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Dr. Lawrence's Legacy

Ruth Lawrence

"The science will come and go, but the best doctors understand people…they imbue trust and hope in people, and provide comfort when needed."

– Dr. Ruth A. Lawrence upon receiving the National Library of Medicine "Local Legends" Award

The The Ruth A. Lawrence Program in Lactation Medicine at the University of Rochester owes its founding to the energy and expertise of Dr. Ruth Lawrence, Professor Emerita of Pediatrics. Dr. Lawrence was a pioneer for women in medicine, due both to her stalwart refusal to succumb to obstacles and her innovation in the care of mothers and children. She graduated from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry in 1949, and pursued a residency at the Yale New Haven Hospital. At Yale, she was inspired by the work of her attending physician, Dr. Edith Banfield Jackson ("Edie" Jackson), who brought "rooming-in" to the delivery rooms of the United States after studying psychoanalysis in Austria under Dr. Anna Freud.

Dr. Lawrence was the first woman to graduate from Yale residency, and the first to then be hired as medical faculty at the University of Rochester. She became the first Director of the Poison Center at the University of Rochester in 1958. This telephone consultation center was only the second of its kind, but the first to give advice directly to the public; by taking calls 24 hours per day from providers or parents, it revolutionized access to care for at-risk populations.

As a neonatologist and mother of nine, she developed a passion for the benefits of breastfeeding as a unique gift to the next generation. Since human lactation had suffered from considerable neglect and was just beginning to be studied, Dr. Lawrence began collecting published articles on the topic, which she would wheel around in a traveling file cabinet to reference when educating fellow physicians. This later developed into her classic textbook, "Breastfeeding: A Guide for the Medical Profession," now in its 9th Edition (2021).

Image of Dr. Lawrence interview VideoIn this video, Dr. Lawrence discusses her beginnings as the nursery director at the University of Rochester’s Highland Hospital, the building of the first rooming-in unit in Rochester, NY, and the visit of the Surgeon General in 1984. With this conference, she was able to receive support to found the Breastfeeding and Lactation Study Center in 1985, thus giving academic structure and support to the field. Dr. Lawrence is a founder of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine and the United States Breastfeeding Coalition, and has chaired and supported many organizations in lactation and toxicology. She is a beloved teacher of numerous leaders in the field of lactation, and has connections all over the globe. Her tireless work led to the development of the first-ever formal fellowship in academic breastfeeding medicine in 2014. In 2020, she retired as an Emerita Professor of Pediatrics and our program got its name: "The Ruth A. Lawrence Program in Lactation Medicine."

We are proud to continue her legacy.

Read a tribute to Dr. Lawrence that appeared as part of Profiles in Perseverance series in "Rochester Medicine".