Why did doctors prescribe Guinness to pregnant women?

Guinness - close up on the healthBack in the day when real men smoked and doctors wore white coats, prescribing beer to pregnant women was an acceptable thing to do. They don’t do that sort of thing anymore. But for many people, the question of the nutritional merits of Guinness remains unanswered. I mean, those doctors must have known something, right?

The usual reason you hear for Guinness being suggested in pregnancy is that it’s a great source of iron. Iron is needed for the production of red blood cells and during pregnancy a mother-to-be needs 50% more than iron than usual (27mg per day compared to 18mg). It is of upmost importance for her and her unborn child that she gets enough iron as not enough can cause anaemia in her and (if prolonged) a smaller baby. So if Guinness does contain iron, then drinking it (almost) sounds like a good idea.

The iron content of Guinness – officially

To find out more, we sent an email to Guinness to ask them about the nutritional content (specifically iron) of their ancient Irish beverage. They replied:

    We regret that we cannot accommodate your request for Guinness health benefits and thank you again for your interest.

    Once again, thank you for contacting Guinness.


Oh well, maybe they don’t know. Let’s see if we can help them out…

Guinness has even less iron than you think

Many websites list the iron content of a pint of Guinness as being 0.3mg (which is not very much). We’ve been unable to find the original source of this number – for all we know, someone could have just made it up.  Stout beer doesn’t even get listed on many authoritative nutritional information tables. The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) vast food database only lists “beer”, not stout or Guinness

After much scouring the vaults of the interweb, we finally uncovered an obscure 2002 research paper that documents the mineral content of various beers, including Guinness. They measured the iron content as being 0.1mg per litre – almost nothing. You could get the same amount of iron from eating about 15 garden peas.

Hopefully now we can lay the Guinness-contains-iron myth to rest once and for all.

Doctors’ trust in the health benefits of Guinness was misplaced. Yes, beers do contain B vitamins and folate but not in great amounts. Stout beers also contain small amounts of protein, but again, it’s pretty insignificant.

It’s interesting to note that Guinness’ current tagline is that it is ‘Made of More’. We may not know for certain what that ‘more’ is, but you won’t be needing it when you’re pregnant.

Answer by Dr Stu and Kyle Pastor

Question sent via Facebook

Read more about healthy eating in pregnancy (NHS Choices)


Alcázar A, Pablos F, Martín MA, & González AG (2002). Multivariate characterisation of beers according to their mineral content. Talanta, 57 (1), 45-52 PMID: 18968603

Image Source: theWorterCooler, on Flickr

Article by Stuart Farrimond

February 19, 2014

Doctor Stu is editor of Guru Magazine. He originally trained as a medical doctor before deciding to branch out into lecturing, writing, editing and science communication. He drinks far too much coffee, eats lots of ice cream and has a bizarre love of keeping fit.
You can check out Doctor Stu’s blog at realdoctorstu.com or his poncy personal website stuartfarrimond.com. Here's his .

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4 thoughts on “Why did doctors prescribe Guinness to pregnant women?”

  1. So, while I agree the amount of iron in Guinness is not really all that high, when my twins were born prematurely and i was not able to produce enough milk, the Dr recommended a half a guinness prior to nursing. I had tried all kinds of things, and that was the only time my boys were able to actually nurse….

  2. Breweries produced ‘Milk Stouts’ at one time – certainly into the ’50s – This was thought to be good for nursing mothers. Drinking plenty is advised for good lactation, so it would have done no harm as they were low alcohol. Stouts are ‘heavy’ drinks probably containing sugars in the form of caramel. The name ‘Porter’ is also used for stout as they were said to be good for heavy work such as market portering The milk stouts were rather sweeter than other stouts.

  3. does actually Guinness make people to become fat?and it requare which type of food to be taken when one is taking Guinness,?

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