Alyssa Milano on Having Kids at 38, Baby Weight, and the Fight to Breastfeed

Actress and mom-of-two Alyssa Milano captured America’s hearts when she was just a kid herself, starring as spitfire Samantha Micelli on Who’s The Boss? In her nearly lifelong Hollywood career, she has appeared in dramas like Charmed, Melrose Place and, until recently, Mistresses, but many of her fans relate even more to her role as outspoken advocate for moms and kids alike. She’s a breastfeeding proponent — a nursing photo she shared on Instagram made national news, as did a Twitter exchange with Heathrow Airport after they confiscated her freshly pumped milk — and a Unicef Ambassador, not to mention the fashion designer for her Touch by Alyssa Milano line of women’s fan-gear and host of Project Runway All-Stars. But first and foremost, she’s mom to 8-month-old Elizabella and 3-year-old Milo. Case in point: She talked to Yahoo Parenting from the parking lot of her son’s soccer practice. 

STORY: Alyssa Milano Shares Intimate Breastfeeding Photo

I love that you’re waiting for soccer pickup, just like any other mom. How do you juggle everything you have going on – Project Runway All-Stars, your fashion line – with being there for your kids? Is it a struggle?

It’s hard to juggle everything. Every day is a process and a balancing act, but I try to take everyday as it comes. My schedule is sporadic, which is good because it allows me some real quality time with my kids. When I have business to attend to, I’m always aware that I need to get home as soon as possible or I feel guilty.

So many moms feel that similar guilt all the time, I think. How do you cope with it?
I have learned, through a lot of therapy, that a lot of guilt is pre-wired in a woman’s being. I think if you go back to the caveman days, we are wired to not want to be away from our young because they didn’t have caretakers then. They didn’t have nannies. We needed to keep our offspring safe, and I don’t think we’ve evolved out of that. We still have the biological urge to be with our kids, and to know that the guilt is coming from some place biological, it helps. You realize, ‘oh, this instinct makes total sense.’ I think the same goes for dads. I hear friends complain that their husbands work even more now than before they had kids, and it’s because they’re hard-wired to want to provide.

STORY: Why ‘Biggest Loser’s’ Alison Sweeney Disciplines Her Daughter Differently Than Her Son

Alyssa Milano after the birth of her son, Milo. (Photo: Alyssa Milano/Facebook)

How has being a mother changed you?

It’s obviously been an important lesson for me for all the reasons you hear about – caring for someone other than yourself, not realizing the love you’re capable of until you have kids, all that. But I’ve also learned to be super super kind to myself. I’m a type-A personality and a perfectionist. Before kids, it was very hard for me to not give 150 percent of myself to everything I did. Now that I have children I’ve learned to let go of a lot of those perfectionist tendencies, in order to have enough energy to be the best mom I can. That’s not to say I do it perfectly every day — every day is process —  but as long as I’m focused on raising two good people, the rest is kind of secondary and has less importance.

You’ve publicly advocated for breastfeeding, and have even shared intimate photos of yourself feeding your daughter on social media. Why is that important to you?

I just don’t understand where we are as a society when you can be naked on a red carpet, but it’s not ok in the corner of the mall while you are breastfeeding your child. I just don’t get it! I’m not even trying to be an advocate, I’m trying to wrap my head around what that means. Not that there’s anything wrong with wearing fewer clothes on a red carpet — I just don’t see the dichotomy. We’ve sexualized the female body so much that we forget that it has a real function — to feed our babies. That whole ‘you wouldn’t poop in public, so why would you breastfeed in public’ is so insulting to me.

Actress Alyssa Milano shared this photo, in which she is nursing her daughter Elizabella, on Instagram and Facebook. (Photo: Alyssa Milano/Facebook)

You’ve probably empowered other moms with the photos.

If those moments, which are some of my most blissful moments with my daughter, inspire other moms to advocate for what they think is important for their child, then great. Women in general need to learn to find their voices and be advocates for their children. I feel very privileged to be a part of the mommyhood club, it’s the coolest club you can be in. There’s an understanding among moms that other people don’t get – the husbands, the fathers, the best friends from childhood. I think we should all be advocates for each other.

Speaking of breastfeeding, you tweeted last month about an experience at Heathrow Airport security where you were forced to dump your breastmilk. It caused quite a stir!

That airport thing, it happened during a layover. I was connecting in Heathrow to Rome, and by the time I landed in Rome it had become international news. I was just tweeting like any normal person tweets about customer service, and I think mothers could totally identify with the horror that I watched them pour out 10 ounces of my breastmilk. If you’ve ever tried to breastfeed you know that 10 ounces is a lot. I pumped four times on that flight to get that much! It’s hard enough to breastfeed and to do it with a certain amount of commitment, and incidents like that make it so much harder for moms. I feel like that needs to change.

Your daughter Elizabella is 8 months now. How’s she doing?

She’s amazing. She is so delicious. It’s so different having a girl than a boy. My son always needed to be a participant in everything, even when he was a baby. He never missed a thing. With her, she’s perfectly fine just observing. I’m not sure if it’s because she’s a girl, or because she’s the second child, probably a little bit of both. Milo was so much more physically active, Elizabella is more nurturing. When I breastfeed her she strokes my face, she takes her time … with him it was all about food. ‘I need to eat, I’m starving, and now I’m going to play.’

Alyssa Milano is the host of Project Runway All-Stars. (Photo: Splash News)

Shortly after you gave birth to Elizabella, you found out that your show Mistresses was relocating to Vancouver, and you decided not to move. That seems like a fairly unusual decision for someone in Hollywood. Was it hard?

If they had moved the show to New York or some place where my husband could also be productive, maybe I would have considered it. But I couldn’t expect him to sacrifice his job and his livelihood to be in Vancouver. And, honestly, we’re not the type of people that would separate the family. Not just for the kids, but also because we really like each other. I like sleeping next to my husband. The way I look at it, this is a really hard business in which to have a successful marriage, even in the best circumstances. I didn’t think leaving would be fair to my relationship or my kids, and, luckily, I am in the position that I can make decisions like that and financially be okay. I made the decision that was right for my family in that moment and I don’t regret a second of it. Bear in mind, they came to me with the news three weeks after I gave birth. If it had been a couple of years from now and the kids were old, who knows what I would do. But at that point in my life, who I was in my life, this was the right decision.  

I’ve had a lot of years of my life without these children. I gave birth at 38 and 41, so I was ready to focus just on the kids. I’ve worked a long time and whatever decisions I make about my life here on out are decisions with the intention to have a certain sense of fulfillment, but always being mindful that none of it really matters as long as my kids are healthy.

You start filming Project Runway All-Stars soon. How do you feel about getting back to work?

I haven’t really worked since Elizabella was born. I did some guest hosting and photo sessions, some design meetings, but this will be my first time in front of the camera. At home, we’ll have to reestablish the new normal. I love doing the show, so that part is really exciting. But it will be a learning process to leave two kids to go to work — I feel like I just got used to leaving one kid! But we’ll figure it out as we go. Mothers always make it work.

Going in front of the camera for the first time since having a baby, do you think about the whole ‘post-baby body’ media obsession at all?

I’ve had weight fluctuations my whole existence, so I’m just trying to stay healthy, trying to have the endurance to get through the day as a mom of two and not be too sleepy.  

With Mother’s Day coming up, you’re involved in a special Unicef campaign, which encourages people to donate to mothers in need around the world. Tell me about that.

Instead of buying jewelry or sending flowers, I can’t think of a better way to celebrate your own mom than by giving a mother in need what she needs to keep her child healthy and protected and safe. You’re buying things like immunizations or school supplies. It’s a really special campaign because no matter who you are or where you come from, every mother can relate to the fear of not being able to provide for their child. I’ve been working for Unicef since 2003, and when I had kids, the work became a lot more relatable, and a lot more terrifying. Once I could put myself in the shoes of the mother whose baby is dying of malnutrition, it became a lot more personal for me.

What will you be doing this Mother’s Day?

I’m going to be home with my family, and my mom is going to come over and that’s all we have planned. I think it will be perfect!

(Top photo: Alyssa Milano/Facebook)

Yahoo Parenting has chosen this story, originally published on May 8, as an example of one of our best of 2015.


Please follow @YahooParenting on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. Have an interesting story to share about your family? Email us at YParenting (at) Yahoo.com.