This paper explores some of the significant changes that have taken place with regard to the protection, promotion and support of breast feeding during the past three decades. The period covered since the first issue of Midwifery in 1985, has been marked by some dramatic reversals of harmful discourses and detrimental practices with regard to infant and young child feeding and more specifically breast feeding. Midwifery has spanned this period with the publication of 80 papers on breast feeding. This collection of papers has both influenced and reflected upon changes in international and national breast-feeding strategies and practices. Six papers have been selected for a special virtual edition of Midwifery to reflect the diversity of breast-feeding research in terms of issues explored, methodology and country of origin (www.midwiferyjournal.com). Considerable progress is reflected in these papers. However, there are still enormous challenges ahead in working towards the optimisation of infant and young child feeding. In addition to continuing to conduct and collate robust scientific and epidemiological research we need further studies that explore the political, economic, socio-cultural and psychological factors influencing women's infant feeding practices. Our professional practice needs to continue to improve in order to provide women and families with appropriate support, encouragement and resources to enable them to breastfeed effectively. Finally, we need to continue to challenge the systems and approaches at organisational and community levels that impede women in their endeavours to feed their infants in optimum ways.