Guinness Beer And Breastfeeding
Guinness beer and breastfeeding. Should breast-feeding women really drink Guinness? Is one major question most new mothers always
For decades, new mothers are commonly heaped with advice, to some of this advice which could be harmful, to some it is not. Some years back my mum told my sister while she gave birth to her first child to drink a lot of Guinness. But today, experts (particularly in the United States) caution of the dangers associated with consuming any alcohol while pregnant.
I am sure she was told they should drink Guinness — the dark, Irish beer — to boost their production of breast milk and nourish their newborns. To Guinness lovers, this might be a welcome nugget of advice. But does it stand up to scientific scrutiny?
Some studies have showed evidence that ingredients in beer can increase prolactin, a hormone necessary for milk production; others have showed the opposite. Regardless of the conclusions, the alcohol in beer also appears to counter the benefits associated with increased prolactin secretion.
The original Guinness is a type of ale known as stout. It’s made from a grist (grain) that includes a large amount of roasted barley, which gives it its intense burnt flavor and very dark color. And though you wouldn’t rank it as healthful as a vegetable, the stouts in general, as well as other beers, may be justified in at least some of their nutritional bragging rights.
Here’s more potentially good news about Guinness: Despite its rich flavor and creamy consistency, it’s not the highest in calories compared with other beers. A 12-ounce serving of Guinness Draught has 125 calories. By comparison, the same size serving of Budweiser has 145 calories, a Heineken has 142 calories, and a Samuel Adams Cream Stout has 189 calories. In the United States, Guinness Extra Stout, by the way, has 149 calories.
This makes sense when you consider that alcohol is the main source of calories in beers. Guinness Draught has a lower alcohol content, at 4.2% alcohol by volume (ABV), compared with 5% for Budweiser and Heineken, and 4.9% for the Samuel Adams Cream Stout. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, “alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the United States: 17.6 million people, or one in every 12 adults, suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence along with several million more who engage in risky, binge drinking patterns that could lead to alcohol problems.”
One thing we do know is that the idea has roots deep in history, long before Guinness came along. In fact, humans have been touting the milk-boosting benefits of beer for centuries. As far back as 2000 B.C., records apparently show that the Sumerian people prescribed beer as an aid for breast-feeding.
“It’s cross-cultural,” said Maija Bruun Haastrup, a clinical pharmacologist at Odense University Hospital in Denmark. “Something I find very interesting is that we have this same old-wives tale everywhere.”
But in a different research according to Charlie Bamforth, a professor of brewing sciences at the University of California, Davis, most beers contain significant amounts of antioxidants, B vitamins, the mineral silicon (which may help protect against osteoporosis), soluble fiber and prebiotics, which promote the growth of “good” bacteria in your gut.
To his research, stouts on average contain 12.8 micrograms of folate, or 3.2% of the recommended daily allowance. Because Guinness contains a lot of unmalted barley, which contains more fiber than malted grain, it is also one of the beers with the highest levels of fiber, according to Bamforth. (Note: Though the USDA lists beer as containing zero grams of fiber, Bamforth said his research shows otherwise.)
Bamforth researched and co-authored studies published in the Journal of the Institute of Brewing and the Journal of the American Society of Brewing Chemists, The Science of Beer.
But some studies have drawn a link between a polysaccharide, a type of carbohydrate present in barley hops, and an increase in prolactin, the hormone that aids the production of milk from breast tissue. These factors might explain why beer drinkers of the past sensed that the beverage had a beneficial effect on their capacity to produce milk.
But there’s a caveat: Adding alcohol to this hoppy mixture obscures any potential benefit one might get from the barley. Gary Beauchamp and Julie Mennella, two biopsychologists at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, carried out landmark research in the 1990s showing that when mothers consume alcohol and breast-feed, it seems to alter the flavor of their milk, causing infants to feed less over a certain period of time.
“Essentially, the hypotheses are that the alcohol is affecting either the infant or the mother,” Beauchamp, now emeritus director of the Monell Chemical Senses Center said.
In a meta-analysis of more than 40 papers, Haastrup identified another pattern in the research, highlighting how alcohol impacts the way the body discharges milk. Breasts release milk through a reflex known as the “letdown,” which is triggered by a hormone called oxytocin, Haastrup said.
“Oxytocin is extensively inhibited by alcohol,” adding that “if you ingest alcohol, your oxytocin production is reduced, which leads to a delayed milk letdown reflex
On the other hand, Haastrup believes that moderate alcohol consumption is less of a hindrance to milk production than it may appear at first. The letdown seems only to be delayed by alcohol, not entirely stopped, she said. Studies have found that babies nursing from mothers who’ve consumed an alcoholic drink will still feed as much over a 16-hour period as babies whose mothers haven’t imbibed at all.
So, what’s the verdict for Guinness? It seems that drinking it to enhance breast-milk production probably isn’t the best course of action. For that, alcohol-free beers — with all their barley-rich goodness — might be a better bet. “That’s why, in maternity wards in Denmark, they actually recommend alcohol-free beer,” Haastrup said. “This is something we’ve known for ages.”
But breastfeeding aside, if a nursing mother just feels like having a pint to pass the time while her baby feeds, Haastrup said there’s no reason why she shouldn’t.
For instance, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says that a nursing mother would be wise to wait for two hours after an alcoholic drink, before she feeds her infant again. And sure, the alcohol could trigger a temporary delay in milk production — but then, that might just be worth it for the chance to kick back with the occasional beer.