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Photo Not AvailableGeorgia Dilworth, C.L.C.
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Honorarium

Ruth A. Lawrence, MD, FAAP, FAACTRuth A. Lawrence, M.D., F.A.A.P., F.A.A.C.T.

Ruth A. Lawrence (MD ’49, Res ’58) Professor of Pediatrics and Obstetrics and Gynecology University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry Founder (1985) and Medical Director of the Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Study Center, Golisano Children’s Hospital

An internship in Pediatrics at Yale University, followed by a residency also at Yale, exposed Ruth—who wore a white coat just like her male peers but was tasked with weaning her first child at 3 months to get back to work—to some of the greatest minds and practices in pediatrics. One of those practices was breastfeeding, common in New Haven even as physicians at the time, in the early ’50s, were urging patients to feed their babies formula.

Comfortable around breastfeeding because she’d seen her mother nurse her siblings, Lawrence dug into research in earnest once in her post-doctoral residency in pediatrics at the University of Rochester Medical Center, where, she says, “if a woman spoke up [for herself] she was apt to be punished for it.”

She wrote articles on the benefits of breastfeeding, and word spread. Soon she was being sought out by the wives of doctors who had read her work and wanted help breastfeeding their infants. Attention swelled, and Lawrence went on to become an international expert in the field of breastfeeding medicine. Her book, Breastfeeding: A Guide for the Medical Profession, continues to be the preeminent reference for clinicians worldwide since its 1979 publication.

Meanwhile, the mother of nine managed responsibilities she knew the men in her life—at home and at work—did not have to consider. She had to put the kids to bed, so was unable to attend nightly club meetings with other pediatricians. And she was in charge of the university hospital nursery, a job her male colleagues did not want—but one that ultimately helped her pioneer neonatology as a specialty. Over her seven decades of experience as a pediatrician, clinical toxicologist, and neonatologist—a storied career earning her two lifetime achievement awards— Lawrence has seen women go from “keeping our heads down” to being able to “speak up and challenge leadership.”

Given her achievements over the years, she recognizes she has had a role to play in that evolution—a role that led to her accepting the Charles Force Hutchison and Marjorie Smith Hutchison Medal, which recognizes alumni for outstanding achievement and notable service, in 2019. “I’ve never looked at myself as a disruptor,” she says, “but I hope I have helped a lot of women overcome whatever obstacles are in front of them.”  Taken from 2019 article, "Profiles in Perseverance — Ruth A. Lawrence, MD."

Dr. Lawrence retired in 2020.