Fact Check

Breast Milk Drank by Co-Worker

Did your coffee taste a little bit special this morning?

Published Nov 10, 1998


Claim:   A woman just returned from maternity leave circulates a chiding memo after someone helps himself to the "special" milk she's left in the office refrigerator.


Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 1997]

"Whoever used the milk in the small plastic container that was in the refrigerator yesterday, please do NOT own up to it. I would find it forever difficult to meet your gaze across a cafeteria table whilst having a discussion about Java applets or brand identity. Just be aware that the milk was expressly for my son, if you get my drift. I will label these things from now on, but if you found your coffee tasted just a little bit special, you might think of calling your mom and telling her you love her."


Origins:   This memo was in circulation at least as far back as October 1996. It has since been passed around in

Milk carton

cyberspace both in e-mail and on newsgroups, and it has escaped to the offline world via morning radio shows and newspaper articles.

Its appeal is easy to understand — there is something inexplicably icky about one grown-up drinking the breast milk of another. Though we think nothing of imbibing cow's milk, the thought of downing human milk is, well, oddly disturbing. That this supposedly happened between co-workers makes it all that more embarrassing to contemplate, because the guilty party will be coming face to face with the "donor" on a daily basis.

The memo is often described as having come from "a woman at our interactive advertising agency recently returned from maternity leave." Neither the name of the agency nor the woman's is given, rendering impossible the pinning down of the story's veracity.

Though most appearances of the memo quote the woman as saying "whilst having a discussion about Java applets or brand identity," at least a few have her mentioning "a discussion about the last monthly trends or perceptual study." This item of faxlore has

clearly been monkeyed with a bit, most likely to better fit the company where this supposedly happened. (The story wouldn't fly very far if it were claimed to have happened at an interactive advertising agency a firm was using when it was common knowledge that firm wasn't engaged in anything like that. Equally, talk of Java applets wouldn't wash in an office that considers One-Write cutting edge.)

The office refrigerator is the scene of many unthinking (and occasionally premeditated) transgressions. Milk you thought would be there for your late morning coffee disappears from the container, and indeed some days your lunch seems to swallow itself — it's certainly not there when you go looking for it. Picturing a refrigerator raider getting his comeuppance in this fashion is deeply satisfying: What could be more socially awkward than having to face, day after day, the woman whose breast milk you pilfered?

A Reader's Digest "Campus Comedy" entry from the early 1970s gives a gentler, yet recognizable, version of the legend. It tells of a note left on the dorm fridge that announced: "Whoever ate the contents of a container marked 'Stanley,' beware. It was my biology experiment."

This theme of the office pilferer drinking the wrong thing swiped from the refrigerator isn't uncommon, but usually the bodily fluid in question is urine, not milk. (A well-remembered scene in the TV show Hill Street Blues has Lt. Hunter drinking what he thinks is apple juice, then pulling a face just as Lt. Goldblume addresses the room with, "All right; which one of you clowns took my urine sample?")

A related legend Brunvand calls "The Stolen Specimen" takes place outside of the office. A urine sample to be transported to a lab is stored in a liquor bottle, and the bearer is relieved of it by a thief. Again, the enjoyment of the legend comes from being able to picture the wrongdoer getting a mouthful he'd much rather not have.

Barbara "milk of human kineness" Mikkelson

Last updated:   19 July 2011


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