Alyssa Milano on UNICEF's Inspired Gifts for Moms & Her 'Most Surprising Joy' as a Mother

Alyssa MilanoWhen Alyssa Milano was forced to surrender her breast milk to airport security at London's Heathrow airport, the mother of two found herself in an unusual position: representing moms around the world in a fight to make life better for them and their children. It's a position the former Mistresses star has some experience with. She's long been a UNICEF ambassador, working for moms in need around the globe. 


Milano is currently working on a UNICEF Mother's Day campaign that that will give gifts -- which range from blankets to vaccines -- to vulnerable moms living in a developing country. If you give one of these "Inspired Gifts," UNICEF will send your own mom a card that lets her know the gift has been made in her honor. 

The Stir caught up with Alyssa to find out more about the story behind her work with UNICEF, how she's taken to the role of breastfeeding advocate, and the most surprising joy she's found in motherhood.

You've been working with UNICEF since 2003. What has been the most memorable moment for you over the past 12 years?
I've been in the field three times since I've been an Ambassador. I was in Angola, India six months after the tsunami, and Kosovo a few years ago, and I think it is such a powerful experience being in the field, because you're seeing things you never thought you'd see. You run the gamut of so many emotions -- utter fear, being grateful for what you have, and helplessness, and being inspired because you want to help. In Angola ... it really struck me how devastated the country was after the Civil War. I don't mean like buildings were shelled out, and there were bullet holes everywhere. I mean there were no hospitals, no schools, nothing, and they were still battling the landmine issue. As I was walking through the minefield, I could hear children laughing and playing. That's how close they were. It's all stuff that's super hard to wrap your head around, but it's truly life-changing. 

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What do you love most about this year's Mother's Day campaign?
I love that it takes a holiday like Mother's Day that we all celebrate -- whether we're mothers or we're celebrating with our mothers -- and gives real meaning behind it. I think to be able to give an Inspired Gift that will be donated to a mother to protect her child or feed her child or make sure her child has clean water is a beautiful gift to give to another mother.

How do you feel about the response to your breastfeeding tweets?
We got to Heathrow, and then, we had a layover, and then, we were going to Rome. I got off the plane at Rome and realized it had been international news, which I thought was crazy! It was interesting that it obviously struck a chord with people, and the support that mothers have for other mothers is really a special thing. I was just tweeting my frustration, tweeting like you would normally tweet, forgetting that anything I do that involves my breast milk is gonna be news. I was just heartbroken, as a mom, that they took away that much milk. It's hard to make!

What responses from other moms surprised you the most?
It surprised me how erratic of people's stories of trying to bring breast milk on planes were. Some people were like, "Really? I had no problem bringing 20 ounces!" and then, some people said, "Yeah, the same exact thing happened to me." I don't think people are clear on what the rules are, and they're not universal. Like the TSA here, you can bring breast milk in regardless of whether you have your baby with you. Internationally, I guess that's not the case.  

You've also taken some great breastfeeding selfies, which Instagram only recently OK'ed. Why do you think they're so controversial, and what can be done about that?
I think as a society we sexualize breasts to the extent that we have forgotten what they're really for. I think that anything we can do to normalize breastfeeding, whether it be posting breastfeeding pictures on Instagram or talking about breastfeeding or breast milk, I think it's beneficial and makes life easier for a breastfeeding mom -- any mom really!

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What is your best advice for a breastfeeding mom who is just getting started?
Not to give up. I will say those first six weeks are the hardest six weeks ever. ... It becomes so much easier and just really, really enjoyable. But definitely, there are many, many moments when I first started breastfeeding my son when I thought, "I can't do this, this is too hard," and my doula had her baby a few months before me and used to send me texts, "Keep up the good work, you can do this!" Having that support made all the difference in the world.

Given that experience, do you suggest breastfeeding moms lean on one another for support?
One hundred percent! Throughout the entire rest of the world, in developing nations, people breastfeed in a village type situation, so you can see other mothers breastfeeding, talk to them, get help from the elders -- whereas in any westernized [culture], it becomes so taboo to have that communal breastfeeding experience that we've kind of lost sight of the element of taking care of each other and women helping other women.

What advice would you want to pass along to any new mom?
The most important thing that you could possibly be as a mother is flexible, because as soon as you have expectations of how you think you want to do things -- and this could be big things, overall raising-your-child-philosophy things, but also little things, like, "Okay, Saturday, I'm going to go do Pilates, and then, come home and get the kids and take them to the park!" -- normally, those things will not work out. You have to be able to be flexible, in the moment, and go with the flow. Otherwise, you'll just drive yourself crazy!

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What happy milestones have you enjoyed celebrating with Milo and Elizabella recently?
Well, Bella being 7 months, she changes every single day, every day it's something new. Now, she says, "Mama." She practices with her mouth before she actually uses her vocal chords, just like gearing up to say it by opening and closing her mouth, and then she'll go, "Mama!" And she's got two teeth now, and she's super-sweet. And Milo is so smart. [His class was] learning about bugs in school, and he said, "Mom, do you know ants have three parts: a head, a thorax, and an abdomen?" He's 3! I did not know that. I literally looked up ants, and was like, "He's right!" So he's just really into school and learning. If he can take something apart and figure out how to put it back together, he will do it.

Do you read together? What are their favorite books?
I read with them both every single day. Milo loves this book Rocket Town since he was little, and Bella -- she loves everything right now, because she's so little -- but she likes Mommy Hugs.

What is your dream Mother's Day celebration?
I want to be with my kids and my mom. One of the greatest surprises about having my children -- I expected things like feeling like my heart would explode when I look at them -- but the most surprising joy that I get is watching my parents with them. I didn't expect that to be so special.

What would you add to Alyssa's advice for new moms and breastfeeding moms just starting out?

To give an Inspired Gift to a mom in need this year, visit UNICEF.

Image via UNICEF

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