the downside besides the company needing to pay for a small fridge?

            Reply
            1. Lance*

              The downside is in the perception and the end effects, as several others have covered below much better than I can. Said working mothers are having a simple refrigeration need relegated elsewhere just because other people don’t want to look at it, which in a way caters more to those people than the mothers. And what about the fridge itself? Are others just expected to… not touch it ever? Because people leave, new people come in; somebody is bound to put some of their own items in there at some point, and then what?

              All in all, it’s not a very practical solution, for several reasons.

              Reply
              1. Even In an Emergency*

                I mean in my experience a separate fridge for breast milk is really common at offices? It *is* expected that only nursing mothers will touch it and access it. It’s labeled and often in or near the pumping room – not the kitchen.

                However, you’re right and I have changed my mind because I don’t think my “ick” should be catered to over convenience for moms or even just for the sake of not continuing a misogynistic stigma. Mine is a pretty strong aversion to body stuff – fluids, etc, no matter what they are for – not breastfeeding in particular. But you’re right, if I have a problem I can just not keep things in a fridge. I thought a separate fridge would be best for everyone but people have certainly made many points why it isn’t.

                Reply
                1. Caliente*

                  Ha! I put nothing in the work fridge anyway cuz I’m icked out by the company fridge itself. Ugh

                2. Ellie*

                  As a working mother, I would infinitely prefer to have a small fridge in the pumping room, so that I wouldn’t have to walk down the corridor with my breastmilk. I would feel really uncomfortable if anyone asked about them, and I’d prefer they were in a less accessible place anyway, so that I didn’t have to worry about random strangers handling them, or (please no) spilling them.

                  Its not an ick thing for me because I kept said containers in my fridge at home next to other food items with no issues. But I’m a private person, and my work is full of single men who have never had to deal with this stuff, and I’d just prefer to go about these things with as little attention as possible. Your solution of the separate fridge would have 100% been best for me.

                3. Mmp*

                  Ellie, as a mom who nursed (albeit not for that long due to some challenges) I agree with you 100%. I would have MUCH preferred a discreet option as well. I also would not be crazy about having my son’s milk sitting next to someone’s stinky lunch and potentially spilled food. It is unsanitary for the infant.

            2. tamarack and fireweed*

              I think we’ve largely overused formulations along the lines of “X makes me uncomfortable” as if this fact in itself justified handling X in some sort of special way.

              Let’s not forget that people are every day genuinely weirded out and made uncomfortable with something they should not be. I’m sure most of us work with people who at least at one point found it weird to report to women or treat people of traditionally disenfranchised races with full respect. And we’ve come to understand that being made uncomfortable by, say, the sight of a disability or being mildly inconvenienced by a person’t mobility equipment or showing disgust over the presence of feminine hygiene product is not something that needs to be accommodated.

              So where to draw the line? Regarding things that employees might need to store in fridges, lunch items, prescription medicine and expressed breast milk are sufficiently different and may even benefit from being kept separate (no danger of mishandling the breast milk or the drugs when for example rummaging for one’s lunch) that IMHO no disrespect has to be automatically assumed should an employer decide *proactively* to provide separate fridges. But if there’s some explanation attached that this is to accommodate people who are weirded out, then pushback has to happen. Feeding the children of the species is not something we want to mark as icky as a society.

              (If you’re personally squicked out it would be at the same level as, say, being squicked out by seeing a co-woker’s arm hair or whatever: a *you* problem, not a *they* problem)

              Reply
              1. skunklet*

                Amen. I find my husband’s gefilte fish icky, too (interestingly, our cat does not), but it doesn’t get forced into a different refrigerator…

                Reply
              2. TardyTardis*

                This person would not last very long at a school with a biology department (and yes, lunches get stored in their fridge along with Other Things).

                Reply
            3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              No it’s the worst option because it others the breastfeeding mother. People need to get over breast milk which is in fact a fantastic liquid that can help wounds heal and even cure cancer (google HAMLET for more info on that).

              Reply
        2. littledoctor*

          It’s not the best option for breastfeeding mothers who feel shamed and stigmatised when they’re told they can’t keep their own breast milk in a shared refrigerator because people find it icky.

          Breastfeeding, when possible, is incredibly beneficial to women and children’s health. Stigmatization and people acting like it’s somehow icky are huge contributing factors to so many women ceasing breastfeeding earlier than is optimal. Women deserve to keep breast milk in a communal fridge if they so choose.

          Reply
          1. rachel in nyc*

            yeah, I have a coworker who felt that if she couldn’t get the conference room and no one was on vacation that she needed to use the bathroom to pump (this came up because she was letting me know the women’s room would be unavailable.)

            I sorta looked at her and asked why she didn’t just rotate kicking those of us who had offices out of them when she needed to pump. I didn’t convince her.

            (Our employer has pumping rooms but they’re in the main building so not convenient.)

            Reply
        3. Lance*

          No, actually. It’s milk. Milk from a human, but still milk. I don’t really understand why this should have to be some special, ‘icky’ thing, or why they should have to keep it separate and hidden from everyone.

          Reply
          1. Blazer205*

            Exactly. I’d presume those that find it icky also have no qualms whatsoever with the distribution system. Hmm?

            Reply
        4. Betsy*

          Yes, and the state of California agrees! Providing a dedicated refrigerator for breast milk is included in lactation accommodatuon laws.

          Reply
        5. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          You don’t work with cows. That means that cow’s milk actually presents more of a danger to you than your colleague’s breastmilk.
          The milk is not sitting in an open jug, it’s in a sealed container, no way anything icky can happen if you just let it be.

          Reply
      2. Anonnie*

        Cow’s milk is pasteurized.
        I don’t see it as any different than storing any other potentially hazardous raw animal product, which probably isn’t done in most breakroom fridges, but rules about not storing raw over cooked should definitely apply if it’s going to be a thing.

        Reply
        1. pleaset cheap rolls*

          “potentially hazardous raw animal product, which probably isn’t done in most breakroom fridges, but rules about not storing raw over cooked should definitely apply”

          This is interesting. So are nursing mothers advised to get another fridge at home where you live?

          Reply
          1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

            Apparently they also have to have a separate one for any raw animal products. I guess you have to have uncooked meat, eggs, and breast milk in one fridge, and another fridge for pasteurized, cooked, or plant based products. I am curious where this place is, because where I am from, the only people who need separate refrigerators for a similar arrangement are those who are keeping kosher, and the rules aren’t the same as Annonie’s.

            Reply
            1. Anonnie*

              Y’all keep raw chicken on the top shelf of your fridge at home???? Really? That’s all I’m saying – if it’s going to be a thing, raw goes on the bottom shelf. That’s standard food safety practice.

              Reply
              1. Beth*

                I mean, yes, assuming it’s packaged properly and not leaking I don’t worry at all about where I store what. I could see this being a concern in food service, but in my own fridge? Where I know nothing ever touches the shelves without a fresh tupperware or other dish between them? Things go where there’s space that day and it’s never even occurred to me to worry about it beyond that.

                Reply
              2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

                no, raw chicken goes on the bottom shelf, but not in an entirely separate refrigerator!

                Reply
                1. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

                  Yes! Same here. Sorry, my fridge isn’t big enough to be super orderly like everyone else’s (but really it’s sealed and isn’t leaking so it goes where it fits!)

              3. Your Local Password Resetter*

                Over here it’s usually in a plastic container anyway, so it just goes wherever there is space for it.
                And I would assume most places don’t just sell unpackaged slabs of meat.

                Reply
              4. pleaset cheap rolls*

                Do you think raw breast milk is anywhere nearly as dangerous as raw chicken?

                Here’s a hint: Doctors recommend babies consume one of those two things. Health officials urge no one to consume the other ever. Do you know which is which?

                Reply
              5. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                It might be in some hygiene standard but for your own home there’s really no need to be that careful.
                OK we’ve had to wash our hands a lot because of covid but as a general rule, it’s not a good idea to live in a sterile environment, we need to come in contact with germs in order to build up immunity to them.

                Reply
              6. Yorick*

                Raw meat comes in a package, and I do usually put it on the top shelf – that’s where it fits best in my fridge.

                Reply
            2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

              I think not storing raw ‘over’ cooked just means not storing raw meat etc physically higher in the fridge than cooked stuff (because juices can trickle down from it)… Most people are aware of this rule, although I doubt it gets followed in most homes :-)

              Reply
              1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

                but, again, this person wants the OP to store it in a bag so it is hidden (nothing about putting it on the bottom shelf or using measures to ensure it does not leak, probably because OP takes care to seal it properly for her child’s sake, even if not for the coworkers). This is not about food safety! And if it was, you would say to put it on the bottom, not to put it in a separate fridge!

                Reply
                1. Hedgehog O'Brien*

                  Exactly. It’s not about food safety, it’s about their discomfort seeing it there.

        2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

          If one of my coworkers runs an errand on their lunchbreak and picks up a carton of raw eggs so they don’t need to stop on the way home, and stores it in the office fridge until the end of the day, I don’t see a problem with that. Honestly, I have never heard of any rules that say you cannot store anything raw in the fridge. What if you brought sushi for lunch? Your comment is just … weird.

          Reply
          1. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

            Agree. Also babies drink breast milk as is. There is no expectation that raw beef will consumed as is. I would be angry if my work tried to make me store my baby’s milk next to raw hamburger. A good number of cheeses are also unpasteurized – is Anonnie also objecting to turkey and Brie sandwiches or tacos with queso fresco in the shared fridge?

            Reply
            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              I believe cheese made from raw milk is a whole lot more common in Europe than in the US ?

              Reply
          2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

            I have wondered about that actually! There was a supermarket near my old job and I sometimes went there at lunchtime and visited the ‘reductions’ section (where perishable things that have a use-by-date of that day get marked down so they can be sold off before they go out of date) … I hesitated about whether it was ‘ok’ to put raw meat in the company fridge that I’d got from this section, in the end I concluded it was ok as I properly wrapped it (& didn’t put it over other stuff!) …. I suppose it is no different really than bringing in something raw that needs to be microwaved.

            Reply
            1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

              I do admit that it is better practice with a shared fridge to put raw meat on the lowest shelf and ensure it is not in a position to leak on or contaminate other people’s foods. Of course, that is really not what the post was about. The coworker did not say she was worried about contamination or that she felt it should be on a lower shelf. She wanted it hidden. She was not motivated by food safety!

              But yeah, I think it is fine if you need to grab some meat for dinner during your lunch break and store it in the workplace fridge, so long as you ensure it is properly packaged and placed on the bottom level of the fridge.

              Reply
              1. pleaset cheap rolls*

                If the raw meat might leak DO NOT put it over anything. And a lot of meat packages are not that secure – or even have leakage from other raw meat on the surface.

                But raw stuff like breast milk in a bottle. Near zero risk. Heck, people put raw fruit above other items all the time.

                Raising food safety as a reason not to have breast milk in a shared fridge is a red herring. The reason some people don’t want it is bothers them in some other way.

                Reply
        3. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

          Breast milk is less likely to spoil than regular milk because it contains antimicrobials. Also, this is a false comparison as I doubt you would have the same objection to your CW bringing in Brie, which is also unpasteurized.

          Reply
          1. littledoctor*

            Also, how would someone even know whether their coworker’s lunch was made with unpasteurized eggs or milk? They have no idea.

            Reply
          2. President of the Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club*

            Plus every work fridge I’ve ever seen had at least 2 tupperwares full of rancid mystery food at any given time, and if that’s ok, then clean fresh breast milk is more than fine. I would be more worried about the breast milk picking up weird flavours from that. But we also have a fridge in the pumping room so people don’t have to worry about that (although I don’t think anyone in my office would be weirded out by breastmilk in the lunchroom fridge, but it’s just not in a convenient location compared to where the pumping room is).

            Reply
            1. Worldwalker*

              When some manager suggests interviewing the leftovers in the back of the fridge because they seem to be more active than some of the people who currently work there, worry! :)

              Reply
            2. nonethefewer*

              (I was gonna SAY. If I were pumping while at the office (years ago when my kid was a smol), I wouldn’t want to store my milk in the work fridge because the work fridge is REVOLTING.)

              Reply
        4. pancakes*

          A lot of foodborne illness comes from leafy greens, and I’ve never heard of an office that won’t allow salad greens in the fridge. From the CDC:

          “CDC estimates that germs on produce that is eaten raw cause a large percentage of U.S. foodborne illnesses (also called food poisoning).

          Leafy greens and other vegetable row crops are a major source of E. coli O157 infections.

          Other harmful germs found on leafy greens include norovirus, Salmonella, Listeria, and Cyclospora.”

          Reply
          1. KayDeeAye*

            You’re far more likely to get a food-borne illness from, say, old alfalfa sprouts than from breast milk. This “Breast milk! Ewwwwwwwwww!” thing just baffles me.

            Reply
            1. TreeHillGrass*

              It’s childishness, pure and simple. I’d be embarrassed to admit it if I was icked out by it.

              Reply
          2. Esmeralda*

            Yup. I got salmonella, as best we could determine, from tomatoes from a farmers market. (yes, I washed them and I washed my hands, but but apparently not quite well enough. I was young and dopey!)

            Reply
            1. pancakes*

              I doubt you were dopey! Food poisoning happens to a lot of people through no fault of their own. The fault is in the supply chain somewhere.

              Reply
        5. CoveredInBees*

          Breastmilk doesn’t pose the same dangers that raw animal milks do, largely because it comes from a human. Additionally, the breastmilk is being stored in screw top bottles or sealed bags, not a plate covered loosely with foil.

          Reply
          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Yes. There are far fewer nasty infection risks from a bottle of breast milk than unpasteurised animal milk – simply because the human immune system does an exceptionally good job at keeping stuff from passing the barrier.

            There are infectious diseases that *can* pass, but nothing that’s gonna leap off the milk and infect others.

            (How many times on the original post did I have to explain that no, you can’t get bloodborne diseases off your coworkers breast milk…)

            Reply
        6. Hedgehog O'Brien*

          1) Breast milk is safe for consumption, as is evidenced by the fact that…babies drink it…. Raw meat is not in most cases.
          2) I’d wager that leftover sushi has been put into many an office fridge before without complaint.

          Reply
      3. BubbleTea*

        I’m lactose intolerant, but I don’t ask my colleagues to keep their cows milk in a separate fridge in case it contaminates my food.

        Reply
        1. TeamPfizer*

          No, but you might if it was a more serious allergy. I have definitely worked in places where certain foods were not allowed to be consumed at all (peanuts, shellfish), and others where there were designated fridges that had items that weren’t allowed in them at all due to needing an allergen free space for someone with a severe strawberry allergy. So, it can be done.

          I don’t see why the mini fridge option is so offensive. We have 3 in our mother’s room at my office (they aren’t allowed in private offices or cubicles) and I would never consider storing my breast milk or pump parts anywhere else. In fact, it’s seen as a bit of a perk that you have access to it at all because those of us with cause to use the room also store our own lunches in there to avoid the communal fridges in the breakroom.

          Reply
          1. BubbleTea*

            I would probably also prefer to have a mini fridge of my own, but my point was that cow’s milk may be pasteurized but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t pose a hypothetical threat to anyone. I haven’t heard of anyone being allergic to or intolerant of breast milk.

            Reply
            1. Pickled Limes*

              A relative of mine was intolerant of breast milk as a baby and had to use soy formula instead, but it’s not a particularly common affliction, and the chances of breast milk in a sealed container impacting any of the other foods in the fridge are minuscule, so I really don’t understand why this is so concerning to some people.

              Reply
              1. Sasha*

                It’s unlikely to have been the breast milk itself – with allergies like CMPA, allergens that the mother has consumed pass through into the breast milk. Several of my friends had to go fully vegan until their child weaned. If they stuck to it, their child could then drink their breast milk with no problems.

                Reply
            2. Worldwalker*

              Me.

              At least as a baby, anyway; I haven’t checked in the subsequent decades. But that was at the “gets colic when drinking it” level, not the “goes into anaphylactic shock if exposed in any way” level.

              Reply
          2. pleaset cheap rolls*

            It’s offensive because of how it was introduced rather than being inherently offensive. It was introduced because of complaints about breast milk, not as a pro-active service to the person lactating or a response to that person’s request.

            Reply
      4. Klio*

        Cow breast milk is regularly treated before customers get their hands at it. I don’t think human breast milk taken in the office is treated the same.

        I’d be icky the other way around. Storing my breast milk with who knows what’s growing in my colleague’s lunch boxes. Better to have a just breast milk fridge.

        Reply
    2. MizA*

      Breast milk is also someone’s lunch. It’s not like she’s leaving it open or pouring it into someone’s coffee or something.

      Reply
      1. commenting*

        Her original letter says she was leaving the milk in bottles with the flanges still attached. The flanges connect to the bottle with a valve that is by no means leakproof. That means you inadvertently bump the bottle in the crowded fridge, a human’s bodily fluid that is perfectly capable of containing viruses is all of the fridge.

        Why are we acting like it’s the same thing as yogurt, it’s obviously not.

        Reply
        1. Even In an Emergency*

          Yeah. It’s frustrating seeing all these comments suggesting we must think it’s dirty/shameful. It’s not! But it is not her coworker’s lunch and we should be providing the right kind of access and storage for it!

          Reply
          1. Claire*

            She’s storing it in the fridge in a sealed bottle, which is the right kind of access and storage.

            Reply
            1. Even In an Emergency*

              Yeah – that’s totally fair. I do find the idea of having something that came out of my coworker in the fridge next to my turkey sandwich extremely weird and … well, icky! But I also find, like, beets weird and icky. And I wouldn’t tell a coworker to do anything different about their beets nor do I think there’s something wrong with eating them. I don’t think either is shameful or bad. I just think it’s strange that we are suggesting these are not different things?

              Like if I was pumping at work, I would absolutely want my own fridge to keep my milk safe and tamper-free. I would also not want it next to moldy old eggs or something as it’s going to be given to my kid. I think her coworker was a jerk and LW was put in a bad situation. But I think an employer saying – from the get go – that breast milk will be kept in a clean, separate fridge is best for all.

              You’re right, though, I did make it sound “dirty” and I shouldn’t have.

              Reply
              1. jenny*

                Assuaging your personal discomfort doesn’t make it ‘best for all.’ Maybe just… don’t think about your coworker’s breasts!

                Reply
                1. Even In an Emergency*

                  You’re really latching onto (ha!) that I said it made me uncomfortable. But truly, as someone who may or may not be in this situation some day, I was thinking about it from both sides. I can’t imagine wanting my milk next to my coworker’s food. I would be terrified they would grab it, spill it, touch it in some way. That’s what I meant by best for us both.

                  Like I said originally, I wouldn’t have said anything. But I am surprised that people wouldn’t want a separate fridge if it had been provided for them from the get go, without dealing with a jerk coworker and manager who didn’t do anything to help.

                1. Even In an Emergency*

                  That’s becoming very clear to me. I would personally prefer a separate spot where I know no one is jostling it about or putting a sandwich on top of it. But I’m also not the one dealing with it.

        2. quill*

          The letter says that she did that previously (which is a problem) but that she’s confused why the current arrangement (sealed bottles pumped far less often than before) was a problem for this coworker if that wasn’t.

          From an actual food safety perspective, absent allergies, I have to say that all our hangups about this one are cultural.

          Reply
          1. The Rural Juror*

            Yeah, the quickly needing to throw the bottles in the fridge with the flanges still attached wasn’t great. If you’re in a big hurry that’s one thing, but it sounded like she had done that a couple of times and then retroactively realized the spill hazard. But I don’t see any problem with the sealed bottles.

            Reply
          2. Data Analyst*

            Exactly. People really latched on (pun?) to the flange thing as a reason to justify being grossed out when the original letter was posted, can’t believe it’s happening again!

            Reply
        3. Leah K.*

          I agree that leaving bottles with the flanges attached is not appropriate because the chances of someone spilling the mild like that are much higher, and which would create a sticky mess. But CDC does not classify breast milk as a bodily fluid, and even occupational exposure to breast milk has not been shown to transmit viruses. So, this means that even someone who handles breast milk regularly as a part of their job is unlikely to contract anything from it.

          Reply
          1. Certified Scorpion Trainer*

            i like how some are commenting about “eww viruses” and “breast milk isn’t pasteurized” yet…babies are perfectly okay to drink it. it’s not dirty as people are trying to make it seem

            Reply
            1. Heather*

              I think it’s the involvement of a third party. If a mom pumps and later feeds the baby, or has another caregiver feed the baby, it’s a closed loop of people working together to care for the baby that are involved. You “involve” a third party, not part of caring for the child with an unsealed container of breastmilk in the communal fridge.

              Note: I’m not commenting on the validity of either position here, just explaining why I think some are uncomfortable.

              Reply
        4. LITJess*

          As I commented on the original one – all OP needed to do was get a wet/dry bag and throw everything in there between pumping sessions. All problems solved! Coworker won’t see the pumping parts/bottles of milk. OP won’t have to worry that someone bumped her equipment while pulling out their lunch.

          I am able to do this with a dorm size fridge at my library, she could have made it work in her fridge at work.

          Reply
        5. Botanist*

          . . . It doesn’t contain viruses. There is a reason that breastfeeding is almost never contraindicated when a mother is ill, because the only virus that will pass into the milk is HIV. It does however contain lots of antibodies.

          Reply
          1. Boof*

            Yeaaaah HIV is a pretty serious virus and yes, it can be transmitted by breastmilk. In fact that would be probably my biggest concern about a stranger’s breastmilk being stored in a shared space. That being said, if it’s sealed in a bag the risk to others is probably essentially zero / not worth getting worked up about.

            Reply
            1. Tired*

              I’m fascinated that so many people are concerned by HIV transmission in their (non-sexual) day-to-day life. I’d like to know all the other precautions they habitually take. Or, could it be that this is a convenient excuse for trying to make this disgust of nursing people sound less like they’re being purely emotive and want to outsource that?

              Reply
              1. Jennifer Strange*

                Or, could it be that this is a convenient excuse for trying to make this disgust of nursing people sound less like they’re being purely emotive and want to outsource that?

                Yeah, I think it’s that one.

                Reply
              2. Keymaster of Gozer*

                Yeah. In terms of infection risk it’s absolutely unheard of for another person to catch HIV off casual exposure to breastmilk. As in I’ve searched the epidemiology reports and nothing has come up.

                The ‘HIV’ panic defence is a real hot issue for me because one of my friends who has AIDS got fired from a job because of fears he might ‘infect others’.

                Reply
            2. Blackcat*

              This is…. a really weird concern. It’s standard of care to test all women for HIV late in pregnancy, and if they are positive, to avoid breastfeeding.
              The odds of a woman with HIV storing breastmilk in a work fridge are… vanishingly small. Like, maybe never happened, ever.
              You’re infinitely more likely to get sick from norovirus from the fridge handle.

              Reply
        6. Seeking Second Childhood*

          15 years ago I had some sort of storage for my bottles with flanges that sealed the whole thing. And so help me I can’t find it now. I’m wondering if the farm-raised engineer found something sneaky for me.
          In which case, here’s a marketing opportunity for Medela or whatever other company happens to run across this – snap-on sealed storage caps for the flanges on partial bottles.

          Reply
          1. Just Another Techie*

            I’m not going to google the product from my work computer, but there absolutely are products that snap onto flanges to prevent losing milk if your bottles get knocked over. They aren’t made by Medela or Spectra, though, because the “official” recommendation is to wash the flanges between each use. Which really, who actually does that (assuming their infant is full term and healthy)? I sure as hell didn’t. I’m really glad my company provided a separate fridge for nursing moms, and that it was large enough for each of us to have our own dedicated shelf. So we all just left the flanges attached between sessions to save time.

            Reply
        7. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          There are very few viruses that can seep into breastmilk. Covid can’t for example. The one virus known to seep through is HIV, unfortunately. In the west, women who are seropositive are mostly advised not to breastfeed, so there’s precious little chance of getting any kind of virus from breastmilk.
          If a mother is infected with a virus, the best thing to do (if she is in a fit state to do so) is to continue to breastfeed her baby, because the baby will then get milk loaded with antibodies so they don’t catch the mother’s disease.
          So mothers really should be encouraged to breastfeed, rather than be shamed by colleagues, bosses and HR like poor OP.
          I’m not saying breast milk is sterile, it might contain other sources of infection such as fungi, but I did want to set the record straight on viruses, especially given the current hysteria with the pandemic.

          Reply
      2. MicroManagered*

        In the original post, LW1 stated ” I would sometimes leave milk in the bottles with the flanges on because I had a meeting.” I would be grossed out by this just as I would if someone left a sock or any other item that had been in direct contact with their bare body in a communal fridge.

        Reply
        1. Sunny_Side_Up*

          Agree! I don’t understand why LW can’t have common curtesy here. It grosses someone else out but you still need to use the fridge? Just store your milk bag in an additional brown paper bag in the communal fridge!! That way no one has to look at it. It’s not fair to try to control what is and isn’t gross to someone else. (I’m also a woman and still DO NOT want to look at another woman’s breastmilk while grabbing my lunch.)

          Reply
          1. MicroManagered*

            Yeah I don’t understand the tone of this update. The LW seems upset that the resolution was that they bought a designated fridge for nursing moms to store breast milk. She won! I think the only resolution that would’ve satisfied her was for her employer to side with her against this person who offended her.

            Reply
            1. Mahkara*

              Yeah, I agree. It would seem like having a designated fridge is the absolute *best* solution. She gets a special place to store the milk and her coworkers don’t have to deal with whatever ick they feel. (And the flange note is pretty icky to me…)

              Reply
              1. generic employee*

                Up until another coworker complains about the special privilege of breastfeeding mothers having a fridge just for their milk, and/or unplugs and appropriates it because it’s a small fridge.

                Reply
              2. KR*

                I was also thinking that communal work fridges can be pretty gross and I wouldn’t want breast milk where everyone else can bump into it/touch it or have it in the same space as Larry from accounting’s questionable week-old casserole. A separate mini-fridge seems like a win here.

                Reply
            2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              She’s getting the fridge because her colleague is saying it’s icky (i.e. she’s being made to feel that her milk is icky, ergo, she’s being shamed), rather than because breastfeeding mothers deserve their own fridge (which they definitely do, considering the horrors you might encounter in the work fridge).

              Reply
          2. Student Affairs Sally*

            But it’s okay for someone (Person A) to control another person’s (Person B) perfectly normal and healthy BABY FOOD because Person A finds it “gross”? If you don’t want to look at it, avert your eyes or store your lunch somewhere else. You’re allowed to think whatever you want (even if it’s misinformed and misogynistic) but you don’t get to dictate how other people feed their children.

            Reply
            1. Sunny_Side_Up*

              I’m not saying Person A shouldn’t be allowed to use the fridge. Of course she should, she NEEDS a place to be able to store her breast milk. Obviously that comes first. Person B WANTS to not have to physically look at it. If person A can solve that by something as simple, easy, and inexpensive as putting her milk bag in another non-clear container. Why not do it? That’s what I very much don’t understand. Maybe Person A is mad at Person B in this LW’s example. But if Person B had been kinder from the start, why wouldn’t Person A do such a simple common curtesy. I’m not trying to dictate how other people feed their children. I’m not saying she shouldn’t pump! I just don’t understand why, given such an easy fix to be able to solve someone else’s discomfort, you wouldn’t do it??? It sounds like it’s because you don’t agree the other person should be uncomfortable with it in the first place. But no matter your opinion on the matter- it’s not healthy, nor fair, nor kind, nor okay, to say “I chose to ignore your discomfort because it shouldn’t exist in the first place.” That’s really not alright.

              Reply
              1. Ann Perkins*

                The coworker’s discomfort is irrational and there is no moral obligation to accommodate it. Nursing and pumping moms are stigmatized all the time, as you can see throughout the comment section and by the fact that Alison had to remove comments comparing breast milk to feces. It’s not on them to add another step to the process and have to lug another container to and from work every day in order to accommodate Person B. If Person B is uncomfortable with the pumped milk being in the fridge, they can stop using the fridge and bring their own cooler rather than pushing off the solution to Person A.

                Reply
                1. Sunny_Side_Up*

                  Thanks for this! I can understand not ceding, even for something simple, when you believe doing so will only keep the path clear for discrimination. I still worry about the mental justification of “I don’t agree with this person’s discomfort so I choose to ignore it.” (As a counselor this is about as red of a flag as it gets that someone might be an abuser in their personal relationships). But when the discomfort is minor, such as an internal “eww” and the cause is great, such as fighting discrimination, I can understand.

        2. Not creative enough for a good name :(*

          I hate to break it to you… But unless everyone is wearing gloves when they touch what’s in the fridge, everything in there had been touched by someone’s “bare body”… It’s called “a hand”.

          Reply
        3. TreeHillGrass*

          You mean like how you touch your lunch with your bare body hands that just touched the steering wheel, door and keys then put it in the fridge?

          Reply
      3. BethRA*

        And the milk I just picked up AT lunch isn’t for any of my coworkers, or for consumption on-site.

        I feel like a lot of folks in this thread are having a knee-jerk “eww, ick” reaction and rather than question that are casting around for a justification.

        Reply
      4. many bells down*

        Actually I was thinking the mini fridge might be a good idea so that a food thief doesn’t end up putting it in their coffee. I’ve heard stories.

        Reply
      5. JKateM*

        So if before work I ran to the store and I picked up a lunchable for my child to eat the next day, and I stashed it in the office fridge until I got off that evening, this would be icky because my child doesn’t work there?

        Reply
    3. Nicotene*

      I was a little surprised OP sounded unhappy about the solution of a private fridge; that sounded like a real win-win to me.

      Reply
      1. Even In an Emergency*

        I think it was probably how stressful it was to get to that solution, and being harassed by coworkers when she didn’t have any other option. That would have bothered me too.

        Reply
        1. pleaset cheap rolls*

          Yeah. If the fridge had been offered earlier, happily, it would be nice. But with the OP having to fight fight fight along the way it’s not that nice. Yes, it works, but sad it took so much effort.

          Reply
        2. Rainy*

          My office provides a separate minifridge for our colleagues who are pumping. In this case it actually is more convenient because, being a minifridge, it can be (and is!) moved to wherever is most convenient for whoever currently needs it. For a while we had several people who needed to use it all of whose offices were on the same end of our suite, so it was placed where it was convenient for the people who were using it.

          We also have a real fridge problem in our office, so the separate fridge for breast milk means no crowding. And when someone opportunistically started putting their lunch in the breast milk fridge, my director came down on that person like the fist of an angry god.

          HOWEVER. It seems to me that given the OP’s already fraught history with her a-hole coworker and all of the nonsense that went with that, if the separate minifridge were even slightly less convenient to use than the communal fridge, I would be absolutely furious and feel that this “solution” was more about my a-hole coworker than about my comfort or welfare.

          Reply
      2. 2 Cents*

        The fridge in the pumping room at my billion-dollar company was out of commission for months. We needed it every day.

        Reply
      3. Ginger Baker*

        I think it was more that it was a solution specific to her and did not resolve anything for other employees who are pumping (ie it was a manager-specific decision and not written into company policy).

        Reply
        1. littledoctor*

          And it’s treating her breast milk like it’s somehow separate from other food and needs to be hidden in a separate area. Maybe her coworker should have been provided a mini-fridge, if seeing breast milk is such an issue for them.

          Reply
        2. Blackcat*

          Right, that was my sense, too.
          While she got the mini-fridge, it was an individual solution, not a permanent one for other women.
          And in order for a personal cooler to be enough for pumping & story breast milk, you have to get a good cooler and even better/nicer ice packs. It’s not a small thing. My conference pumping solution set up cost me ~$100 for ultracold ice packs and a good enough cooler that I could put over my shoulder.

          (I am always baffled by everyone who says breastfeeding is free. Add up the extra $$$$ spent on feeding me–I ate 1.5x my normal amount while breastfeeding–long with all of the breastfeeding equipment, and it was not. cheap.)

          Reply
      4. EPLawyer*

        It seems a little discriminatory. “here you have this perfectly natural human function that is kinda REQUIRED for the survival of our species but no one wants to see the icky stuff so hide it away would you?”

        Reply
        1. Even In an Emergency*

          I can’t think of another thing that comes from our body that we share openly, whether it’s for human function or not!

          Reply
          1. Littorally*

            Hair…? It is made within your body and some people are really into touching other people’s hair.

            Reply
            1. Danish*

              Not arguing per se but in my experience, hair detached from the head – especially found in your food item – is top of mind for lots of people for “things that are gross”. So that one is definitely context dependent ;)

              Reply
        2. Beth*

          Yeppppp. I’m betting if there had just happened to be a convenient fridge located in the pumping room from the beginning, it would’ve been seen as a positive. But turning it into a scenario of “You’re absolutely not allowed to use the usual food storage spot, that’s gross….fine, I guess we’ll give you an alternative, but you better stop putting your icky stuff in our fridge!” is really off-putting.

          Reply
          1. Caliente*

            Well they could do it with better marketing “let’s keep all that wonderful breast milk safe in here! Plus you don’t have to walk to the kitchen”.

            Reply
          2. Ellie*

            Yes, I think the separate fridge was the right solution, but if I was the supervisor I would have had a word to that employee who had a problem with it and explain that it was company policy (as well as the law) to support breast feeding and that there is nothing dirty or hazardous about baby’s milk. It sounds like that didn’t happen, and it was the OP who was spoken to about this. That’s not right.

            Reply
      5. Don*

        I’d feel pretty annoyed to be singled out from just using communal items the same as any other member of the office and segregated off to something different, even if it was nice.

        Reply
        1. littledoctor*

          Exactly! It’s misogynistic. It’s treating her and her baby’s perfectly normal, healthy food as contaminated or dirty or inappropriate.

          Reply
          1. INFJedi*

            Yes, this!
            I do not get it that someone gets soo uncomfortable by the thought of / just looking at breastmilk in a fridge. I really don’t. It’s natural thing, that is healthy food for a tiny human being. It is not dirty or inappropriate

            Also, I’ve seen worse things in workplace fridges than a bottle of breastmilk that you only are aware of because you are told that it is breastmilk. Smelly expired milk, forgotten lunches, whatever,… those things are contamination risks!

            Reply
            1. President of the Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club*

              Yeah it’s just a white liquid. It’s not something indecent. And the bottles from some pumps don’t even look obviously like baby bottles. Just a white liquid in a bottle that isn’t yours so you don’t need to go near it. It doesn’t really look all the different from other kinds of milk or from baby formula or coffee creamer.

              Reply
          2. anonforthis*

            1000% this. It does not matter what people’s personal feelings are about breastmilk – it is deemed by science to be a food. It is not blood, it is not urine, it is not a bodily fluid. Further, there is significant evidence that women often do not return to work or face discrimination in the workplace due to nursing. This is something as a society we must actively work to overcome. A separate fridge is helpful when it provides additional convenience TO THE NURSING PERSON – if there is a lactation room, having the fridge in there so the person doesn’t have to walk to the kitchen, or having a personal fridge in your private office so you don’t have to walk to the kitchen after pumping. It is not a “win” when the fridge is purchased for the sole reason to reinforce a discriminatory view that has traditionally kept women and mothers out of the workplace.

            OP, good for you for speaking out, and kudos for you for continuing to move forward with nursing in a way YOU feel good about, regardless of how your coworkers may feel.

            Reply
            1. Database Developer Dude*

              Just as a point of clarification, though I’m pro-breastfeeding here… Breast milk -is- very much a bodily fluid. It is a fluid that is produced out of the body. The rest of your post is cool though. Keep up the good work.

              Reply
              1. Anonforthis*

                Thank you. As a supporting point, I’m using CDC and WHO classifications, which do not seem it to be a bodily fluid.

                Reply
              2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                Just as a point of clarification, breastmilk may be a bodily fluid in that it comes out of a woman’s body, however it is *classified* as food rather than as a bodily fluid.

                Reply
        2. Mockingjay*

          I didn’t comment yesterday because I was so incensed and had to cool down. I did comment on the original thread. I pumped 28 years ago (in a male-dominated industry that made office bets that I wouldn’t return after the birth of my child). I had to pump in the bathroom because the idea of providing a private space for working mothers was unknown. (Oh, and I had to make up the time I spent pumping.) But you know what? I stored my pump and bottles in a very obvious baby-looking vinyl bag in the communal fridge. Not one person ever commented on it. I figured I’d get a lot of flack. Nope. Fast forward to today.

          I can’t believe we are still having this conversation an entire GENERATION LATER. To me, it’s just one more aspect of policing women’s bodies, in the guise of “it makes me uncomfortable” sob sob. Gotta wear a bra because heaven forbid your nipples poke out in frigid office AC. If you are larger on top, better wear a turtleneck lest you display a hint of cleavage and distract the meeting. And so on.

          Being a working mother is an absolute bitch in today’s society. Stop creating obstacles over nothing. We have enough issues on our plates already. If the milk bothers the coworker, she doesn’t have to use the fridge. But the OP is entitled to.

          Reply
          1. Mr. Tyzik*

            I share your anger. I was agog yesterday in this comment section and I’m glad Alison weeded the most offensive ones out.

            Breast milk is a universal food for mammals. It is natural. Breastfeeding is part of who we are as a species and as a society. Thinking is gross and disgusting is to reject nature.

            I seriously sideeye those who think breast milk is icky.

            And since it will come up – I formula fed my child – my milk supply never appeared.

            Reply
          2. Pumped two years in total at work*

            Anger shared. I last pumped a few years ago, in a damn bathroom, and stored the milk in the work fridge. In the freezer, actually, as it turns out the freezer was very underutilized and I wanted to freeze my milk after each session right away anyway. I don’t know and don’t care if anyone decided to not use the freezer or the fridge in general because of the presence of my milk.

            Reply
      6. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        I am not surprised, because that decision does not confront the issue of the toxicity of acting like breastmilk is unclean and should be hidden from view (I mean, should women not be allowed to nurse in public spaces, because I think they should and in my state, the law agrees). Also, it did not address the inappropriateness of the coworker in requesting OP hide it at all. So, yeah, I do not think I would be that satisfied with the solution that allows the perpetuation of the idea that nursing and pumping are gross activities that should be hidden from sight and that breast milk is unclean.

        Reply
      7. Heidi*

        I’m seeing two possible points of dissatisfaction. For one, they still treated her like her breast milk was something that needed to be segregated from the other fridge contents like it was shameful or had cooties. Second, they capitulated to the coworker’s sophmoric whining instead of telling her to grow up.

        Reply
        1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

          well, I said something similar just above your comment, but your phrasing is better and more succinct!

          Reply
      8. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        I think she was mostly objecting to the continued policy that a pumping woman should store her milk in a personally provided cooler. She indicated she wanted that changed in the company policy. This might be the exact wording of the law however (IDK) so it probably won’t change. I think it’s a great thing that the company provides a separate fridge for pumping women, however the mini fridge (depending on how mini) might not be enough room for multiple women or a heavy-lactating woman. It just feels like a begrudging solution from the company.

        Reply
        1. Unfettered scientist*

          If a mini fridge isn’t enough room though, I doubt most offices have that much free space in their regular fridges. Tbf I’m imagining the type of mini fridge with little freezer that we have two of at work for 12 people’s lunches. There’s definitely not enough room even for everyone’s lunch.

          Reply
          1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

            And I immediately thought of the size that fits about 2 six-packs and fits under a desk. Space wasn’t an issue in the original fridge either. The coworker was just being precious and didn’t want the milk in there.

            Reply
          2. pleaset cheap rolls*

            Then make the space.

            It’s the f8cking 21st century and we’re still making hoops for women to jump through in offices to raise children?

            That this is an issue infuriates me.

            Reply
            1. Unfettered scientist*

              I’m totally in agreement. I think she should have as much space as she needs. I thought a mini fridge would be enough but if not then get a bigger one. Thinking back to the original letter, if I were working in the same office, I’d just want the milk to be in a sealed container so if it gets knocked over it wouldn’t spill (like any other liquid) and I would object to the flanges being stored in the fridge because it’s something that comes in contact with a body and there’s no way for other people to know whether it’s cleaned.

              Reply
    4. Don*

      I would not want to be a supervisor in an organization where a worker stating “I find this item weird to see in the fridge” was enough to trigger some sort of intervention/equipment purchase.

      Reply
      1. Cari*

        I agree. I’m tired of seeing someone’s old hummus in the shared fridge but I haven’t asked for a new one.

        Reply
    5. Casey*

      Personally, I’d be more concerned with someone’s lunch contaminating my breast milk.
      I love the idea of a mini fridge designated for breast milk. Extra points if it’s in the pumping room (assuming there is one).

      Reply
      1. quill*

        Mmm, good point: an infant may not be old enough to know if they have, for example, a peanut allergy (those are famous for tiny levels of cross contamination being a problem) yet.

        Reply
      2. Casey*

        Also, just to add, I once worked somewhere where I had to pump in the bathroom (which is gross and unsanitary and now I know that it might have also been illegal to make me pump there). There was a closed room in the office with a door with a lock that wasn’t being used that I could’ve technically used, but when I asked, I was told no because management didn’t want anyone who walked by that room to be ‘uncomfortable’ when hearing the obvious thumping sound from my pump.

        Reply
        1. FlyingAce*

          I had it the other way round; I was using an unused bathroom (there was virtually no one in that floor, and it had separate stalls; I was using the sink area). There was a small room with lockers that were not in use, since the floor was almost empty; within a week of my return from maternity leave, they moved the lockers to the upper floor and fixed that room to be a breast pumping room. No separate fridge, but I never had an issue using the main fridge…

          Reply
      3. AMCH*

        Actually, not great if it’s in the pumping room, unless you manage to be the only woman in the office pumping. If someone else is in there, it could be a while before you can get your things when you need them.

        Reply
        1. Blackcat*

          Yeah, and when I was pumping, the few times I left my milk in the pump room, it was always tampered with or taken. It was far safer in a small lunch tote bag in the communal fridge.

          Reply
            1. Blackcat*

              I don’t know. I was a graduate student at the time. My extremely male department was incredibly supportive while every interaction I had with building staff (all women), including reporting the stolen milk, were awful. They gave me a very hard time about accessing the pumping room in the first place, too, until I got the Title IX office to intervene on my behalf. In the mean time, my department set up a small conference room with a door stopper and curtain to guarantee me a space to pump.

              The message I got from the building staff was that I had no real right to the pumping space and therefore no right to complain when my milk was taken or messed with. They said if I wanted my milk untampered with, I needed to find my own way to store it. They would not speak to the other two women who were currently using the room to tell them not to tamper with my milk (I didn’t know who they were, just that there were two based on the scheduling calendar). Fortunately the department fridge was both near my desk and fine to use. The pumping room was nicer than the makeshift situation in my department (sink vs no sink makes a big difference!), so I still used the room. I just never left anything in there again.

              The first time the milk was messed with, just a bit was taken, like some had been poured out. The second time, my bottles were left empty. My theory is another pumping mother was underproducing and decided to take some of my milk home, which is a really crappy thing to do in addition to being sort of gross in my book.

              Reply
              1. Self Employed*

                That’s horrible! All of it, but particularly the other mothers tampering with YOUR milk for YOUR baby. Of all the people in this story they should know best how valuable it is to you.

                Reply
          1. CupcakeCounter*

            My old work had a great set up. The pumping rooms were in a private area in the center of the building and there was special badge access to get in there. Only nursing mothers were issues the badges so only nursing mothers could access the area so there was never a problem getting a room and there was a fancy French Door fridge so everyone had room for their pump parts and milk. The rooms were also amazing! A comfy recliner with side table and lots of plugs as well as a nice desk and chair if you wanted/needed to work while pumping.

            Reply
        2. jesicka309*

          YES! I had massive issues with this when I returned to work after my first bub. I was pumping at 10 am and 2 pm every day. So I’d pump at 10 am, leave my milk & gear in the fridge in there as it was quite bulky (and no sink to wash up so had to leave the full pump in the fridge too). Sounds fine?
          Until 2 pm.
          The pump room also doubled as a prayer room, sick room, carer’s room, take a phone call about a job interview room, feel tired so want a lie down room etc. They called it ‘carer’s room’ so it covered all bases. There were only two of us pumping but mysteriously every other day the room was locked for 45 minutes to 2 hours. I’d wait, and wait, and wait, thinking the other mum was in there and she wouldn’t be more than 30 minutes. Turns out our old crotchety PA had some chronic pain condition and was napping in there 3-4 days a week. She asked me ‘do you really need to come in, can’t you do that elsewhere’ when I pounded on the door after waiting hours to get in for my pump. And then had the nerve to complain about me to the other PAs about how rude I was. I ended up pumping in the mailroom that day! And had to expend significant capital to get her reprimanded for using the room inappropriately.
          And then getting my stuff at 5 pm was a nightmare! As inevitably someone would be taking private calls in there (only door in the building that locked!). And during Ramadan one of the Muslim men was doing his prayers at 5 pm so if I was a half second late to the door I’d have to wait to get my things, and would be stressing about getting home on time for childcare pick up and the next feed. I was never mad at him about that one because it wasn’t his fault that we were tight on space, but I would be soooo edgy and stressed. Office planners! You need more than one carer’s room!!!

          Ugh I’m getting PTSD now just thinking about it. Thank god I have a new job and that for my second baby I’m work from home and can pump at my laptop if I want, or just feed the baby when he’s home. :)

          Reply
    6. HannahS*

      I think the key difference is that you wouldn’t have said anything and would have quietly managed your own discomfort. Disliking something and owning it as a “me-problem” is totally different from what this coworker did.
      (For the record, I think the coworker was out of line.)

      Reply
      1. Even In an Emergency*

        I agree the coworker shouldn’t have said anything. But I also think it’s reasonable for an employer to say “hey, we will have a clean, accessible, safe separate fridge for breast milk”. I just think they should have said that from the get go and not because someone complained.

        I don’t think it’s dirty. I don’t think it’s unhygienic. But I think saying it’s the same thing as an adult employee’s lunch food isn’t accurate.

        Reply
    7. quill*

      Honestly (though from the perspective of someone who has worked with biosamples) I think people who look into what others are keeping in the fridge (absent smells, spills, etc) get the level of information they’re looking for.

      … that said I did have a colleague store a turkey in a biosample fridge. (“It’s wrapped!”) So it may have a lot to do with your comfort with a specific coworker and / or the level of knowledge of others’ fridge use that’s going around the office.

      Reply
    8. JeanR*

      I didn’t realise how lucky I had it at my work. No one cares. It’s breastmilk. We had three or four nursing mothers at once, all storing milk in the fridge. Our fridge is never full, it’d be silly to need a second fridge for it. The only issues was when one mom accidently took my milk home by mistake one day (she felt horrible), but we fixed that with labeling.

      I don’t like kombucha and think it’s kind of icky. But I have no objections if people want to bring their kombucha and storing in the fridge.

      Reply
      1. Selina Luna*

        I won’t complain if it’s just the liquid part. I admit, I would be against someone storing their scobi at work at all. If they’re not perfectly tended, they start to smell like a rotting fish tank…

        Reply
    9. Tomato Frog*

      For me the question here isn’t whether it’s gross or not, the question is: do I really want to add to the burdens of someone in an already difficult situation because I’m mildly squicked?

      Being a working nursing mother already sucks, there’s all kinds of judgment happening all the time, I don’t need to add to that, and I eye askance anyone who concludes they do need to add to that.

      Reply
      1. Even In an Emergency*

        I mean like I said – I wouldn’t have said anything. I definitely don’t want to make anything harder on a nursing mom who is trying to work and probably has a bad pumping situation, let alone dick coworkers – but I DO think a proactive employer should have created a good set up for her way before anything came up, and I think a separate fridge would/could be part of that.

        Reply
    10. Danish*

      This became a huge debate in the original letter thread so I’m not looking to continue that, but it is an interesting topic to me because like

      1) idealogically, I 100% support women breastfeeding in public, and/or having appropriate designated spaces for it, and also not having any natural body functions be seen as gross or icky. I don’t see any problem with a hypothetical closed bottle of milk in a fridge. If it was unlabeled would anyone else even know?

      2) apparently in practice (“apparently” because I have not been in a scenario where it’s relevant) I am ALSO strongly anti-me-having-to-see-coworkers’-body-fluids.

      Having to reconcile this in my head is interesting. It is a very knee jerk “please get your fluids out of the food space” feeling, but then also having to really think about why human breast milk seems less acceptable.

      good food for thought.

      Reply
      1. I edit everything*

        I find it so interesting–I mean, many of us drank that very same bodily fluid when we were babies. I’d think that would make it less squicky. You’ve had it in your mouth! But having it in the fridge, in sealed bottles, weirds you out.

        Reply
        1. Even In an Emergency*

          But I had my *mom’s* milk. Not my coworker’s. Somehow that’s the difference for me. Maybe because it feels very personal?

          Reply
      2. Kate*

        We (our society) tend to feel weird about it, because we’ve been conditioned to think that’s not what boobs are for. Boobs are for bikinis, Playboy, Victoria Secret, R-rated movies…..right?

        I grew up in the 70s and 80s and I don’t remember ever seeing a mother nursing a baby. Ever. (I’m in my late 40s now). And then I had a kid and chose to nurse because it worked for me.

        I have an only child but through preschool and lower school there were *always* mothers nursing younger siblings around the older siblings and other kids – at the playground, at the park, at another kid’s house, etc. It was completely normalized for the older kids to see this. I now have a 16 year old boy and he doesn’t blink twice if he sees someone nursing.

        If you’d asked 20-something me, who’d never seen a mother nursing, and who had the mental connection between boobs=sexy, I probably would have had a knee jerk reaction that it was a little icky. I took time for me to really think through how cultural messages had shaped my thinking about it in a way that I disliked. So I changed! And I’m so glad that my teen and his cohort see it as all perfectly normal.

        Reply
      3. Arvolin*

        I might have felt the same before becoming a father, but it was extremely clear right up front that I was going to deal with a lot of bodily fluids etc. that were considerably ickier than milk. I’m desensitized.

        Reply
      4. meyer lemon*

        To be honest, I personally don’t understand the grossed out response, and I’m a person who is normally very squeamish. There are many grosser things in a shared office fridge. I think the inclination to compare it to bodily fluids like urine or blood should be examined, because it’s really just a reflection of breastfeeding being hidden from the public eye for so long. The discomfort just comes from lack of practice with it.

        Reply
        1. Danish*

          I think for me it is less of a “it’s (ob/subjectively) gross” issue – not like rotting food or any of the other comparisons – so much as I’m just not keen on having to see anything secreted from my co-worker’s body. It’s the weird blend of a coworker not QUITE being a stranger but also not being someone I’m close to — similarly I’d feel weirder standing around in my underwear with coworkers than I would random strangers.

          Reply
      1. Jjkkjgffhjn*

        Ok so my comment got removed for saying this is a bizarre hill for this commenter to die on? Or pointing out that nobody’s asking them to drink the breast milk? Or that if the breast milk was in a plain water bottle (I suggested a particular brand because people know what it looks like), they wouldn’t know what it was and presumably wouldn’t have a problem?

        Lots of other people said the same thing, after I said it, but my comment gets deleted.

        Reply
        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          No, your comment got removed for being rude, criticizing someone for responding to the replies to her own comment, and telling her to “get a hobby.”

          Reply
    11. Selina Luna*

      I kind of would have loved a mini-fridge in which I could keep and freeze my milk when I was pumping. But this isn’t because I care one jot about whether anyone is grossed out-I kept my milk in the shared freezer, after all. I would have loved to keep my (washed!) pump parts in there. The cold would have felt soooo good on my achy boobs at the time. I’m so glad my kiddo’s past that now.
      But at least if anyone was grossed out by my milk in the freezer, they had the tact and good sense not to say anything. On the other hand, I did keep each little pouch in a gallon size zipper bag so that I could just move THAT, not try to balance carrying every little bag I produced.

      Reply
    12. Christine*

      The only people who should have to use a personal cooler other than the community refrigerator, are those who are uncomfortable using the community refrigerator, so in this case LW 1’s coworker should use their own cooler if they are so uncomfortable with their food being in the same refrigerator as LW’s breast milk.

      Reply
    13. Can’t believe I’m actually commenting*

      This is a fascinating debate to look at after the earlier letter about the intense team culture- it’s very interesting to see all the commenters basically going “you are Wrong about this and you should rethink your entire life philosophy” (maybe a bit of an exaggeration)

      People are allowed to have different opinions on this. People are allowed to be squicked out by human body fluids. People are allowed to think that whatever comparison you use doesn’t work.

      The question shouldn’t be “are you thinking the right thoughts” but “are you making it someone else’s problem?”

      Who cares if you’re squicked out by human breast milk if you aren’t making it anyone’s problem? It’s actions that actually matter.

      Reply
      1. KGD*

        I think everyone has the right to feel however they feel. But, as someone said upthread, a lot of these comments are really hurtful to those of us who are currently breastfeeding (hi, me, right this exact second). I get that if it isn’t something you’ve experienced, you might have some feelings about it. But I wish everyone would stop comparing my milk to blood and urine. It’s mean.

        Reply
      2. Tired*

        Telling us all how icky you find breastfeeding is absolutely an action you’re choosing to take.

        Reply
    14. Beth*

      I mean, I don’t think jelly belongs in a fridge (it’s shelf stable! it’s a waste of fridge space!). Does that mean everyone else shouldn’t be allowed to put jam in an office fridge, if they prefer?

      Fridges are for anything people want to keep cold. With an office fridge, there are a few extra requirements; each person should keep their usage limited enough that there’s still space for everyone else, and anything that goes in there should be properly packaged and contained so it’s not going to be touching other people’s stuff. But there is no element where you get to control what other people want to refrigerate. You don’t have to like everything your coworkers put in there; you can think it’s weird or gross, you can be squicked out by it. (Plenty of vegetarians might feel weird about sharing food storage space with a hunk of steak!) But that’s your feelings to handle. Their right to use the shared keeping-things-cold device trumps your right to never have to confront your own discomfort over a perfectly normal thing.

      Reply
    15. Pucci*

      Using this logic, wouldn’t the company have to provide a separate fridge for vegans who are sickened by the sight of meat in the fridge?

      Reply
    16. Nanani*

      What the hell.
      Do you also want people with weaned babies to keep baby food in a separate place from adult food?
      Your squeamishness about lactation is a you problem. Do not make it a nursing person’s problem.

      Reply
    17. MK*

      I don’t understand being grossed out by the breast milk. What I WOULD understand is being grossed out by my breast milk having to share space with whatever nasty stuff people have in the office fridge. And random people potentially touching the bottle or commenting on it when rifling through the fridge. I feel like most people would prefer to have their own fridge for this, and the letter writer probably would have preferred that solution too if it hadn’t come under the offensive guise of needing to do it to make OTHERS comfortable.

      Reply
    18. mreasy*

      I just don’t get it. I have a powerful aversion to babies, and the sight of a pregnant belly actually can make me feel sick to my stomach (I am a woman of childbearing age), but even I have never given a second thought to my coworkers storing breast milk in the fridge!

      Reply
    19. Maeve*

      I think meat and dairy and eggs are disgusting and it grosses me out to see them in the fridge next to my lunch, but I still don’t complain about it.

      Reply
    20. TiredMama*

      I really do not understand this thinking. Does it not weird you out that cow’s milk came from a cow?

      Reply
    21. Ele4phant*

      Yeah this is very much a you thing and I’m glad you’re keeping it to yourself.

      I mean we all have our things so feel how you feel, but rationally there’s no legitimate impact on you.

      The breast milk is kept in containers. It’s not going to come into contact with your food. It doesn’t make a difference to you and your food.

      Just ignore it.

      Reply
    22. Medusa*

      Isn’t there a ton of stuff in a work fridge that came from someone’s body? That is, anything that’s not a vegetable or a fruit.

      Reply
  3. Person from the Resume*

    Yay for LW3. I’m so glad it turned out to be pretty easily resolved.

    * I also am expected to pay for my own internet which I use for both work and personal internet.

    ** I have a friend whose company pays for her work internet, but she cannot use it for personal use. That seems like more trouble than it’s worth because now she has to have two internet providers at her home – one for work paid for by her company and one for home use.

    Reply
      1. Teatime is Goodtime*

        Nah, that’s what I call security. Routers, especially cheap, awful, out-of-date-when-they-send-it-to-you routers which are most commonly sent out by internet providers, are a HUGE security risk. You don’t have to be surfing risky sites to be unlucky on the internet.

        There are other things a company can do to protect both the worker at home and the rest of the network from any security risks through the worker at home, and most of the time that’s enough…but depending on what the work is, what the company as a whole does, and the rest of the infrastructure, I can absolutely imagine scenarios where the risk is deemed too high.

        Is it annoying? Absolutely. Is it justified in that case? No idea. But could it be justified theoretically? Yes. Yes, absolutely.

        Reply
        1. Observer*

          Nah, that’s what I call security. Routers, especially cheap, awful, out-of-date-when-they-send-it-to-you routers which are most commonly sent out by internet providers, are a HUGE security risk. You don’t have to be surfing risky sites to be unlucky on the internet.

          If that’s what they are worrying about, then this restriction is not going to help them. What WILL help is to provide their own router, set it up and lock it down.

          Reply
        2. Arvolin*

          You don’t get security through two connections, you get security through a VPN which ensures that all communication between the employee’s computer and the server at work is solidly encrypted. If the employee uses her own computer to connect into work, that would be a vulnerability. Provide the employee with a work computer not to be used for anything else, a VPN with two-factor authentication, and don’t worry about a multiple-use connection.

          Seriously, the cheap, awful, oodwtsity router is going to be used for the work connection whether it’s separate or not – or, I suppose, the employer could provide another router, but there’s no need whatsoever for another connection.

          Reply
          1. Bagpuss*

            I’m glad to see your comment – I had a moments panic about the people we have WFH, but we’ve got VPN set up for them !

            Reply
          2. Teatime is Goodtime*

            I disagree. I mean, yeah, provide a work computer first, and VPN, and only THEN does it make sense to provide a second connection with a proper router provided… My only argument is that a separate connection can make sense in the right circumstances, that’s all. Not that that would be enough on its own.

            Reply
    1. The Rural Juror*

      When I was working from home, I used my phone’s hotspot to connect to my work laptop and provide the internet. My home internet (which I share with a roommate) wasn’t quite cutting it, but I didn’t want to upgrade at my personal expense. Luckily, my phone is paid for by my office and has unlimited data, so it worked out fine (even if it was just a smidge slower than what I’m used to at the office).

      Not everyone has the same options as me, though. I’m glad I was able to figure it out! I don’t even know how to get two different internet services in one house… two different providers? Yikes!

      Reply
      1. nonegiven*

        One place my son WFH home for had him set up a separate network from his personal network. It didn’t require another provider or connection, they just sent him all the equipment to use.

        Reply
  4. quill*

    #2 I’m pretty sure the caterers are glad you told them, it made their work day go much smoother.

    Reply
  5. Ben Marcus Consulting*

    LW1: I’m not sure the policy is meant to imply that a fridge doesn’t need to be supplied because employees could bring a cooler. I read it more to mean that employees don’t need to worry about coolers for breastmilk being banned. All that said, I’m not sure why a designated fridge wasn’t supplied from the get go. I’ve added a nursing station and mini fridge for every office that I’ve worked with. My mindset was more that I wanted to avoid someone tampering with it (as in, they’re curious about it not that they’re being malicious) or inadvertently using it as coffee creamer.

    LW3: Keep the bills tallied up and use it to reduce your tax burden at the end of the year.

    LW4: I’m glad you found a solution! It’s great to avoid reinventing the wheel, but I find that using what I’ve learned/used as inspiration and not the standard allows me the flexibility and freedom to get creative. Sometimes my changes have negligible impact and sometimes they dramatically help our performance. If I only did a control c, control v, with everything, I don’t think that would happen.

    Reply
    1. Caramel Karma*

      How would this reduce taxes at EOY for LW3? Tax law changes in recent years have meant that only self-employed people can deduct home office expenses.

      Reply
      1. Ben Marcus Consulting*

        At the federal level, correct you can no longer itemized for most employee business expenses, though many states still allow for this.

        However, the home office deduction still exists. If LW has a dedicated space and is fully WFH, they should be able to deduct their home office expenses. This could include mortgage interest, taxes, maintenance & repairs, insurance, utilities, internet and other related expenses. A CPA would be the best guidance on this and all deductions need to be fully justified (do a self-pressure test to see if you can polk holes in your logic).

        Reply
          1. Ben Marcus Consulting*

            Yup. Sorry. The 2018 change included the home office deduction as well, my mistake. Independent contractors and home-business are still able to take advantage of this at the federal level, as well as educators, members of the armed forces, qualified performing artists, fee-basis state and federal government employees, and expenses for employees with impairments.

            However, many states still offer these deductions for all employee categories.

            Reply
    2. I'm just here for the cats*

      See I was thinking that the cooler was if they couldn’t have a fridge. Say the person traveled between offices they would be allowed to have a cooler that traveled with them. Or if there’s some sort of weird rule at their business that says they can’t have their own coolers or cant bring big coolers.

      Reply
  6. LifeBeforeCorona*

    LW1 Now we wait for the breast milk adverse co-worker to ask to share the mini-fridge because the other fridge is too full of lunches.

    Reply
    1. quill*

      I bet you one AAM spit-take that she’s gonna buy a gallon of milk for her coffee and then say that the milk fridge is the only one that has room for it… and then be disgusted all over again, with no sense of irony.

      Reply
    2. Generic Name*

      I’m having flashbacks to the letter about the office fridge that was stuffed full of margarine/butter containers, and the LW just wanted a cold soda (dammit). I believe the solution was the LW found a (empty and clean) butter container that perfectly fit a can of soda, and stored their soda in a butter container amongst the plethora of other butter/margarine containers. So maybe the LW can hide their breastmilk container inside an opaque food container.

      Reply
      1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        She shouldn’t have to. Plus she now has the breast milk fridge to use. But I do think the company’s response was disappointing.

        Reply
  7. Stef*

    It’s becoming super obvious why breastfeeding rates are so low in the West. When you consider what gets put in the fridge, the amount of people all clutching their pearls over this……good grief.

    Reply
    1. littledoctor*

      Literally! How can any woman be expected to put up with being treated like a disgusting source of contamination for two or more years, if they breastfeed for the amount of time recommended by the WHO? It’s no wonder only a small fraction of babies are receiving any breast milk by their first birthdays.

      Reply
      1. Stef*

        I’m honestly shaking my head at these comments. HIV!! HUMAN WASTE!! Bacteria!! Plague!! Death! Icky!! Hordes of locusts. Honest to god. Bet you all put milk in your coffee though. It’s breast milk. And until people mature beyond the mental age of 11, rates of breast feeding will remain low while women are made to feel awkward or difficult for keeping the human race going.

        Reply
        1. Thegs*

          No milk in my coffee, I’m lactose intolerant ;)

          But I also don’t see any issue with storing it in the fridge. So long as we all use containers that can be sealed, who cares? It’s not like it’s going to crawl out and start eating my lunch.

          Reply
          1. Observer*

            It’s not like it’s going to crawl out and start eating my lunch.

            To read some of the comments, that’s EXACTLY what some people seem to think.

            Reply
        2. KGD*

          Ugh, right there with you. Reading this comments while breastfeeding my one-year-old was really discouraging.

          Reply
      2. Tired*

        Yep. Having read these comments, and currently breastfeeding, I’m actually pretty shaken by the amount of people who clearly view me as a disgusting source of contamination. (But they’d “never say it”, so I guess all the things I’ve read upthread happened purely in my imagination.)

        Reply
        1. KGD*

          That was the worst part! Like, you are literally saying it right now. If you’d never say it, then don’t.

          Reply
    2. Mental Lentil*

      This. We need to stop stigmatizing natural human functions.

      I work with people from non-Western cultures and they really don’t understand the weird issues we have around burping and farting. “It’s something that happens” is their response, and it should be ours.

      Everyone poops!

      Reply
      1. DieTrying*

        I’m wondering whether any of this breaks down along national lines or socio-economic lines or … heck, any other kinds of lines. Full disclosure: I’m a woman, have not given birth or nursed, and the fact that there are a lot of thoughtful commentators that object to the proximity of breastmilk to their lunches is totally baffling to me. 10/10 would not have thought. I’m also from a blue-collar, farming-adjacent background and was not raised in the U.S., so I wonder if that makes a difference in perception, but I’m very open to y’all’s debunking that.

        Reply
        1. TreeHillGrass*

          It’s the evangelism and the Christian misogyny so rampant in the US rearing its ugly head

          Reply
          1. Rainy*

            I think there’s also some other stuff going on, although I agree that misogyny is part of it. The US as a whole makes having kids super hard, and I think this is part of that. I don’t have kids myself (and the main reason I don’t want them is because we just couldn’t afford it even if we wanted to) but watching my friends and colleagues have kids for the last 20 years…it’s hard out there for a parent, just in general, and that includes at work.

            Reply
        2. Bagpuss*

          I’m in the UK and am a childless woman and I’m totally baffled at the idea that anyone would have any issue with breastmilk in a bottle /bag in a shared fridge.

          That said, it doesn’t happen as much in work situations here as most women have longer periods of maternity leave so are less likely to want or need to pump at work.

          I know that there are people here who get very heated about women breastfeeding in public (which I also find weird ) and absolutely loved the café I heard about, a few years ago, whose response to a officious customer demanding that a breast-feeding mother put a cloth over herself and her baby lest anyone be exposed to the risk of seeing a glimpse of boob was to offer OC a cloth to put over their head so they could avoid the risk of seeing anything which might disturb their delicate sensibilities)

          Reply
    3. Ant*

      I’m just amazed that people even pay enough attention to what’s in their office fridge to notice! I would at most check if anyone had a similar looking container to mine in case I needed to make my label more obvious, but most of the time I had such tunnel vision for what I’d brought/needed that there could’ve been any number of things in there and I would’ve been completely oblivious!

      Reply
  8. Just @ me next time*

    I was sitting here marveling about how many people in the comments section have offices with pumping rooms and milk fridges, since it doesn’t seem to come up in my office. Then I remembered that I live in a country where maternity leave is 12-16 months, which I suppose makes all the difference.

    Reply
    1. Boom! Tetris for Jeff!*

      Hahaha, I had the exact same thought! So many logistical nightmares can be avoided with strong social support systems.

      Reply
    2. DieTrying*

      Ding ding ding ding! Marveling here as well, and while I currently live/work in the U.S. I am *from* and grew up in one of those 12-16 month maternity leave countries.

      Reply
    3. No Tribble At All*

      Does anyone ever come back to work earlier? Shouldn’t you have nursing rooms anyway? Plus if you’re nursing > 1 year? And you’re back at 1 year…

      I had a European colleague be *appalled* that we were only asking for 12 weeks paid mat leave because “don’t you want to spend time with your baaaaaby????” Which like. Y’all mat leave is not mandatory paid over here!! Stop making us feel bad? I feel like this shifts the burden to be “women don’t leave the house for the first year or they’re Not Real Mom TM”

      Reply
      1. DieTrying*

        Totally sympathetic to this as well @notribble. When in Rome, etc. (And, full disclosure, my U.S. job offers ca. 6 months of leave.)

        Reply
      2. Just @ me next time*

        I mean, this is anecdata, but no one I know has ever come back early from mat leave or parental leave. I’m not sure what the situation is like in the US, but childcare here is extremely expensive and hard to find, especially for infants. Even with unpaid maternity/parental leave (which is the standard), it usually works out better financially for one of the parents to stay home for at least the first year than to have to pay for childcare for that time.
        I guess there could be parents still breastfeeding when they come back to the office, but I’ve honestly never heard anyone complain about not having a dedicated room for pumping. (Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s not a problem, just that it’s never come up in any conversation I’ve been part of). I assume HR would allow some sort of accommodation, but I don’t know that it would be a dedicated pumping room.

        Reply
        1. Roci*

          Yes, this is the other side of the coin. It is difficult where I live, and I imagine many other 12-16month countries, to find childcare, precisely because the assumption is one parent (assumed to be the mother) will be gone for that whole time. I have heard it’s difficult to find any childcare for a baby under 6 months.

          My country does require accommodations to be given for nursing mothers though.

          Reply
        2. NotRealAnonForThis*

          Can vouch that childcare in the US for infants is both expensive and a bit on the difficult side to find. Both factors are pretty dependent on where you happen to live. Was on three waiting lists before oldest-child was even born. Went with a private nanny/in her home sitter simply because he wasn’t off the waiting list before I needed to return to work, and his care with her cost as much as our mortgage. Didn’t make much after childcare, BUT I carried the insurance. Moving to my spouse’s insurance would’ve been more costly per month than the childcare hit + loss of my income.

          I worked for a small company that offered a very generous (by US standards) half pay and complete retention of all benefits for up to 8 weeks based on doctor’s orders for my return to work.

          Reply
      3. Boom! Tetris for Jeff!*

        That’s a good question. In my ~15 years in the workforce, I have not had any colleagues come back early and this issue has never come up that I know of. So either returning parents are able to come to amicable arrangements with the employer, they don’t need any arrangements, or maybe they are suffering in silence

        I always assumed that if someone is nursing past 1 year, it’s not every meal, but maybe just an evening feed or something like that.

        Reply
        1. KGD*

          I’m in Canada, and breastfed my son until he was almost 2. I went back to work when he was one and pumped at work for around two months while my supply adjusted and my body got used to the new schedule. Ive had colleagues who kept it up longer. In Canada, employers are required to provide private space to pump.

          Reply
      4. Astor*

        I do know people who have come back from parental leave earlier than planned, but I also know a lot of people who assumed they’d want to come back from parental leave early and then found that they really enjoyed the time. And then some who wanted to come back from parental leave early, but because of their parental leave set-up (someone was hired for that time) they didn’t have the flexibility to do so.

        But I will also 100% admit I’m not familiar with a range of nursing support that people have wanted. Most of the people I know who were still nursing when they returned to work either had nursing rooms at work or were no longer doing mid-day feedings.

        But, yeah: more choices for everyone, please!

        Reply
      5. Bananagram*

        Yeah, as an American working in Europe, this stuff is real. And it’s infuriating. I work in a field (academia) where you can’t just “take a break” without consequence, no matter what the law says, and then people wonder why women are so poorly represented amongst tenured faculty. Turns out that while Europe has gotten a lot of things right compared to the US, they are still full steam ahead on the patriarchy.

        Reply
      6. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        “Does anyone ever come back to work earlier?”
        I’ve known of about three women who did, but they were not employees, they were self-employed. And they had to find a family member to babysit, because registered childminders and day care centres would only take babies older than the age at which the mother has to go back to work. I think they’re not insured or trained to take care of children younger than that.
        Maternity leave is paid in Europe. It does vary from one state to another, but it’s mostly a sizeable chunk of your salary.

        “if you’re nursing > 1 year? And you’re back at 1 year”
        Here in France we only get four months maternity leave, so mothers do pump at work. They are entitled to an hour’s worth of pumping break (often two 30-minute breaks), up to a year after giving birth. Most of them are sick of pumping by then and will stop. The baby is already eating plenty of other food by then, and can drink normal cow’s milk too, so there’s no need to use formula if the mother stops pumping.

        “I had a European colleague be *appalled* that we were only asking for 12 weeks paid mat leave because “don’t you want to spend time with your baaaaaby????” Which like. Y’all mat leave is not mandatory paid over here!! Stop making us feel bad? I feel like this shifts the burden to be “women don’t leave the house for the first year or they’re Not Real Mom TM””
        I’m sorry we make you feel bad. We think you should be entitled to a year’s PAID leave.
        And as for women not leaving the house, no no no! One of the big advantages of breastfeeding is that you can do it anywhere, unlike bottle feeding when you need all sorts of paraphernalia to prepare and then clean the bottle. Look at Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand: she took her baby with her on several foreign trips, for the sake of breastfeeding. No hassle.

        Reply
      7. Rachel C*

        I returned to work part-time when each of my babies was 3 months old, and returned to full-time work when they were both around 18 months old. I could have had a year off each time, but I wanted to be back at work. I pumped for both babies, but much more for the first one; the second one I was able to arrange to cycle to their childcare in my lunch hour and provide a feed, and to give another feed at pickup at the end of the day. This really helped reduce how much pumping was needed.

        Reply
    4. allathian*

      Yeah. I’ve never heard that it’s come up in my country, either.

      I was on maternity leave for 10 months followed by parental leave for 14 months after that. My husband is in a very conservative and male-dominated field and he’s making about double my salary, so it made financial sense for us to do it the traditional way with me taking most of the leave. He got some pushback at work when he took the two weeks of paternity leave he was entitled to. Fortunately the most hidebound conservatives in his company have retired, and younger dads are taking longer parental leaves. His company has also started to employ more women of childbearing age, so maternity leaves will probably become more common.

      I’m just glad that parental leave can be given to any parent, not just the one who gave birth to the baby. My friend’s sister got parental leave when her wife who had given birth to their baby went back to work after 10 months’ maternity leave.

      Reply
  9. Goose*

    I can understand the discomfort more than I can understand the audacity of saying something. Any discomfort on my end is my problem. There are other things in an office fridge to get upset about!

    Reply
    1. collette*

      Yes. Exactly. I’m kind of squicked out by it, but that’s a me thing. I get to be responsible for my own feelings.

      Reply
  10. Ke19*

    LW1’s coworker and boss are absolutely in the wrong.

    This reminded me that there was a half-and-half thief at my work, so I began storing it in a large breastmilk bottle. This was even years after I was done breastfeeding. Solved the problem well! Maybe LW could store her half-and -half in a Medela bottle in the coming years, just out of spite .

    Reply
    1. littledoctor*

      Absolutely. I hope OP1 doesn’t feel that she was at all in the wrong or that this treatment is justified in any way. Her coworkers are entirely in the wrong, not her at all.

      Reply
  11. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

    There’s also a practical reason to not store breast milk in a lunch bag (besides the fact it will cool slower). I put mine in an opaque bag in sealed bottles in the fridge. Like many liquid containers that are opened and closed (unlike say a single use soda can), they are sealed only when upright except for maybe a brief tip over. Someone moved my bag to a horizontal position to make room for their stuff. Milk spilled – sad for me and also weirder for people like this CW. So it makes sense not to have people think the bag is your turkey sandwich and can just be thrown around – now I store the bottles visibly and don’t have this issue.

    Reply
    1. Anonymouse*

      ohh is that why the bottles can’t go in a lunchbox? I was wondering why that wasn’t an acceptable solution. No one has to know what’s actually in your lunchbox in the fridge.

      Reply
      1. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

        Maybe if your coworkers aren’t jerks and/or self-centered it would be fine. Mine would take a lunch bag and shove it wherever convenient to make room for their own stuff. Probably not even realizing what’s in it. Then your bottles end up upside down in the produce drawer and leaking the next time you need them. They have screw on caps but they aren’t perfect if people move your stuff around so it’s not upright anymore. I’d rather squick a couple folks out then have someone dump my milk by accident.

        Reply
      2. Blackcat*

        I think this depends. I definitely used bottles that were sealed well enough to not spill when tipped. I traveled a lot while breastfeeding and would regularly put my cooler bag in an overhead bin, so having spill-proof solutions mattered (though I’d generally put all of the bottles within a gallon ziplock when going on planes as an extra layer of protection).

        They’d only leak if I put the bottle tops for feeding the baby on them. I’d do that at the end of the day since daycare let me drop off milk/bottles for the next day when doing daycare pick up (daycare was near my office).

        Reply
  12. Mophie*

    I don’t care, and I wouldn’t have said anything, but I think the separate fridge is the answer. It keeps breast milk away from other people’s stuff and limits who has access to it. Because while it might be “just milk,” it just isn’t. I think someone would be much more upset if it’s thrown away than they would about their carton of cow’s milk, for instance.

    Also, its a bodily fluid. I know it is also food for the baby, but it can transmit disease (before AZT was widespread in the developing world, transmission of HIV through breastmilk was a common way for babies to get infected).
    I don’t think there is much danger in the office fridge, but let’s not pretend that it’s just some other food product (especially when taking into account how many times stuff gets stolen from fridge on this website!).

    Saying that “it creeps me out to look at it” is over the top. Thinking that it should be kept in a separate fridge (that the employer supplies) isn’t.

    Reply
    1. Mental Lentil*

      Actually, HIV is the only virus that transmits through breastfeeding. So get some facts and calm down.

      The issue with the separate fridge is that it stigmatizes a nursing mother for doing something that mammals have been doing for literally 100,000,000 years. Stop stigmatizing mothers for breast feeding. It’s that simple.

      And yes, it’s a body fluid. So is regular cow’s milk. So is cheese. So is yogurt.

      If there’s going to be a separate fridge for anybody, it should be for the person who is freaked out by it. And they should be the one to pay for it.

      Reply
      1. bluestreak*

        “Actually, HIV is the only virus that transmits through breastfeeding. So get some facts and calm down.”
        I’m not sure what was incorrect about my statement. It’s pretty well rooted in fact.

        I just don’t see how a separate fridge is stigmatizing. It *is* different. I don’t know a mom who wouldn’t feel 100 times more creeped out or upset if someone stole their breastmilk vs their yogurt. I don’t think most moms are saying “I have to have this in the general fridge as a matter of principle” You need someplace cold. I would think the less access to it the better. Just put it in the room where the pumping happens. Like I said, I don’t see how it’s stigmatizing.

        Reply
        1. Mophie*

          apologies. I switched from my work to home computer and for some reason had a different name in the comments.

          Reply
        2. fhqwhgads*

          If the separate fridge is in the pumping room so that it is only accessible by the people pumping, it’s a convenience and not stigmatizing. If it’s a separate fridge in an otherwise public space, it’s on the stigma side of the fence.

          Reply
        3. Blackcat*

          The only fridge my breastmilk was stolen out of was a pumping room fridge.

          I stuck to a communal fridge after that. My oversized lunch bag full of milk + pump parts was never disturbed there.

          Women should be free to use the solution that works best for them, including communal fridges.

          Reply
      2. Maxie*

        This is a slippery slope to women being told they can’t breastfeed in public or must drape in a certain way. This already happens, even though it is illegal, but requiring separate fridges will make it even worse.

        Reply
    2. Observer*

      I know it is also food for the baby, but it can transmit disease

      Can we stop with the baloney concern trolling? There is no way that any liquid in a sealed bottle can contaminate ANYTHING.

      I know it is also food for the baby, but it can transmit disease

      Are you seriously claiming that women have an obligation to protect food thieves from the effects of their terrible behavior? By that logic, that HR person who tried to fire the person with an ultra spicy lunch was 100% right.

      Reply
      1. Observer*

        Sorry, the second quote line should have been:

        especially when taking into account how many times stuff gets stolen from fridge on this website!

        Reply
        1. Mophie*

          I’m sorry. That’s not what I meant. I was saying that people steal things and that losing milk you just pumped would be worse than losing a carton of milk or a yogurt. It definitely is different. I thought I made this clear. If I didn’t, I apologize. I think ideal solution is keeping it in a place people don’t have access to.

          When I worked in a nursery, we never would have dreamed of keeping breast milk in the same fridge as the food. It’s different. We treated it as essential medication.

          Reply
  13. NeonDreams*

    I feel sorry for LW 1. The way it was handled seems like it made her feel isolated and judged.

    Reply
  14. Delta Delta*

    #1 – I said it before and I’ll say it again: the second fridge is going to get used for non-breastmilk purposes and it’s going to start a whole new round of fridge wars.

    Reply
    1. KaciHall*

      When I was breastfeeding, we had a ton specifically for pumping, with a code on the door that changed periodically (thought it was usually 8008 or 7272 because someone had a sense of humor.) The fridge in there was specifically for breast milk. It worked well (unless someone was pumping when I was leaving for work, which happened a few times. )If there isn’t a locked room just for pumping, meaning anyone can use the fridge, it won’t work.

      Reply
      1. jesicka309*

        No one ever used our fridge for anything but breastmilk…but I’d often find food crumbs or the bench space, and the microwave got used to heat up stinky foods all the time. So I’d go in to pump and be marinating in someone’s warmed broccoli or left over stirfry, and trying to set up my sterilised equipment on a dirty bench covered in fast food crumbs (no sink in the room, best option was wet toilet paper from the toilets across the hall yuck). And it was rarely cleaned so unless I got a cloth to wipe down the crumbs would stay for weeks.
        Ugh ugh ugh remembering it all now makes me so sad. I felt so free when I finally stopped feeding and could end the pump room wars, I was using all my capital to have a clean, safe space to pump (worth it, but not the battles I should have had to have).

        Reply
  15. CouldntPickAUsername*

    so what’s the solution if the employee can’t switch internet? I live in an area where I have the best internet we can get and it sucks.

    Reply
    1. Jack Straw*

      In my experience, these are the options:
      1. they come into the office to work (if that’s an option)
      2. org tries to see if there is another position they are qualified for where they don’t need the high speed connection
      3. they are let go because they cannot perform the job duties

      Reply
  16. President Porpoise*

    I’m pro separate mini fridge, but not because of any animosity towards human milk. In a separate mini fridge, there’s less possibility of breastmilk being knocked over, contaminated, removed from the fridge, used as creamer for someone’s coffee (whether intentional of not)… just better odds of the milk making it home to baby.

    Reply
    1. Shenandoah*

      Same. When I was pumping, I was relieved that my milk was in a separate area and that the only people going in there were other lactating people. That said, I’m bummed that OP1 was made to feel crappy about it, and I hope that the mini-fridge is in a convenient location for her.

      Reply
    2. Blackcat*

      I do think the mini fridge is the best solution, but it sounds like an OP-specific solution, while OP wanted a company policy change to guarantee women fridge access for breast milk. I doubt OP would have had as much of a problem if they changed the policy to say they’d provide a mini-fridge for storing milk, rather than her manger doing it as a one off discretionary thing.

      Reply
    3. KoiFeeder*

      I have a vague recollection of a letter where someone’s coworker was stealing the pumped milk and using it in coffee, so I do think the separate fridge is safer, but the way the company handled this could have been better.

      Reply
    4. KR*

      Agreed. Plus a mini-fridge will probably fit in whatever pumping space they have set-up, making it more convenient.

      Reply
    5. PostalMixup*

      One downside to the mini fridge is that you have to be really sure the door is fully closed. If there’s another woman using the fridge, you can’t guarantee it’s going to happen unless you check it periodically during the day (who has time for that?). And mini fridges warm up really fast if the door is left open! I know, because it happened to me – there were only two of us using the pumping room at work, and the other woman used it right after I did. One day I went to get my milk three hours later and found the door ajar and everything inside close to room temperature. And because it was the only fridge on that side of the floor, another coworker had to throw out a vial of insulin that she stored in it (so yes, the pumping fridge will get used for other things unless it’s in a locked room!).

      Reply
    6. Kiki*

      Yeah! I don’t think I would notice or care about breast milk being kept in the regular, all-purpose fridge. But, in our office at least, people are not careful when they’re using the fridge. People move stuff around, accidentally knock things over, take things out to get to something in the back and then forget to put things back in. A separate fridge located in a pumping room seems ideal for the safety of the breastmilk.

      Reply
  17. Van Wilder*

    #1 – even though nobody seemed to learn their lesson, I’m super proud of you for not backing down. Maybe your nosy coworkers will think twice before burdening a working mom with their own weird body issues/food issues/internalized misogyny next time.

    Reply
    1. anonforthis*

      Absolutely agree. OP, there are many people – including all of science – that supports what you are doing. And people like you are what will make it easier for those nursing in the future. I’m sorry that your workplace (and many of the commentators here) are making you and other nursing people manage their unfounded discomfort and biases.

      Reply
  18. raincoaster*

    I certainly hope #3 can at least get some sort of deduction for the internet upgrade, since it is a requirement of employment (exactly the kind of thing that SHOULD be covered by the employer, but increasingly is not these days).

    Reply
  19. Roci*

    I think the best solution for #1 may have been a communal breast milk fridge offered to anyone who would prefer to store their breast milk there.

    Another solution is give the mini fridge to the person who complained. I don’t like rewarding complainers but it doesn’t stigmatize OP’s choice.

    Honestly I’m not sure any action was necessary at all because the “harm” caused by this problem seems to be one employee “seeing and knowing the bottle contains breast milk” and feeling uncomfortable about that. Does the employee feel uncomfortable walking by the pumping room knowing what is happening there? Could the employee just… live with their feelings of discomfort? How big is this problem really?

    I can see why the company decided to make it go away with the compromise of OP getting their own fridge. They don’t have to wade into the morality or take sides, just make the problem go away.

    Reply
  20. Lizy*

    Late to the par-tay but I wonder how many people that are up-in-arms about breastmilk buy organic “farm fresh” eggs. Cause I guarantee you my breastmilk is more sanitary than the butt nuggets I have on my counter.

    Reply
    1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

      Dying @ “butt nuggets”! I will definitely file this away for later use. X-D

      Reply
    2. lailaaaaah*

      Exactly! Or they’ll eat fancy cheese (created through bacteria and mould), or food that’s just past its sell-by date, or obey the five second rule, or whatever. But breastmilk is the devil and must be avoided at all costs?

      Reply
    3. londonedit*

      Exactly. The eggs we buy in the supermarket here are all ‘farm fresh’ and often come complete with feathers and little bits of chicken poo stuck to them. Breast milk is far more hygienic than that!

      Also, all these people saying ‘breast milk could be dangerous and transmit viruses if someone came into contact with it’…yeah, so could the raw chicken that someone bought on their lunch break to take home and cook for dinner, if someone decided to go into the fridge and lick it. As long as it stays in its container and no one decides to lick it, the raw chicken is perfectly safe. As is breast milk in a bottle.

      Reply
  21. ToodlesTeaTops*

    LW 2 – This is the kind of update we hope to see tbh. Having the company handle it well is exactly what they should be doing. If you haven’t, I suggest leaving feedback on a review page for others who may face the same thing.

    Reply
  22. PrairieEffingDawn*

    I’m reading these comments as I sit here pumping for my baby and just thinking about all the reasons my life would be much harder if I had to be doing this at work. Having a pandemic baby was not great in many ways but also a blessing in disguise.

    Reply
    1. Overeducated*

      Absolutely. I went back to work for a month and pumped before the pandemic, and it was fine, but being able to nurse the baby at home during the workday was wonderful (even if trying to get the work done with said baby was a challenge).

      Reply
  23. Constance Lloyd*

    My office has a separate fridge, but there are a few specific reasons it works great without adding to stigma!

    We have a wellness room. This room can be used for anything from pumping to administering insulin to taking a nap to sleep off a migraine. There’s a specific fridge in that room which can be used to store medication/breast milk/etc. Employees are still welcome to store breast milk or medication in the main break room fridge, but anything left in that fridge at 5pm each Friday is thrown away. The fridge in the wellness room is not emptied each Friday. So it’s fully optional and truly just for convenience, and we have the added bonus of never having a gross break room fridge.

    Reply
  24. Erin*

    I’ve worked in places where we had a pumping room with a fridge. This made it easy for the lactating people to pump & store their milk in privacy.

    I’ve also worked in environments where we simply did not have the space for a separate fridge or designated pumping room (the lactating people were given the use of an office anytime if they did not have an office) and there was no place or outlet for a separate fridge (old building). The lactating people put their milk in the fridge along with everything else, and it was not at all a problem. We actually designated a drawer in the fridge at one point because we had 3 nursing employees, and none of us wanted to accidentally spill the milk when we were reaching in for something in the over-crowded fridge.

    I’m not a parent, and I’ve never nursed/pumped, but whoa. The struggle to find a clean and private space to pump & store milk is real. Please use my (somewhat messy) office for it anytime, folks!

    Reply
  25. t-vex*

    “he had just been putting off upgrading his internet–there just hadn’t been an urgent need before our conversation”
    Did #3 not realize there was a problem? That’s weird.

    Reply
  26. I learn from the best*

    LW4, I find that I save a lot of templates, ideas, etc etc but never use them because I forget I have them. What I found is, like you, I google for templates (specific topic related) when I need and create my own template which is an amalgamation of the best ideas in the best templates on a given topic – to suit my needs. Glad it worked well for you!

    Reply

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