How Healthcare Employers Are Meeting Workforce Demands & Retaining Working Moms with Lactation Benefits


Healthcare employers continue to experience workforce challenges in a post-pandemic world – and a combination of accelerated hiring, burnout and high turnover makes retention a key consideration. We explore the factors at play and take a closer look at best practices for retaining working women, who account for more than three quarters of the healthcare workforce.

Medela Kin - Healthcare Workers

Demand for Healthcare Workers is On the Rise

Hiring explosion. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the care industry has added an average of 42,000 jobs each month so far this year, and that’s on the heels of a robust hiring cycle in 2022 as well. In June 2023, the highest concentration of growth was in hospitals (+15,000), nursing and residential care facilities (+12,000) and home health care services (+9,000).¹

Women are the majority.  In 2021, 77.6% (16.4 million) of healthcare workers were women. The breakout by sectors: Women represent 75% of hospital workers, 77.4% of health services workers (except hospitals) and 84% of social assistance workers.²

Projected growth. The healthcare industry shows no signs of slowing down. Employment is projected to grow by 13% in the next decade at a much higher average than all other occupations.³

Battling Burnout in the Healthcare Workforce

Workers feel undervalued. In a study of more than 20,000 healthcare workers (including but not limited to nurses, physicians, social workers, pharmacists and administrators), 7 in 10 did not feel valued from the work they provide.⁴

The shortages. The healthcare system is still struggling with a nursing shortage, with estimated potential shortages of 200,000 to 450,000, especially for acute care settings. This year, 45% of inpatient nurses indicated they’re likely to leave a position in the next 6 months due to heavy workloads and feeling undervalued.⁵ In a Mayo Clinic study, 62.8% physicians reported feeling burned out in 2021 and the study noted that based on previous studies, the pandemic exacerbated this pre-existing problem.⁶

Turnover is costly. The estimated annual cost for burnout-related U.S. physician turnover is approximately $5 billion.⁷ In the past five years, hospitals turned over 105% of staff, with 94.7% as voluntary terminations. Recruitment cycles are on the rise too. It takes 75 to 105 days to recruit a registered nurse depending on the specialty. The estimated costs to recruit and onboard a single RN is $28,000 to $52,000.⁸

Remedying the Turnover Problem: Caring for the Caregivers

Long hours and high stress make healthcare one of the most demanding industries for employees. To remedy high turnover, healthcare employers are looking for new ways to improve employee engagement, morale and overall satisfaction. 

In a McKinsey survey of RNs, work-life balance ranked second (only after safety) as a top driver in staying with an employer.⁹ Benefits should be tailored to care for the caregivers by offering them greater control over schedules and access to more resources to ease the strains of juggling work and personal duties. The result: greater workforce loyalty that translates into better patient care.

Given the high rate of female healthcare workers, employers are embracing family friendly benefits like lactation support as a means of retention.

Best practices: How Top Healthcare Employers are Championing Working Moms

With the recently passed PUMP Act and its expanded protections for breastfeeding employees, we’re celebrating our Kin healthcare clients who have long been at the forefront of fostering inclusive workplaces for growing families. 

Mass General Brigham: Providing Dignified Space for New Moms

Mass General Brigham (MGB) is an integrated academic healthcare system that’s home to one of the largest hospital system-based research operations in the country, with a research budget of nearly $2 billion. The nonprofit clinical leader takes a creative approach to attracting and retaining talent for its important mission, including offering a robust menu of core and customizable benefits, and hosting several employee resource groups for women.

For breastfeeding parents, the healthcare provider recognized the importance of easing their return to work, sponsoring its first lactation room more than 30 years ago at Massachusetts General Hospital. For the past several years, MGB has been exceeding the requirements set forth in the latest federal protections.

Lactation program highlights:

• MGB strives to accommodate its pumping employees – understanding the importance of supporting new parents and their breastfeeding goals with a clearly defined approach.

• The healthcare system has set aside company-wide, dedicated, private space reserved to be used for the purpose of pumping. The company has made this space available to support breastfeeding moms at all times, day and night, during their individual shifts.

• MGB outfitted its spaces with a hospital-grade (multi-user) Symphony breast pump, which is designed to help new mothers maintain their milk supply when away from their infants and relieves them from the burden of having to transport a personal pump back and forth. 

St. Luke’s Health System: Easing the Path for Parents

St. Luke’s Health System, the largest health system and private employer in the state of Idaho, is also leading the way when it comes to supporting parents in the workplace. The healthcare employer takes care of its caregivers through a range of specialized benefits, including a wellness program that provides no-cost health assessments and several counseling and education opportunities. Its Path through Parenthood program recognizes that parenting is a life-altering experience and offers return-to-work support.

Through listening to employees, researching legal regulations and collaborating across departments, St. Luke’s improved and strengthened its lactation offerings several years ago. The healthcare system kicked off the program by first creating a comprehensive Lactation Accommodation Policy and associated training for employees and managers.

Lactation program highlights: 

  • Through the policy process, St. Luke’s set standards for lactation spaces in existing locations and in building standards for future spaces that comply with NIH recommendations. The hospital system created robust digital resources, including an internal Pregnancy and Parental Support page, as well as a dedicated online learning module for employees and managers.
  • St. Luke’s improved existing lactation spaces, and added new ones, across inpatient care areas to ensure pumping employees have a dignified, comfortable place to express breast milk whenever needed. The HR team coordinated with the facilities department to repair and improve existing spaces where needed, installed freestanding lactation suites to meet demand for incremental space, and established standards for cleaning and maintenance.
  • St. Luke’s also offered top-of-the-line pumping equipment in lactation spaces for employee use. Lactation spaces include hospital-grade (multi-user) pumps and St. Luke’s ensures that access to pumping equipment is consistently available. 

Interested in learning more about how lactation benefits can help with retention and employee satisfaction? We’re here to help with customized, fully compliant solutions.

¹Employment Situation Summary, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, July 7, 2023.

²TED: The Economic Daily, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, March 2022.

³Healthcare Occupations, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

⁴Linzer M. et al, Trends in Clinician Burnout, JAMA Health Forum, November 2022.

⁵Nurses Are Still Under Pressure, McKinsey, June 2023.

⁶Shanafelt T. et al, Changes in Burnout & Satisfaction with Work-Life Integration in Physicians, Mayo Clinic Proceedings, December 2022.

⁷Sinsky C. et al, Health care expenditures attributable to primary care physician overall and burnout-related turnover, Mayo Clin Proceedings, 2022.

⁸2023 NSI National Healthcare Retention & RN Staffing Report.

⁹Berlin, G. et al, Surveyed Nurses Consider Leaving Direct Care, McKinsey, February 2022.