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Breastfeeding Friendly Accreditation - build loyalty & satisfaction within your veterinary team

Posted in Our Community @ Oct 31st 2019 4:42pm - By Dr Sasha Nefedova, General Manager PETstock VET
Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace Improve Welfare And Loyalty In Veterinary Practice

The words “feminisation of the veterinary industry” have been thrown around a lot lately. 

It’s about time we stop the negative rhetoric and accept that working mothers are a huge part of our workforce – and that’s neither good or bad. It’s a fact that we have to adapt to while looking to improve the welfare of our entire workforce. PETstock VET (21 clinics in Australia and New Zealand) has taken the first step in formalising a more female-friendly workplace by gaining Breastfeeding Friendly Accreditation (BFA) in November 2018. 

I am the General Manager of PETstock VET and a working vet mum. I know from personal experience the fear of having to cease breastfeeding prematurely to fit around work is a huge challenge in our workforce. 

What does being a ‘Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace’ mean?

Being a Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace means all breastfeeding mothers in our workplace (vets, vet nurses, kennel hands, receptionists) have access to a quiet suitable area to breastfeed their baby (who can be brought on site for necessary feeds but cannot be kept on site all day) or to express breastmilk which can then be stored in a suitable fridge. They also get lactation breaks throughout the day which are blocked out times in our veterinary practice management software. Break times vary depending on the stage of the mother’s lactation but are decided together with other clinic team members – primarily the Head Vet and Practice Manager.

Was it hard to attain Breast Feeding Accreditation?

Not at all!  There is an annual fee and a bit of paperwork. The main challenge is finding a suitable room as there are requirements for accreditation (eg. near powerpoint, handwashing facilities nearby, preferably a lockable door etc.) but the rest is very simple.

What does being accredited as a Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace mean from a practical perspective?

From a practical perspective, gaining the BFA meant we had to make very few changes as most of our clinics already had suitable spaces. Most of the time euthanasia rooms are a perfect space as they are quiet, separate from the main area, have comfortable seating and calming ambiance. However, in clinics where this space isn’t available or the staff member is not comfortable using it, either an office or third consult room is used.

Formalising the policy by gaining Accreditation was important to PETstock VET as it allowed us to communicate to both our teams and more broadly to the veterinary community, just how important family friendly practices was for our business. 

PETstock VET Team

Why seek accreditation?

As  90% of PETstock VET employees are female, developing family friendly policies is an important and necessary step to maintain valued employees and build on the overall satisfaction and loyalty of our team members.

Even if you currently have unwritten policies that permit breastfeeding, potential employees won’t know how as a workplace, you deal with these situations unless you have formal accreditation.

Accredited practices also receive literature and magazines on breastfeeding you can give to your team to help them through breastfeeding and beyond – further improving their overall happiness and therefore engagement at work.

I was apprehensive about returning to work after maternity leave so joined a closed Facebook group for ‘vet mums’ where I was inspired by the strength and motivation of vet mums to work on their career while having children and navigating the balance.  

I posted a question to the group on what they would find useful when returning to work and breastfeeding was a huge concern.  

What about the daily realities of being a BFW - Is it easy for employees to have lactation breaks? 

Two of our clinics (all female staff in both) had already begun accommodating breastfeeding mothers as they had a couple of specific situations. On the ground, there have been no issues provided the team was across the plan for lactation breaks from the outset.

Tips for veterinary practices who are keen to set up & design their own Breast Feeding Policy or seek BFW Accreditation

The most important tip for setting up your own Breastfeeding Policy or gaining Accreditation, is to not hesitate! The expense is minimal but the reward is significant. If you operate more than one practice my only suggestion is to ensure all parties understand the thinking behind the initiative. For anyone not familiar with breastfeeding there may be some inherent concerns but in reality it's similar to allowing your staff to take bathroom breaks – except it gives them the freedom and comfort to return to work sooner and improve family relationships by continuing breastfeeding as long as they want (not as long as they can practically continue).

Was it worth setting up a Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace & seeking Accreditation?

This question is probably best answered by Dr Jess who had only been with PETstock VET for a couple of months but expressed an interest at attending our annual Conference so we accommodated her family to ease her breastfeeding journey. 

“PETStock VET is unlike any other veterinary clinic I have worked for. The company's family values are reflected in not only their support of breastfeeding working Mums, but also in their willingness to provide flexible work arrangements. This was evidenced by the company's willingness to accommodate my young baby & husband at the recent PETStock conference, so I could continue breastfeeding between lectures.

As a busy Veterinarian I greatly appreciate the flexibility to express breastmilk at work in the comfort of my private room, without the criticism or time bartering that my colleagues have experienced at other veterinary clinics. This care & support as a breastfeeding working mum has earned my long-term loyalty to the company, and I can see myself working here for the next 10-15 years.“

If you have any questions about how PETstock VET set up their Breasfeeding Policy or any other questions you can contact Sasha on her work email snefedova@petstockvet.com.au

Or feel free to add in your comments or questions in the Comments section below.

About Sasha

Dr Sasha Nefedova joined the PETstock VET team in August 2016 as General Manager following several years at the University of Melbourne developing their veterinary CPD programs. She has worked in general practice and ECC in Australia and the UK. Her clinical interests include animal behaviour, endocrinology and wound management. She also has a 2 year old daughter Mila and is hopeful Mila will grow up to eventually enter an equitable and welcoming workplace (so far all signs point to ballerina but things may change!). 

Sasha and the PETstock VET team are always on the lookout for ways we can create a nurturing environment in a “corporate that cares”.

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