It might be hard to believe now, but there was a time – not too long ago, in fact – when beer was actually marketed as a health drink. “Guinness is Good For You,” was the popular catch phrase for the world’s most famous dry stout, and doctors once routinely recommended nursing mothers to have a pint a day to help with breast milk production.
Anheuser-Busch (the people behind Budweiser, and other watery garbage) even sold a low alcohol “health beer” called Malt-Nutrine, marketing it directly at nursing mothers. As one magazine ad stated: “The Healthy, Happy Mother owes to Malt-Nutrine, liquid food and tonic, her excellent state of well-being. It gives her endurance and quick restoration and an ample supply of nourishment for the little one at her breast.”
Of course, people also used to drive without seatbelts, smoke in hospitals, and take morphine for colds. Today, we know better (thanks science!). The only thing alcohol cures with any consistency is sobriety.
My wife is currently extremely pregnant, so being the supportive husband that I am, I’ve been researching (AKA Googling) different ways to help ease her transition into motherhood. Naturally, my “research” led to beer, and lo and behold, there might actually be a kernel of truth to the long-held belief that beer can help with breastfeeding. Beer, especially stouts like Guinness, contains these things called galactagogues. And what are they, you ask?
“Galactagogues are substances that help promote breast milk supply,” says Vancouver-based International Board Certified Lactation Consultant Roxanna Farnsworth (who obviously knows way more about this stuff than I do).
As it turns out, oats, hops and brewer’s yeast are all galactagogues, and can help promote the release of prolactin, a hormone that allows for the production of breast milk.
While Farnsworth is quick to point out that research on non-pharmaceutical galactagogues is sadly sparse, she added that, “many mothers find that consuming natural galactagogues – whether it’s oats or fenugreek (when paired with blessed thistle) – helps their milk supply.”
But then there’s the issue of alcohol. Just to be clear, neither myself, nor Farnsworth, are advocating for nursing mothers to consume alcohol. The research is clear and unequivocal: getting drunk while breastfeeding is a really bad idea. About two per cent of the alcohol a mother consumes will make it through to the breast milk, so if you’re getting wasted, baby will be too.
According to a study by the American National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “infants actually ingest less milk at the breast during the hours immediately following maternal alcohol consumption. Furthermore, exposure to alcohol in mothers milk disrupted the infants sleep wake pattern and motor development in ways that are contrary to the folklore.”
So, while there may be beneficial properties to the galactagogues present in some beer, they seem to be offset by the presence of alcohol. And, unfortunately, O’Doul’s doesn’t make a stout.
There’s been little (actually, none, as far as Farnsworth can tell) research into the effectiveness of low-alcohol, galactagogue-rich beers on breast milk production, but Farnsworth notes that it’s perfectly fine for breastfeeding moms to have a beer (lord knows they earned it).
“It’s important for breastfeeding moms to be relaxed, and for some people a glass of beer can help with that,” she says. “If mom is super stressed, that doesn’t help anyone.”
I’ll drink to that!