“I don’t think I necessarily thought that it would create such an uproar,” the actress, 42, told PEOPLE on Thursday while speaking about her work with UNICEF’s Mother’s Day MOMents Fund, which provides gifts for mothers and children in need.
“I think that it just struck a chord and people ran with it,” Milano explains.
“I think that breastfeeding moms feel like what they do needs to be hidden, or not feel like they’re getting the appreciation that comes along with being a breastfeeding mom, and it meant something that someone was being vocal.”
The mom to daughter Elizabella Dylan, 7 months, and son Milo Thomas, 3½, explains that she Tweeted about the airport incident for the same reason she posts photos of herself nursing on Instagram — not to be incendiary but because they are aspects of her daily life that she doesn’t feel the need to hide.
“When I post pictures of me breastfeeding Bella, it’s not that I’m trying to be very outspoken about breastfeeding, it’s that it’s a very special moment in my life,” she says. “What [other people] take from that is a whole other thing. Support from not only breastfeeding moms, but moms everywhere, has been really powerful and really overwhelming.”
With two kids at home now, Milano’s life is full of special moments.
“My son is like a teenager it feels like,” she jokes. “He’s just really special and fun and funny and loving and caring. My daughter is saying, ‘Mama’ and ‘Dada,’ and she loves animals and she’s sitting up, and she’s got two teeth. At this age, it’s like every day is five milestones!”
While Milano will reach her own milestone on Sunday — her first Mother’s Day as a mom of two — she’s doing her part to celebrate moms in need. As a part of the MOMents Fund, the UNICEF ambassador is asking people to get on board with the “brilliant” idea.
“Basically, what it is is instead of giving flowers to your mother, you can give an inspired gift, an inspired gift that will be donated to a mother that’s vulnerable, to help her child, and I think that’s pretty special,” she explains.
“I cannot imagine a more heartbreaking feeling than to go to bed at night wondering if I was going to be able to keep my child protected and that’s what millions and millions of mothers feel every day. The thought of that is so heartbreaking to me, and these gifts really do make a difference.”
As her children grow, Milano is determined to teach both Milo and Elizabella the importance of offering a helping hand where needed.
“I hope they understand that giving back is just a part of life, that it’s not something special people do, that it’s something that you have to do. It’s not a choice, it’s not an option,” she says. “Whether that means that my son helps a woman up the stairs with her groceries, or my daughter comes on UNICEF trips with me, I want them to be able to make a difference, and I want them to know that that’s the way of life.”
And it seems as if her son already has a big heart: The actress says Milo has adjusted easily to his new role as a big brother.
“It’s like she was never not a part of our family,” Milano shares. “He’s madly in love with her, super protective of her, and she worships the ground he walks on. She thinks he’s the greatest thing ever. Everything he does, she gets hysterical laughing. It’s adorable.”
After seeing the bond between her kids, Milano is itching to have another baby, but isn’t sure her husband David Bugliari will be on board.
“I definitely want another one,” she says. “My husband doesn’t want another one though. He goes, ‘We only have two hands.’ “
She adds, “He comes from a family of three, so I think he understands the whole middle child concept. It probably won’t happen because I’m 42 and if we were to do it, we’d have to do it quickly, but maybe we’ll adopt!”
As for dropping her baby weight, Milano says she’s more focused on rebuilding strength rather than losing the pounds.
“It’s really endurance training rather than dieting,” she says. “I’m just trying to get to a point where my body feels good again. If weight comes off that’s great — I still have less than 15 lbs. left to lose, and I’m not rushing myself to lose it, although I do miss my clothes! I just try to be kind to myself.”
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— Gabrielle Olya