Bullying over Breastmilk Storage

A nurse in a Jerusalem hospital returned from maternity leave and placed expressed breastmilk for her 7-month-old son in the staff room’s refrigerator. One day she found a sign (pictured above) asking not to store expressed breastmilk in the refrigerator. Her complaint went all the way up to hospital management.

She writes about the decision:

“Every ending is a new beginning” – after a painful meeting with the head nurse of the hospital as well as the head nurse of my division, I cannot seem to get the management to agree that a maternity ward that respects the “personal sensitivities” of certain staff members who feel that breastmilk in the same location as adult food is disgusting, is not a maternity ward that can call itself “supportive of breastfeeding”. Everyone agrees that my personal experience was humiliating, unprofessional and totally wrong. Everyone agrees that staff members deserve a place to pump and a place to store the milk. But the upper management feels that each ward (whether it be maternity or urology) is a democracy and that the staff has the right to decide that they don’t want breastmilk in the staff fridge. I’m not 1000% sure I completely disagree with that last point, but I am certain that if such a “democracy” were to make that decision, that’s a democracy of which I cannot be proud. And so I resigned. I have loved taking care of new mothers and babies for the past 5 years, and I hope that whatever I do next brings me as much joy. I am so appreciative of everyone’s support.

The staff in the maternity ward did not make a democratic decision. They acted like bullies. The stored breastmilk poses no threat to the other food in the refrigerator. So the head nurse needed to say to the complainers, if they existed: “You’re free not to store your lunch in the staff fridge.”

If a group of vegetarians objected to a co-worker’s chicken, that’s exactly what would have happened.

This situation is the same as when groups or individuals decide that they are offended by breastfeeding mothers and try to kick them out of the cafe or post office. It’s the same as when people who don’t like to see women, tell them to get to the back of the bus or the other side of the street.

Democracy doesn’t mean that a stronger individual or group can trample on the rights of a weaker group because we need to “respect their sensitivities.” People have all kinds of hangups, but those don’t trump a mom’s right to feed her baby in public or a staff member’s right to store her baby’s food in the fridge.

It’s clear what is truly disgusting in this story.

You may also enjoy:

Why Can’t Breastfeeding Mothers Just Be Nice?

Breastfeeding Preschoolers: Not Sensational at All

Breastfeeding in Public: The Cringe Factor

Working and Breastfeeding


  1. This post is depressing, disgusting but sadly not surprising. I work in the building next door to this nurse. Throughout my Phd in the medical school next door there was barely concern for providing students for an appropriate place for pumping for their children. You have a Medical school with thousands of students: Phds, medical students, dental students, occupational therapy students, nursing students, students of public health etc with not one room to pump. When people crossed the revolving door to the maternity ward to pump in their nursing room, they got dirty looks. People pumped in labs with dangerous chemicals, in lunchrooms in corners, in microscope rooms they could lock. When I turned to the dean of students they would give me a key to a different room every day that happened to be empty, if I missed the hours when the secretary was there, too bad. Now finally about a year ago there is one pumping room for the entire student body. No fridge, but a sink.
    Kol HaKavod to this nurse for standing up, I hope this story has a happy ending.

    • Reminds me of the constant pressure I got from the – religious – under-30-year old obgyns at our kupah (and I kept trying one after the other) situated in a religious neighborhood to get every prenatal test possible since I was over 40. Some kind of culture in the medical establishment that prefers measurable versus what has worked for 1000’s of years.

  2. On the up this is not the story everywhere. My small, mainly male high-tech company in Rechovot was incredibly supportive about pumping – they found me a lockable storage room to pump in and there were no comments about the milk in the shared refrigerator. In fact, as I made the furtive (I found it embarrassing) run from my room to the fridge and sink I more than once bumped into co-workers all of which waxed lyrical about how wonderful it was…

  3. Maybe someone has to tell the mothers to SEAL the breast milk–because obviously it is giving off a strange odor that my breast milk never had. I mean that is the problem, right? Because otherwise, why would people mind that it is in their fridges? Right?
    I’m kidding there because I really don’t get it. I always put my milk in the office fridge. . . I did have a colleague who would hide her breast milk as she walked it from her office to the fridge–I always thought it looked like she thought the milk was an extension of her breasts and needed to be covered.
    Anyway, these disjointed thoughts are just to say how depressing this is.
    but I’m also wondering if there is a good basis for a law suit. If she doesn’t have a lawyer, she should contact Naamat or Shdulat Hanashim.

  4. I work in a special education school where there are many teachers who are young mothers. There are usually little Ziploc bags in the communal fridge or freezer with breast milk, nobody bats an eyelash. Some years there are so many people pumping that they need to negotiate a schedule for the spaces (supply room, unused classroom etc) used to pump. You would think that a hospital that is supposed to encourage mothers nursing their babies would be supportive of staff members doing so.

  5. The nurse is right – any hospital that allows a group to ban breast milk from the refrigerator is NOT supportive of nursing. That is just so awful. The hypocrisy just boggles the mind.

    Does anyone really believe that nursing staff that consider breast milk “disgusting” will really support nursing? They might say the right words, but you need more than that.

  6. There are hospitals that support mothers’ nursing because they think it’s beneficial, and there are those that support it because it means fewer bottles to give out in the nursery (and with sufficient rooming in, you can eliminate the nursery completely and accept more patients = more money). ??? ?????? ??????

    I’m also rather curious about the legal issues in the original post; can you comment more on what the alleged violation was in naming the hospital? Offhand, I can’t think of any reason not to mention their name in this type of story…

  7. I agree with the general sentiments that breastfeeding should be supported and that this ward does not support breastfeeding if it doesn’t provide a way for the staff to do so.

    I know that I’m preaching to the choir here, but breastfeeding is completely natural. While we don’t perform all natural functions in public, we should not be suppressing them completely!

  8. sylvia_rachel says

    Wow. Of all the ways I can think of to handle a dispute like this, what actually happened has got to be just about the worst one possible 🙁

  9. Wait… she was a nurse in the MATERNITY ward? And this happened there?? Beyond belief.

  10. what I find incredible is that people gladly dump breast milk of different species in their coffee and cereals but find human mother’s milk disgusting?
    A friend had so much milk that she actually fed it to her bigger children, too, made into pudding…… (and interestingly, this grosses out people who gladly eat other species’ breast milk in any form….)

  11. I had the exact opposite reaction in a Tel Aviv Hospital as a medical student. I was welcome to pump in the pumping area of the maternity ward (there were multiple spots and curtained off areas and even a hospital grade pump available) and often when putting a bottle of milk back in the hospital freezer people were very positive and said how wonderful it was. On the other hand as an ob/gyn resident in the US I was paged repeatedly when I would go to pump for 10 minutes a day and for months I would get daily adds about breastfeeding every morning from the other residents as jokes- one time I found 15 breastfeeding buttons piled on top of my bag…

  12. Nurse Yachne says

    Hadassah bullies its nurses, it’s a fact. And unless you happen to be a Head Nurse, there is *no* support in the workplace for you as a mother.

    “Women and children first” among Hadassah nursing management only means they get thrown overboard earlier.