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What happened to breastfeeding? (Why isn't it easy anymore?)

Updated: Feb 21

When a woman first becomes pregnant, she is so consumed with the pregnancy and the impending labour and birth that she doesn't give much consideration to the actual act of breastfeeding and caring for her newborn.

No need to think about this now as it's supposed to be natural and therefore easy...right?

Well, it used to be! and it should be! But long before the woman herself was even born, things had been set in motion to undermine this biological function, and she is now left wondering what is happening. Why is this so hard?

Hopefully, this blog will help you understand some of the reasons why something that should be a no-brainer is now fraught with difficulties and anxiety.

Breastfeeding can be one of the most challenging and rewarding skills a woman can master, and the biggest killer to a breastfeeding relationship is...

Scientific Motherhood and First-Wave Behaviourism

What the heck does that mean? Well, it means this.

Since the beginning, women have instinctively fed their babies at the breast. They didn't think about it; they just did it. They grew up seeing their mothers, aunties, sisters, and even grandmothers doing it.

Very little thought went into how their babies were going to be fed, just like we give very little thought to whether or not our pets will feed their babies... we expect that they will...and they do. So what happened?

Scientific Motherhood

Well, the first thing that happened was the rise of the "Expert" in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. It was during this time that the ideology of Scientific Motherhood was born.

The medical profession (of the day) believed that a woman needed "scientific" and "expert" advice in order to raise a child - much like today's expectation that a woman cannot have a healthy pregnancy or give birth without constantly being monitored.

"This practice discredited a mother’s intuition and the generations of knowledge accumulated by other mothers as well as enforcing the gender stereotype of women not being intelligent or strong enough to successfully take care of their children, despite doing it for centuries."

It's not too surprising that this attitude evolved as historical studies suggest that in the past, around one-quarter of infants died in their first year of life (more here) and many viewed the reason for this as the parent's inability to provide proper care for their babies. And while this may have been partly true, science hadn't yet discovered the dangers of having lead-lined bottles, and the dangers of feeding babies with bread soaked in milk etc. (far too complexed reasons to go into here). Of course, there were those mothers who resisted this new trend in thinking and even questioned the validity of such "expert" advice, especially on something they had been doing since the beginning.

But the consequence of this resistance was the label of a "bad" mother. A label that no woman wants to wear...Sound familiar?

So then next came.

First Wave Behaviourism.

This school of psychology emerged in the nineteen hundreds and focused on animal behaviour.

One of its discoverers, Ivan Petrovich Pavlov (1849–1936), found that by creating the right stimulus and reward environment, he could shape and modify his dog's behaviour, i.e., Pavlov's dog, and the world got excited.

It wasn't long before this branch of psychology was extended to humans, and the medical fraternity worldwide started to implement such philosophies, as they redefined childbirth and breastfeeding into a medicalised event that now requires careful monitoring and instructions from the "experts." (read about it here)

As women moved out of birthing in their homes and into hospitals, they no longer had their family's generational wisdom networks surrounding them.

Nurturing them, helping them, in those vital minutes, hours, days, and weeks post-partum, and they were separated from their loved ones for up to fourteen days (average hospital stay -

it's not a massive stretch of the imagination to think how much damage can be done to breastfeeding in fourteen days).

Instead, they were subjected to inflexible matrons' strict and ridged feeding and newborn care schedules, doctors with 'god complexes,' and hospital protocols.

First-wave behaviourism and scientific mothering became the 'new normal,' resulting in breastfeeding difficulties that were rare in the past.

Fast forward to today, and while first-wave behaviourism has been replaced with 2nd and 3rd waves in all other areas of psychology, it still doggedly (pardon the pun) persists regarding mothers and babies.

While we are no longer living in the 1950s and the rule of limiting feeds to 3-5min, each breast has been scrapped, along with the mandatory fourteen-day hospital stay. Society is still riddled with arbitrary advice on breastfeeding rules, feeding schedules, and sleep training...Sleep training indeed?

We have become so conditioned to "ask the experts" that we have made the basic of all biological needs - SLEEP, a pathological problem that needs fixing - But I digress.

Indeed, all this advice has done for us is disrupt the carefully balanced neurohormonal process that occurs during pregnancy and birth. This process is supposed to help us instinctively feed and care for our babies.

This interference has done nothing for breastfeeding and caring for newborns and has only succeeded in creating a new generation of maternal anxiety, as many women no longer know what physiological, uncomplicated breastfeeding looks and feels like.

And who can blame them?

This is not to say that there aren't times when we do need the 'Experts'. Thank goodness they were there when my daughter broke her leg coming down a slide at the wrong angle or when a tiger snake bit my son.

I needed their expertise for obvious reasons and willingly sought their help.

But, we don't need someone interfering from the get-go, grabbing our breast and shoving the nipple down the baby's throat because we think that without our help, they'd never find it.

Or telling us how long the feeds should last (yes! They still tell mums how long to feed on each breast) if the baby and mum are happy to continue feeding. No one gives animals these arbitrary instructions.

So what can we do?

We no longer live in a society that sees their mothers, aunties, sisters, and even grandmothers doing it. Therefore, we no longer have access to that generational wisdom and knowledge.

We can't just suddenly apply instinct to our breastfeeding and mothering when we have learned to heavily ignore our gut and rely upon the advice of 'experts'.

But, we can start taking back a bit of our power and learn some of the basics of breastfeeding; the Australian Breastfeeding Association is an excellent place to start, and Possums for Parents is another brilliant resource.

You could join a breastfeeding supportive mum's group (a physical one, not a zoom one) to see and talk to other mothers and observe more breastfeeding.

Maybe even watch your pets the next time they have a litter.

Finally, stop applying rules to everything.

Then we might just discover that breastfeeding and caring for an infant isn't that hard after all.

And for goodness sake, let go of the image of the 'perfect' parent. They don't exist.

Check out the rules here in one hospital in 1968... Most hospitals had similar instructions, and God help anyone that didn't


How do you think your milk supply would go with this schedule?

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