My friend, Christina*, recently told me, “One of my regrets with my first child was not having Dr. Julie Ware as my pediatrician.” Her comment was in response to my excitement over interviewing Ware for Memphis Parent magazine. Despite a schedule that finds her wearing multiple hats — doctor, breastfeeding advocate, wife, and mother — on the morning of our meeting, Julie greets me with an energetic smile and a hug.
On paper, one might not expect such a hearty welcome, since Ware is busy — very busy. She practices with All Better Pediatrics, chairs the Shelby County Breastfeeding Coalition (SCBC), and serves on the board of the International Academy of Breastfeeding. She’s been an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (ICBLC) since 1996. As a fellow with the Academy of Breastfeeding, Ware is the only pediatrician in the Mid-South credentialed in breastfeeding medicine.
Her professional excellence was recognized last October, when she was named Tennessee Pediatrician of the Year (2013) by the Tennessee American Academy of Pediatrics (TN AAP). The TN AAP executive committee grants the award to pediatricians who have made “exceptional contributions to children’s health in Tennessee.”
Leading the Way
But Ware’s true passion is breastfeeding. She says she’s been “blessed to be able to follow my passion and give much of my time to help mothers and babies breastfeed.” As the chair of SCBC for the past seven years, she works tirelessly to provide information to women and the community about breastfeeding. The Coalition’s aim is to increase rates of breastfeeding in Shelby County through education, advocacy, and resource referrals, and Ware provides countless volunteer hours towards this mission. Since beginning her work with the SCBC in 2004, the organization has seen Shelby County’s breastfeeding rate nearly double.
“Breastfeeding is the most readily available and beneficial practice for all new mothers and babies,” she notes, saying conversations about breastfeeding need to include family members and the community, including clergy, policy makers, and the media.
Ware completed a Master’s of Public Health (MPH) degree at the University of Memphis in 2012. Her desire to seek the MPH stemmed from her interest to better understand those communities in which breastfeeding is least likely to be practiced. Julie believes one of the most effective ways to confront the poverty that plagues Memphis is by increasing the rates at which its mothers breastfeed their children. “Initiation of any breastfeeding in Shelby County trails behind the nation, especially among African American mothers,” she says. “Interestingly, if 80 percent of our Shelby County mothers exclusively breastfed for six months, the estimated cost-savings would be $30 million.”
Spreading the Word
To reach the city’s most effected communities, Ware spearheaded a media campaign in 2012 and secured grant funds to post messages about the importance of breastfeeding on billboards and at bus stops. One picture even showed a baby being fed breast milk through a gastric tube displaying the message “If we can do it, you can too.”
She is adamant yet graceful, sharing with audiences the long-term benefits of breastfeeding: decreased asthma, allergies, and Type II diabetes. Give her the opportunity and she’ll tell you about the short-term benefits of breastfeeding for mom and baby, too, including reduced rates of post-partum depression and ear infections in babies. And she delivers it all with a compassionate care.
Ware credits her mentor, Mary Rose Tully, for her introduction to the world of breastfeeding education. Tully, who was internationally known and respected for her knowledge of lactation consulting, served as Julie’s lactation consultant in North Carolina for all three of her son. “She was full of life and energy,” says Ware. From Tully, Ware learned how to help other women breastfeed. She described countless hours following Tully through the hospital, watching her lean over mother and child “without ever complaining of fatigue, or aches and pains.”
Ware vowed to carry on her mentor’s zeal.
A Personal Touch
When Christina had her second child, she became of Ware’s patients. While breastfeeding, Julie called and emailed to find out how it was going. Christina’s daughter had special medical needs and Ware “tried to help problem solve and was very supportive.” The individual attention and support Julie gave to Christina provided her with the confidence she needed to she make the best decisions about feeding her daughter.
Before being named Pediatrician of the Year, one of her nominating colleagues defined Ware’s approach to infant and maternal health as “the most important recipe” combining “families, babies, mothers, and breast milk.”
Ware describers her own parenting decisions as “a process of trial and error.” With two sons in college and one graduated, Julie the mom, is “still learning about parenting every day.” She was fortunate to be able to practice medicine part-time following the birth of her third son. Still, she says, she struggles to strike a balance between her passion, her career, and her family life. Julie credits her faith in God as the force she leans on when facing all of life’s challenges. Without her faith, she says, “I don’t know how I would have made it through.” It is faith that gives her the strength she needs to care for others.