Teaching antenatal hand expression: a feasibility study in an inner urban U.S. hospital

Background: Many women have low confidence in breastfeeding and have concerns regarding low milk volume or discomfort with breastfeeding. Antenatal hand expression may be an opportunity to help women feel more comfortable with breastfeeding and help promote exclusive breastfeeding. A study at a hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. assessed the feasibility of teaching antenatal hand expression at 39 weeks among socioeconomically disadvantaged populations, overall participant satisfaction and adoption of hand expression and breastfeeding.

Methods: From March 2020 to June 2021, women recruited at 34-39 weeks were taught to hand express, collect, and store colostrum. Starting from 39 weeks, participants were asked to practice hand expression 1-3 times / day until delivery, log their experiences, and store colostrum expressed. Women were contacted to encourage continued hand expression and answer any questions. Postpartum, a survey assessed satisfaction with hand expression and issues encountered. The survey also inquired about breastfeeding plans and barriers, and whether women were exclusively breastfeeding (defined as infants who received only breastmilk from the time of birth). Chart review of postpartum or well-baby visit notes determined whether women continued breastfeeding.

Results: Of the 29 participants, 72% (21/29) reported hand expressing at home, and no women reported contractions when hand expressing. Participants rated mean satisfaction of 8.1/10 (SD = 1.62) with antenatal hand expression, mean satisfaction of 9.4/10 (SD = 0.90) toward hand expression education, mean likelihood of 9.4/10 (SD = 1.24) recommending hand expression to others, and a mean score of 8.1/10 (SD = 1.69) on how helpful hand expression was in breastfeeding initiation. 90% (26/29) of women initiated breastfeeding after birth and 72% (21/29) exclusively breastfed on discharge, but only 11/29 (38%) continued exclusively breastfeeding when re-assessed 4-6 weeks postpartum. Barriers included maternal discomfort, low milk supply, and maternal or infant illness.

Conclusions: This study suggests that women in an urban setting would be willing to practice antenatal hand expression. A larger and adequately powered study could be feasible to determine associations between antenatal hand expression and breastfeeding rates and confidence.