Whitney Port talks breastfeeding, sleep deprivation and how she learned to tame her mom guilt

Whitney Port rose to fame in 2006, co-starring on the hit reality TV series, "The Hills." Since then, she's had her own TV show, a fashion line, and most recently has become the Chief Brand Director of Bundle Organics—a company that makes snacks and drinks that help with fertility, pregnancy, and breastfeeding.
In 2016, Whitney became pregnant with her first child, and shortly thereafter she and her husband began documenting their journey through parenthood through a YouTube series called "I Love My Baby, But…" The videos are candid, and Whitney is courageously open about sharing her parenting fumbles with her followers.

In this episode, Whitney chats with Liz about learning to deal with mom guilt, and the surprising support she's found from being an open book online.

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Liz: Whitney Port, welcome to the Motherly podcast.

Whitney: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Liz: So Whitney something I really like to ask all fellow mothers is what was your view of motherhood before you became a mother yourself?

Whitney: Gosh. I mean the real example obviously of motherhood was my own mother and she made it seem so easy. She. I'm one of five kids. We're each two years apart and it always. Gosh it was like made to seem so easy. I mean my siblings and I never fought. My mother never complained about how hard it was to have five kids. My grandparents were a huge part of our lives. Like I just. I didn't think it was going to be as controversial for me as it turned out to be. In terms of being a mom I knew I wanted to have children but I wasn't like having to. You know that there are certain women like one of my best friends that I grew up with. She was like, "I am just made to be a mom. Like I don't care about working. Like I just need to be a mom." And I was like, "You know what? Good for you" but I just didn't feel that way. It just wasn't something that like in me but obviously when I got married and you know being in love with someone you. One of the first things that you think about when you get married is like well are we going to create someone else. And that was what was exciting for me, was the thought of like creating a human being with this person that I loved so much. But when I got pregnant like I didn't read anything. I didn't really want to know anything. The only thing I did to prepare was go to a birthing class. But I'm really the kind of person that likes to take everything as it comes and the more information I know sometimes like the more anxiety I have about it. So yeah.

Liz: What was your mom's secret or your mom's way of dealing with the challenge of five kids in ten years and how did she approach it with. In a way that made you feel like it was easy?

Whitney: I think because we lived in a different time I think there wasn't as much pressure coming from the outside world to be doing so much all the time and be everything to everyone. And so I really think she was able to like live in the moment and. And just be a mom and a wife as opposed to a million different things. And she's always constantly telling me that. That sometimes I'm making life more complicated than it has to be by like listening to so many people and reading so many things and comparing myself to other people. She just never had to do that or even had the access to do that. She also had two parents that lived with us that made a huge, huge difference. and I think my dad was also very, very active present father. They really did everything as a team and I think that you know all of that made so much difference in making it seem like motherhood was a seamless thing.

Liz: Your "I Love My Baby But…" series on YouTube is this parenting focused video series that talks about things that you struggled with, things that are amazing and wonderful in parenthood. I'm just wondering how did the idea for making the series even come about?

Whitney: Yeah so it's a funny story. I was like in my first trimester laying in bed on Saturday morning feeling just so disgusting and ill. I had like crusty yogurt next to my bed, like a half drunk glass of chocolate milk, just like in my pajamas for two days. You know that typical image of a woman in their first trimester who's having a really hard time is. And my husband who's in development and is a producer is like, "Whitney you know I feel like if you're going through this right now there must be so many other people going through the same thing that don't necessarily have someone to talk to about this or like have a role model or like someone to validate their feelings. Like why don't we just get this on camera and talk about how you're feeling right now and put it out there on your social media?" I was like, "Are you crazy? Like I don't have hair and makeup. I look insane. The room is so messy." Also people are so sometimes intense on social media that if you're not constantly being super positive you get such a negative response, especially when it comes to motherhood and pregnancy where there are so many women out there that can't even necessarily get pregnant. So for me to just go out and complain about it felt like I was really putting myself on the line and setting myself up for some bad backlash. So I was timid but I. I really trust my husband and like I said because he's in development and production and just really understands that side of it, I trust him. I was like, "Okay let's do it." So that first episode was just all about you know not only my physical sickens but just how I like. Like wasn't immediately excited to be pregnant and how I'm very scared and you know all of the negative raw things that we think about that [0:08:37.9] people weren't talking about as much at that time or at least that I didn't have access to. So yeah that was the impetus for it all.

Liz: And in those videos you know you've shared so many topics from struggles with breastfeeding to marriage after having a baby and all of these ways really candid. And it. You know you address this in one of the videos but it seems like people would have a negative response because these can be controversial topics but interestingly you said that the feedback has been like overwhelmingly positive and really supportive. It just seems to me like we as mothers have shifted from the mommy wars to a much more supportive and understanding attitude from other moms. And I just wonder if you feel ice our generation of moms has this nonjudgmental approach on the whole that you know we know how hard it is and we're really just trying to support one another and each individual families' choices.

Whitney: Yeah I mean I think that on social media that is what our generation is becoming. I think that we are becoming a much more accepting group. But I think that we're naturally inclined to judge as human beings and that we're trying to like shove that down a little bit. 'Cause I find myself doing that on a daily basis. Like even though I was trying to put the message out there that people should be stopping breastfeeding when they're ready to stop right. Like no one should be forced to be doing something that is not making them happy. That is actually being a very, very, very unhappy and in turn affecting how they're being a mother. And at the same time I was still asking people who were breastfeeding, even after I stopped like, "Well how long did you breastfeed for?" Questions that I never even wanted to be asked myself. Like I still found myself doing so I just feel like we're. There's still that struggle going on of like this natural judgment we have as mothers or this natural comparing and us trying to really stop ourselves and not do that. And that's what I think. I think social media highlights that self-correction that we all do.

Liz: How do you actually go through that process of self-correcting when you feel like either you're being defensive about your choice or.

Whitney: I guess what I do is I. I sometimes will be quick to ask those questions or say things like, "Oh wow. Like your kid's talking fast" you know or like, "Your kid has words that my kid doesn't have" and then like I'll think about it later like why did I. Why was I comparing my kid to them? Like that's exactly what I'm trying not to do. So I think it's just really being conscious of our own behaviors and how. How they are creating this mommy judgment that really needs to go away.

Liz: One of the topics that comes up a lot in your video series is mom guilt and you talk about the fact that for you most of it is actually this self-imposed guilt that you put on yourself. So how do you actually talk to your mom guilt to help you not feel guilty all the time?

Whitney: That's a good question. I. I have little conversations with myself in my head and I'll say to myself, "God I feel so bad that I" you know spent five hours today like not being with Sonny and getting this project done. And then I'll say to myself, "But like you have dreams. You have goals. You can't get to those places unless you make some sacrifices in one area." And I literally go through this negotiation in my own head on a daily basis you know. so then I have to say, "Alright well Whitney like you've made these decisions. You have to. You need to move past it and you need to be present in these moments where you're. You are doing amazing things because if you don't enjoy them and you're just feeling guilty all the time then what is. What's the use of it? Why are you even doing it?" So it's just that conversation I constantly have in my head. And then I also talk to my husband about it a lot. Like I'll just throw it out to him and say, "Gosh I feel so bad that I like you know got a nanny for a couple hours today so that I could like go get a manicure and a pedicure because I'm filming tomorrow. He will put me back in my place and be like, "You need to be able to take care of yourself. You need to get these things done. Just because you're not like solving world hunger doesn't mean that these self-care practices or things you need to get done for your job aren't important as well." So. So yeah. Leaning on.

Liz: I think it's cool that you are able to talk to your husband and that he's able to also help you. Help coach you through some of that mom guilt. Does he experience dad guilt?

Whitney: No. Never. It's so annoying. He is. He is like my therapist in a way and sometimes I feel like I lean on him too much. But especially in our YouTube series when I watch it back. I'm like God we really worked through a lot of these issues together. Like you really helped this conversation move along and get me to a place of acceptance and it's really amazing. Like it's so cool that we have that all on tape. But he no. He doesn't feel dad guilt. It's just like not in his nature.

Liz: I think that's part of this universal experience that many of us have and maybe it's being a woman. Maybe it's our culture and it puts so much pressure on women in particular to kind of bare all the burdens of parenthood, all the worries and all the emotional labor as well.

Whitney: Yeah I think that and I think there has been this natural progression in society that has made women feel this way but I do also think that who you marry creates that story too. The man that I married was like my father. I'm not surprised, who was someone like being a present father and being a 50:50 partner with me in terms of responsibility was like what he wanted. And I think that we can expect more from our husbands and we should be able to ask more of them so that we don't continually live on this story.

Liz: I think it's also you know because you have this video series where you and your husband are talking through it, you're almost modeling how to have those conversations for other couples who might want to have more equality but they don't really know how to even ask for it.

Whitney: 100%. I think that we're doing that subconsciously but I. I hope that we can be that example for people. And that's not to say that we don't have our struggles too about like well who's going to wake up with him tomorrow morning or you know those like tit for tat moments and passive aggressive situations. Like we definitely have those but I. I think when it comes to sharing responsibility that it is so important in terms of like not ending up resenting your partner.

Liz: So going back to the theme of mom guilt for a second, is there an example of something that you felt really guilty about at the time but looking back you're like why did I feel that way?

Whitney: Yeah. I mean after having Sonny it was. He was six weeks old and I had to go to work in New York for about 36 hours. And I was still breastfeeding and I felt awful. I was like I cannot believe I'm leaving him so young. Like has any mom left her child so young before. Like is he like going to miss these precious moments. Is he going to miss me. You know like just. I really went overboard with it obviously 'cause my emotions were just going crazy as well. And looking back on it now I'm like he was six weeks old. Like he was. He's never going to remember those 36 hours in his entire life. And there was then a time last summer that Timmy and I decided to go to Italy for ten days which is a lot of people actually judged us for that. And I felt really guilty at first and then I realized you know what. Like I. I need this so badly. Like I need this time with Timmy for our relationship, for my own confidence, for just like a breather from life. Like I cannot care about what anybody else thinks. So sometimes it takes some time to get some perspective on things and I think it's just important to allow yourself that time and to. To give it space because you'll soon realize that the guilt was not worth it.

Liz: And in those times when you get criticized online for your choices as a parent, how do you prevent that from turning into guilt that you feel instead and confidently own the choices you made as a mother?

Whitney: I always feel like sometimes those comments subconsciously make me feel insecure about a parent because I feel like when I read those I'm like, "Oh that person doesn't know me. Like whatever." But then I think just a little at a time they start to chip away at my confidence in a subconscious way. And I just think it's just like what I was talking about before. Just having those conversations with myself to like talk myself off the ledge and own the decisions that I made and trust myself that I knew what was best at that time for my family.

Liz: You know one of the things that having an online platform can do is, especially in parenting and motherhood, is that whether it's talking about your struggles with breastfeeding or you know posting a picture of an ultrasound on YouTube video, it's giving you a part of motherhood that in the past has been almost invisible. So I'm wondering do you think that the internet is better? Do you think that social media is helping give us a view of parenthood in general that's helping us to sort of understand and empathize better with the struggles that parents go through?

Whitney: 100%. I really do. I follow a lot of women that allow us to take a really deep dive into their lives and. And produce a lot of content that shows the reality of being a mom. And I think it is really, really, really helpful for people. I think a lot of people hate on social media for taking too. Us too much away from our lives but I also think it is an amazing source of validation for. For everybody who has something that they're struggling with. For me it's been motherhood and my grief of losing my father. Like there's so many people out there that have the same feelings as me that it makes. When I do have these negative feelings I don't feel so shameful about them. And so there's so much power in that and I urge everybody to show more of that.

Liz: Is there any feedback that you've received on your I Love My Baby But video series that stood out to you in particular?

Whitney: Gosh. I mean I think the most amazing moments are when they're like I'm sitting here sobbing my eyes out three am in the middle of the night breastfeeding my child like not knowing if this is for me or how much longer I can do this. I'm so miserable." And the next day they'll message me and be like, "I decided to stop and like I feel a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders." Like it's stories like that where I feel like the same way that I had worked through my issues on there that people are working through theirs with me. And those are the most meaningful

Liz: So in a more recent video you talked about the advice that gets you through some of the tougher moments in motherhood. And I. I really love this advice. It's simple but it's also profound. And that is that everything is a phase. Can you describe for us the different phases that you've experienced through motherhood so far?

Whitney: Yeah. There have been so many. I mean that was really the thing at the beginning that helped me get through the most because the beginning phase was the hardest. The first six months for me was brutal and those were the breastfeeding months. I just never thought it was going to be over. I was like when am I going to get a full night of sleep. When am I not going to be attached to this child. When am I going to be able to leave the house for longer than two or three hours at a time. And people would constantly tell me, "Whitney it's just a matter of months. Just a matter of months." And then it turned into like the crawling and like watching him every second and then to walking and watching him even more every second and then dealing with the food and him like not wanting to eat anything and having to learn his personality. And now it's all about you know him saying no or not understanding why we're saying no and dealing with someone that is having a personality but that can't communicate and starting to get really frustrated. So it's. Yeah the phases there have been quite a few but they have all ended and they all have been less and less and less terrifying as time has gone on. And then now it's. It's become manageable for me honestly. And I know that sounds like a kind of a bad way to talk about being a mom. Like that it's just manageable but I just more mean like the hard stuff has become manageable for me. And there are so many more enjoyable moments now.

Liz: Do you think that's because the phases get easier or because your confidence as a mother increases?

Whitney: I think both. I think you're definitely. You're sleeping more so that's number one. I mean I think the lack of sleep will drive anybody crazy and every little thing becomes magnified and seems like the worst thing ever. So I think yes there's that physical part to it but I also think you. Being a mom starts to become more a normal part of your life. Like it just is you now and you start to forget about what life was like before and so yeah. I think it's definitely both.

Liz: So what phase are you in now?

Whitney: We are in. Gosh. We don't really know how to classify it. But right now it's that phase where he's like learning to say words and showing emotion but gets really frustrated when things aren't going his way. So he's not quite throwing tantrums yet but I feel like he's on the cusp of the tantrum phase. Like he's about a year and a half so he's. He's getting to that like terrible two phase I can tell. And so we're trying to get ahead of that if that's even possible. My mom worked as a toddler transition teacher and.

Liz: That's awesome to have in the family.

Whitney: Yeah it's amazing but sometimes it's your mom so you don't necessarily like listen to everything or feel. You know it's different. So she has this best friend that she worked with that she's like, "Just meet with her. You know you don't have to hear from me. I'm your mom, but." So we've been meeting with her every couple of months and we're about to meet with her in a couple weeks for like a checking for Sonny just to figure out. Like to learn about this next phase 'cause I want to. I want to figure out like how often is it okay for him to be watching TV. Like how bad is it for me to be saying no all the time or that he's saying no all the time to us. So yeah, that's important to me.

Liz: So you've talked about so many topics in motherhood on your video series from struggles in pregnancy to baby proofing your house to sex after baby or even mom guilt. Is there something that you feel like is still not talked about enough in motherhood?

Whitney: Gosh. Good question. I think the relationship between you and your husband is something that's not talked about enough. It's a really intimate conversation and, like it's one thing for me to talk about my insecurities and issues and whatnot but it's another thing to go to talk about my husband. And so I think that's why a lot of people don't necessarily do that. So I think that there's something that could be talked about more. And I think dads should start getting more involved and starting their own blogs about this. I tell Tommy all the time that he should have his own YouTube series about this. I think it would be helpful to get husband's perspectives on this. Yeah.

Liz: So something we talk a lot about at Motherly is this idea that when we become moms that we discover superpowers that we didn't even know that we had. And I'm wondering what superpower have you discovered in yourself since becoming a mom?

Whitney: I feel like I can do a lot more than I thought on very little sleep. Like I always thought that.

Liz: That's a superpower.

Whitney: Yeah. I always thought that I needed eight hours of sleep to be able to get anything done. And now I realize that that's not the case. And I wish that weren't the case but like that's just the reality of being a mother. You have no choice. Yeah.

Liz: Whitney I'm not surprised for all of your candor but thank you for being so honest in this conversation today with us on Motherly.

Whitney: My pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.
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Hosted by Liz Tenety

Liz is an award-winning journalist and editor, and the co-founder of Motherly. A former Washington Post editor, she thrives on all things digital community + social media strategy. She's passionate about helping to provide women with more support, (and way less judgment), on the journey through motherhood. This podcast is an extension of her commitment to hosting honest conversations about modern motherhood. Liz resides outside NYC with her husband, two sons, one daughter and one amazing au pair.

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