lactation tales

Jeannie Mai Jenkins Shares How Her Breastfeeding Struggle Made Her ‘Really, Really Depressed’

“I got really, really depressed and I started to give up.”

Jeannie Mai attends the  Baby2Baby 10-Year Gala — the star recently opened up about the struggles of...
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At a moment when supermarket shelves normally stocked with infant formula are sitting bare, and suddenly everyone feels entitled to voice an opinion about how other people should feed their babies, Jeannie Mai Jenkins is sharing the story of her difficult breastfeeding journey and encouraging us all to take a collective pause before we judge another parent’s feeding choices.

The Real co-host, 43, welcomed daughter Monaco in January with husband Jeezy. Her feeding plan, she explained to viewers on the latest episode of her YouTube show Hello Hunnay, was to go with the flow.

“I actually made a decision with myself, I was like you know what, self, you have some time to think about this. Okay, after the baby’s born, yeah, chill, get to know each other, see how your boobies feel, and then decide if you want to breastfeed or not.”

When a nurse handed Jenkins her daughter and instructed her, “Get her to suckle,” Jenkins quickly went from confused to converted. Looking down at her breast “sandwiched” into her baby’s moving lips, Jenkins says, “that was when I felt, I need to breastfeed. I didn’t feel like I had an option. I just felt like this is what you do.”

Watching the nurse reverently transfer a tiny drop of colostrum from her nipple into the baby’s mouth using a syringe, Jenkins suddenly felt the weight of the substance as liquid gold and vowed to produce “the most sumptuous, nutrient-dense, fully-packed, yummy, creamy, perfect temperature milk ever for Monaco.”

The realities of breastfeeding, however, turned out to be more complicated than this initial surge of instinct.

Advised to put baby to the breast as much as possible, Jenkins says that she spent those first three weeks nursing eight times a day trying to get her milk to come in, but to no avail. “I was getting like a drip, drip, like nothing. It was just nothing at the bottom of the bottles.”

Determined to get her milk flowing, Jenkins sought advice from books and nursing friends. In the Hello Hunnay episode she exhibits every supplement, tea, and gummy she took, as well as the breast pump and pumping bra she used, in her dogged attempts to increase her milk production.

For five weeks, she says, “all I was doing, around the clock, even through my sleep, by the way, 24 hours a day, was trying to take my vitamins, drink my tea, chew my gummies, and pump milk.”

Yet after all that effort, “nothing was coming out. It was maybe about an ounce,” Jenkins explains.

It was painful to see other moms on Instagram nursing successfully, says Jenkins. “I got really, really depressed and I started to give up.”

Yet when she stopped nursing and pumping, her breasts became painfully engorged and she developed clogged ducts and mastitis, which she describes unforgettably: “Imagine getting punched in the boob, but instead of getting punched and they let go it’s just like one big punch and it stays there like super-impacted on your boob.”

To relieve the pain, Jenkins had to go back to the breast pump—a hospital-grade rental, this time—but she finally started to see some progress, with her milk production increasing. “It just took my body time to actually settle in and relax and get into this,” Jenkins tells her viewers. But she doesn’t downplay the emotional toll of the experience.

“Remember, you’re just looking at this baby and this job every three hours, so every three hours, every day, you’re reminded that it’s not working for you.”

While she’s now making more milk, Jenkins resists tying up her struggles into the neat bow of a happy ending, noting that feeding the baby is just one part of her parenting experience. “I haven’t even talked about what am I doing to make sure that I’m getting enough sleep, where am I getting my happy?” she says.

At a time when infant nutrition is at the top of everyone’s news feed, Jenkins’ unfiltered experience is a reminder that things aren’t always as simple as they seem, and no mom should judge other parents’ choices.