The place of the clock in pediatric advice: rationales, cultural themes, and impediments to breastfeeding. Academic Article uri icon


  • This analysis treats the U.S. medical literature as evidence concerning the formal system of knowledge in allopathic medicine. An examination of pediatric advice on breastfeeding reveals the logic of medical reasoning, the use of scientific rationales, and the intrusion of specific cultural themes. The corpus of data includes works of 18 authors published in 36 volumes from 1897 to 1987, 27 volumes being editions of two major pediatric textbooks. All sources advocate breastfeeding but the detailed advice on how to carry out the process actually tends to undermine it. Moreover, the clock has provided the main frame of reference, creating regimentation reminiscent of factory work, segmenting breastfeeding into a series of steps, and emphasizing efficiency in time and motion. Feeding schedules were advocated in former decades as a matter of discipline for the infant, but nowadays they are viewed as biologically innate to normal infants and to breast milk production. The literature manifests responses over the century to behavioral, biochemical and physiological studies; however, except possibly for one textbook, no thorough rethinking has occurred. Sources of the 1980s continue to focus on the tempo of feeding as a major concern. Cultural themes besides the factory model of breastfeeding include the extension of professional advice to family matters, the subordination of lay women to professional expertise, mistrust of women's bodily signals including the let-down reflex in determining the timing of feedings, mistrust of signals from infants as well, and a professional ideal of flexible advice coupled with rigid limits concerning schedules. The literature interweaves the cultural themes with rationales based on physiological studies in support of specific regimens in breastfeeding, and the relegation of control in breastfeeding to medical experts denies the validity of mutual bodily and emotional responses within the mother-infant dyad. Pediatric authorities thus participate in the selection of cultural themes emphasized in motherhood. Although the pediatric literature is not the only influence on physicians and women, it reinforces pressures on women regarding their orientations toward their infants and hence, may be expected to shape our views of infancy, motherhood, and humanity in general. The break from the bindings of schedules has been proclaimed at various points during the century; however, the clock ironically remains the major reference point in most pediatric sources today.

published proceedings

  • Soc Sci Med

altmetric score

  • 0.5

author list (cited authors)

  • Millard, A. V.

citation count

  • 46

complete list of authors

  • Millard, AV

publication date

  • January 1990