Fall 2021, News
Quality Care, Naturally
By Kara Schweiss
Photo by Ron Coleman, C4 Photography
Laura Wilwerding, M.D., graduated from the University of Nebraska’s College of Medicine in 1995 (she also completed her residency at University of Nebraska Medical Center), so by 2013 she was an experienced Pediatrician and Breastfeeding Medicine Specialist at UNMC. She was not only well-established in her career, she was also liked by her patients, their parents and respected by her peers.
But Wilwerding had a vision for a unique kind of practice, so she stepped away from relative stability to see that vision through. “I took a leap of faith,” she says. “I bought a building and opened a practice—without business experience. It was trial by fire.”
She emerged intact, and eight years later, Naturally Healthy Kids is thriving. The busy practice has a waiting list, but Wilwerding has intentionally kept the practice small enough to get to know her patients and focus on quality care over quantity. She strives to provide comprehensive and passionate care in a “welcoming, respectful environment.”
Wilwerding jokes that the practice’s name reflects that “granola people are my people,” but Naturally Healthy Kids provides comprehensive pediatric care and breastfeeding medicine while striving to be minimally interventional, which means preventing disease through good nutrition and healthy habits rather than treating only after illness occurs, Wilwerding says. When prevention isn’t possible, such as when a child has a genetic condition, or after a child contracts a virus or has an infection, she explains the pros and cons of treatment options.
“We offer a collaborative approach to care,” Wilwerding says. As a parent herself (she has four adult daughters), she respects a parent’s right to make health care decisions for their children, but also feels it’s her duty to provide accurate details and up-to-date facts.
“We take the time to share information so moms and dads can make truly informed decisions. We will not ‘tell’ people what to do because at the end of the day, each situation is different and you decide for your family,” she says. “It’s a privilege to help people make good decisions.”
Wilwerding serves as an Adjunct Professor of Pediatrics at UNMC and is certified by the American Board of Pediatrics. She’s also an international board-certified lactation consultant and fellow of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine. She firmly believes that healthy kids begin with effective breastfeeding support for mothers and helping them manage challenges—such as infection or supply issues.
She’s also an advocate for community support for breastfeeding, from businesses and public buildings creating appropriate spaces for nursing mothers to employers providing private accommodations for pumping, and testifying to a Nebraska Legislative judiciary committee on the benefits of breastfeeding. Adequate support helps women who want to breastfeed be successful and may prevent them from giving up prematurely because they feel uncomfortable nursing in public or pumping in the workplace, she says.
“Breastfeeding contributes to improved overall health,” she says. “Taking the extra time (to support breastfeeding mothers) is an investment in future health.”
Even after discussing the benefits, some mothers choose not to breastfeed. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t bring your child here,” Wilwerding says. Similarly, some families choose not to vaccinate children old enough to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, and like every physician, she sees clients who equate their Google search to her medical degree. The job can be admittedly frustrating, Wilwerding says, but she emphasizes facts from reputable sources and strives to serve as a “trusted guide” who will answer questions with tact and compassion.
As she said in a recent Facebook post, “In reality, the decisions parents make are not always consistent with my own personal perspective, but having an open, honest and respectful dialogue is much more effective than coercion, bullying or relying on fear tactics to help parents rationally weigh their options.”
Wilwerding has also been on the pediatric patient side of things. She’s a survivor of bone cancer, going through the experience and the effects of treatment while in high school. “I wasn’t the belle of the ball, I was the belle of the bald,” she quips. The cancer led to the partial amputation of one of her legs, but that didn’t stop her from skiing, and she’s been unstoppable since. Although the experience of being a teenage cancer patient did not directly lead her to pediatric medicine, it certainly influenced it.
Now she has ushered four daughters through their teen years, and in the midst of discussion about Nebraska health and sex education standards for Nebraska public schools, Wilwerding is becoming known as an advocate for a comprehensive sex education that includes information about sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. She has firsthand experience there, too: one of her daughters identifies as a lesbian. Wilwerding was supportive when her daughter came out as a teen, she says, and continues to be supportive now that her daughter is an adult. But, she adds, not all LGBTQIA+ teens have a positive experience.
Wilwerding also supports comprehensive sex education as a physician, and her stance is supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics. In a June editorial published in the Omaha World-Herald, she stated, “Even in children grades K-2, by providing developmentally appropriate information—including anatomical body parts, safe versus unsafe touching and sexual abuse reporting—children will be better able to protect themselves, understand they are not at fault, and be more willing to disclose abuse to an adult. As children get older, quality sex education programs have been shown to reduce frequency of sexual activity and number of sexual partners and increase contraception/condom use. Providing accurate information also leads to fewer unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), resulting in physically and emotionally healthier youth. High school sex education can even decrease risk of sexual assault in college.”
Wilwerding says her position also cultivates an inclusive and understanding environment.
“The fact is, LGBTQIA+ youth exist and are attending Nebraska public schools. It is crucial that we recognize these children’s identities and ensure they know they belong in our community. An important component of this is acknowledging their experience and giving them crucial information for understanding sexuality and gender identity as they grow and develop. Quality education must address more than just academic needs. It must also foster understanding, respect and compassion to protect all Nebraska students.”
Respect and compassion are the cornerstone of Wilwerding’s philosophy for the community, for her patients, and even for her staff at Naturally Healthy Kids. She practices what she preaches by allowing them to bring their babies to the office with them to support bonding and breastfeeding.
“They’re our ‘staff babies’,” she says, adding that they have helped ‘grow’ the practice. “We’ve had six babies in eight years!”