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When Did Breastfeeding Become Such a Hot-Button Issue? Jade Roper, Coco Austin and Other Stars Weigh In

Deciding how to feed your baby is a deeply personal issue that is oftentimes entirely out of your hands. So why is everyone on the Internet crying over leaked milk? Stars gave their take to E! News.

By Sarah Grossbart Aug 21, 2021 1:00 PMTags

I was roughly five minutes into my first breastfeeding class when I received my second strike. 

My first had been arriving without my husband, that apparently being a sign we weren't taking the whole situation seriously enough. And my second came moments later when I answered just a bit too honestly about how long I intended to nurse. "Oh, I'm aiming for six months and we'll see how it goes, though my husband is hoping for a year," I replied. 

"Well, your husband is right." 

Ooookay. Using every last ounce of restraint, I bit back my snappy retort about how unless my husband was going to whip out a boob it didn't much matter what he thought (for the record, he's firmly in the your body, your call camp) and instead mumbled something about not wanting to put too much pressure on myself as a first-time mom. 

Because, really? As if being handed a helpless teeny human and tasked with every last bit of their care isn't enough. 

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Celeb Moms Breastfeeding

"So many people asked me if I was going to breastfeed," Vanderpump Rules star Lala Kent reflected on social media after the March birth of daughter Ocean. "I thought this was a strange question because it's not that simple. I know many women who struggled—whether the baby didn't latch, milk wasn't coming in, or it just wasn't for them. I was never married to the idea of breastfeeding because I didn't want to feel disappointment or shame."

That's an all too common phenomenon, scores of celebrity moms copping to sensations of inadequacy and guilt simply for buying a container of formula. 

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Lauren Conrad has admitted to thinking she was "a bad mom" when she didn't produce enough milk for eldest son Liam, 4. Her onetime Hills costar Whitney Port recalled to Refinery29 how she felt as if 4-year-old Sonny's "life was solely dependent on my success" when it came to nursing. And Ashley Tisdale recently shared she wished friends "would've told me how hard breastfeeding really was," before she welcomed daughter Jupiter in March. "I think there's this pressure around the subject of breastfeeding," Tisdale noted, "and that those who do it are the best moms, but that's not true."

Because even with the fed-is-best movement, women are still given a steady enough diet of "...but you should really breastfeed" to feel like a failure when they're unable or uninterested in nursing for myriad reasons. (Lack of supply, baby's refusal to latch, just not being about spending hours letting a tiny human glom onto their body, for starters.)  

Not that being able to successfully breastfeed earns you a pass from constant criticism, either. There are any number of critics ready to jump in and tell you that you should have kept it up for longer (but not that long, because that's weird) or that you should be mindful of when and where it's appropriate to feed your child, as if newborns are known for their tolerance and patience when it comes to being hungry. 

Basically the messaging to exhausted, confused, anxiety-ridden new parents boils down to: You absolutely must breastfeed to be a good parent, just not like that, and please make sure to keep it out of sight, kthx.

Jade Roper, whose successful Bachelor in Paradise summer led to having three children with husband Tanner Tolbert, thinks that moms' decisions to lift the cover, so to speak, on the breastfeeding experience is precisely why viewpoints are as plentiful as sore nipples. 

"It's being talked about a lot more because of social media," she posited while chatting with E! News during August's National Breastfeeding Month. "I feel like women are tired of feeling like we have to brush everything under the rug. It's like, no, these are real life experiences, and everybody's journey is different, including breastfeeding."

Jade Roper Tolbert for Carter’s

Though that doesn't entirely explain why people are so opinionated about situations that, as Pink put it, "don't affect their life at all." 

If you ask Adele, "All those people who put pressure on us, you can go f--k yourselves, alright?" At the time, she was addressing those that suggest anyone not breastfeeding simply isn't trying enough. "Because it's hard," the mom to now-8-year-old Angelo told the crowd at a 2016 concert. "Some of us can't do it. I managed about nine weeks."

For Shawn Johnson it was just days after welcoming daughter Drew in October 2019 that she finally broke in the middle of yet another feed that felt more like a battle than a bonding session and offered some pumped milk in a bottle. When she later called a lactation consultant to try and troubleshoot the situation, "It was kind of like, 'Oh, well you've probably already ruined it. I don't think she'll go back,'" she recalled to E! News. "I just felt sad because at that point, as a mom, especially that early on, you're just trying to figure it out. And to feel like I had failed her, I felt so guilty and just defeated."

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Thankfully she dialed up reinforcements who all offered the same solution. "I started talking to our pediatrician and nurses and friends and they were all saying, 'Stop stressing. You don't need to breastfeed. Pump. If you can't pump enough, use formula,'" she continued. "It was just so easy for them to say it."

This go-round with 3-week-old son Jett is "a whole new world," she recently shared on Instagram. But while her son is "a good nurser," there are moments that still suck, the Olympian sharing that at least one feed a day seems to end in tears. 

Put simply, she wrote, "It's HARD!" 

Accurate. Ignoring a not-at-all-short list of medical reasons why breastfeeding might not work, some moms simply don't have the time, energy or interest to turn themselves into a round-the-clock milk factory. 

"It is almost 40 hours a week by the time you add up nighttime feedings, all-day feedings," Roper noted to E! News. "Like, you're doing a full-time job and it can be daunting." (Or, as Emily Ratajkowski put it after welcoming son Sylvester in March, "If it seems like I'm always breastfeeding it's because I am.") That becomes particularly challenging for those that work outside the home because maternity leave doesn't last forever and finding time and adequate spots to pump remains tricky. 

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Also—and this is something anyone who thinks they might one day try to feed a baby from their body should know—it kinda hurts. Like, a lot. "It was definitely very hard in the beginning because I obviously had no idea what I was doing," E!'s Morgan Stewart admitted on Instagram. "Full on bloody and cut nips."

Fortunately nipple cream exists and shields ("I found nursing super painful and difficult," Kim Kardashian shared on her now-defunct lifestyle website, "so I took some home and never looked back") and for most people the discomfort goes away, presumably as their bodies adjust to what Kelly Rowland calls "all that gnawing at your nipples." But the first several weeks can be a grin and bear it situation.

"For me, breastfeeding was difficult from the start," Port wrote in her Refinery29 essay, "and thinking back, I wish I'd stopped earlier and not put myself through all the torture that I did."

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Even seasoned moms aren't immune to the struggle. 

Roper had already dealt with now 4-year-old daughter Emerson's colic, lip and tongue tie and a milk intolerance that had her eliminating dairy from her own diet and emerged with her love of nursing intact. "There's something special about it," she raved. But with now 2-year-old Brooks, "I ended up cutting our breastfeeding short at about four months, because every time we'd go back to the doctor, he was losing weight," she recalled. "And so for us the best choice for him ended up being to just formula-feed him."

That's not to say she didn't agonize over the decision. "Even my pediatrician wanted me to keep breastfeeding Brooks," revealed Roper who recently opened up about "the real, raw truth of things that we go through" for Tommee Tippee's "Spill the Milk" series of informative chats. But after months of fighting to get him fed and thriving, "It was just something that was really hard for him," said Roper. "I felt a lot of guilt until I saw how much happier he was."

And then there are those that can't stop sexualizing a woman's breasts long enough to let a baby enjoy a meal in peace.

"Oh yeah, for sure," Roper responded when asked if her DMs still flood with people telling her to cover up each time she posts a nursing photo. "People feel like, 'Put that away. Nobody wants to see that.' And I'm like, this is the most natural thing that you can do as a woman. It's one of the things that our bodies are built for."

At this point, three kids in, she said, "If anybody throws any kind of shade my way, it doesn't bother me anymore, especially around breastfeeding." Though she admitted to being more conservative with Emerson, 9-month-old son Reed recently nursed during a family trip to the O.C. Fair in Costa Mesa, Calif. "I will feed my child, anywhere, any day," she explained. "Like, if he's hungry, I'm going to give him the boob. If he needs comfort, he's going to get the boob. It doesn't bother me anymore."

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For some, though, it's hard to ignore the judgmental stares. 

Mila Kunis expressed her surprise to Vanity Fair in 2016 about the number of shameful looks she received while feeding daughter Wyatt, now 6. "There were many times where I didn't bring a cover with me, and so I just did it in a restaurant, in the subway, in the park, at airports and in planes," she explained. "Why did I do it in public? Because I had to feed my child. She's hungry. I need to feed her whether it's out of a bottle or out of my boob no matter where I was."

And a few snide glances were the least of Australian actress Teresa Palmer's worries, the Lights Out star recently revealing she dealt with "verbal abuse inches from my face by a man and woman" while nursing then-6-week-old daughter Poet on a bench. "If that had happened in those first wobbly weeks of being a new mum, trying to establish a latch with my son and finding my feet with parenting, that experience would have profoundly impacted me." 

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2021 Celebrity Babies

And god forbid you do so with a toddler, which Palmer has done a number of times, her breastfeeding journey rounding into its eighth year as she's transitioned from sons Bodhi, 7, and Forest, 4, to Poet, 2, and now newborn daughter Prairie.

Though the American Academy of Family Physicians estimates "a natural weaning age" between ages 2 and 7, there are any number of people ready to take issue with a kid nursing when they're old enough to have mastered a sippy cup. 

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"I don't know why I have to explain myself," Coco Austin recently said on E!'s Daily Pop of continuing to breastfeed 5-year-old daughter Chanel. And yet here we are, the Internet exploding when the model and reality star said she has no intention of weaning. "I just don't believe society says they should stop at 2. You as a mother should stop because they said so," she reasoned. "I always thought I wasn't going to go on and on with this breastfeeding thing. I thought I would stop more like around one. Then I loved it too much."

As it turned out, I was also wrong in my nursing prediction. I carried on a mostly love, sometimes hate journey with my daughter for a little more than 15 months, crying after my final session despite having spent hours complaining about just how much it had consumed my life. 

Now 2, my daughter happily sucks down straw cups filled with whole milk and if she remembers that for the first year of her life she largely survived on breastmilk, I'm certain she doesn't care. None of that takes away the pride I feel about accomplishing something I honestly wasn't sure I could, but it serves as a reminder that, as Roper put it, "whatever you want to do is right for you."

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Ice-T & Coco's Cutest Pictures of Baby Chanel

Having the chance to deliver such pearls of wisdom was the reason she signed on to Tommee Tippee's series of motherhood chats. "It was really just about helping moms in solidarity being like, 'I've been there, this is what I've experienced,'" she explained. "As a third-time mom, I feel more confident in my decisions and I have some experience under me." 

So as she embarked once more on her breastfeeding journey, an experience she's loved even through the struggles, she was certain everything would turn out just fine. "I know he's going to be fine if it doesn't work out," she said of nursing. "He's going to be fine if it works out. As long as he's loved and healthy and fed, he's going to be just fine and thriving."

We'll drink to that.