Saturday, February 9, 2008

Snapshot: Jeanne Cygnus, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant

note: In order to bring you accurate information concerning hot parenting issues, I'm teaming up with some local professionals who have agreed to share their knowledge in each of their fields of expertise. I will regularly consult with the professionals when writing about topics like breastfeeding, babywearing, health and natural childbirth and child rearing. Here is the first of four profiles, each of which will help you get to know the professionals who will be interviewed for other posts!

Meet Jeanne Cygnus (say: Jean with an "e" on the end), an international board-certified and registered lactation consultant. Jeanne has helped hundreds of mothers and babies become happy breastfeeding duos, including yours truly and my obviously well-nourished, 19-pound, six-month-old Gabe "the tank" Worth. I first visited Jeanne to get a nursing bra when I was 34 weeks preganant. I could not find a comfortable bra during those last few weeks of pregnancy when every part of body seemed to turn the size of a large watermelon; long story short, I was uncomfortable! Jeanne was very compassionate and knowledgeable during my bra quest, and she immediately helped find a bra that didn't make me feel like a stuffed sausage. She also commiserated with my being pregnant in the dead of a hot, humid summer, and what pregnant woman doesn't need just a little sympathy when it's 100 degrees outside and there's a bun in the already-overheated oven? I liked her.
I immediately turned to her when I needed help with breastfeeding Gabe because of her compassion and knowledge. Gabe and I visited Jeanne when he was just three days old so she could help Gabe get a good latch. (And oh-my-word does it hurt if the baby doesn't properly latch onto the breast!) I also had an oversupply problem; my body was producing more milk than Gabe could handle, which made eating very tough for him. But it was nothing Jeanne had not seen before!
"That's what's nice about private practice," Jeanne said. "I'm seeing everything from newborns all the way up to babies who are one year old. Private practice tends to see the largest range of issues. We tend to see some of the most complex cases."
Jeanne has worked with babies who have special needs, and she has helped moms who have special circumstances.
"I've worked with moms who have had breast surgeries or lost a breast to cancer and are only bringing milk in on one side," she said.
While she's experienced in helping mamas and babies with special circumstances, Jeanne said many of her clients come in with the same types of breastfeeding issues. The most common problem moms report is a perceived lack of milk supply.
"Sometimes that's the case, and sometimes it's not," she said.
During a consultation, Jeanne teaches mama and baby about breastfeeding and helps mama discern whether baby is getting enough milk. Jeanne weighs baby before and after a feeding so she and mama can see how many ounces baby drank. When a mom doesn't produce enough milk, Jeanne can also work with her to help her increase her milk supply so that it is adequate for baby.
Jeanne said she also sees quite a few babies who have tongue tie, which occurs when a baby's tongue is anchored too tightly to the bottom of his mouth. Tongue tie often prevents a baby from nursing efficiently, and the baby then has a hard time gaining weight.
"I tell moms it's like saying you have to eat all of your meals with your right hand, but that hand is anchored to your body," she said. "It tends to cause a lot of pain for mom, too."
Tongue tie is easily remedied by a simple surgery, and Jeanne refers her patients to a pediatrician who can correct it.
Jeanne works closely with her clients as well as their pediatricians and obstetricians.
"Every issue is looked at on a one-on-one basis," Jeanne said. "There is a lot of individual evaluation."
It's easy to see that Jeanne enjoys helping new moms and babies with their breastfeeding issues after speaking with her for only a few minutes, so it's surprising that lactation consulting was not the profession in which she started. Before her daughter, Kyla, 13, was born, Jeanne worked in veterinary medicine. In fact, before she had Kyla, she disregarded the practice of lactation consulting.
"I refused to take any breastfeeding classes because I thought it was ridiculous," she said. "I thought, 'there's a boob, there's a baby -- how hard could it be?'"
Luckily, Jeanne did not have any problems breastfeeding. In fact, her experience was so normal, she was invited to be the "normal breastfeeding mother" on a breastfeeding panel at Evergreen Hospital in Seattle, which is where she delivered Kyla.
"That's when I started hearing all of the struggles other moms were going though lot of lactation consultant get started because of their personal struggles but not me. ... I used to mock the book The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, so it's ironic where I ended up," she said.
The book is now displayed on a shelf in her office among other breastfeeding books that are meant to encourage, help and inform the breastfeeding mother. Jeanne encourages expecting mothers to learn about the benefits of breastfeeding by either reading one of these books or speaking with a pediatrician or lactation consultant.
"Breastfeeding is not better -- it's normal. We are made to breastfeed babies," she said. "It's what our bodies are made to do; it's what our babies are made to do. ... It helps mature [babies'] immune systems. It prevents all kinds of trouble later in life from allergies to orthodontic issues. It enhances all of baby's bodily functions and reduces mom's risk of breast cancer. Breastfeeding also teaches moms to read their babies."

Here are some quick stats about Jeanne and her practice:
Area of expertise: Jeanne aids mothers and babies in their breastfeeding endeavors through one-on-one consultations
Where: Cygnus Lactation Services, 420 N. Seymour. Mundelein, Illinois (She also makes home visits!)
Experience: Jeanne has been doing lactation work since 1994. She formally trained with Nancy Mohrbacher, who co-authored Breastfeeding Made Simple and The Breastfeeding Answer Book. After she finished 2500 hours of counseling women on breastfeeding issues, she took her board certification exams in 2002. She began her private practice the same year.
Credentials: International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and Registered Lactation Consultant
Education: University of Delaware, BS -- background in biology and veterinary medicine
Life Away From Work: wife to Marc, mom to Kyla and Chris
Need her help?: or (847) 837-4091 or

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