Thursday, October 13, 2011

Beer as a Galactagogue – A Brief History


 


Starting in Sumer

The ancient civilizations of Sumer and Egypt discovered the secrets of malting and brewing over three thousand years ago, using the barley grain. Barley is thought to be the first grain ever cultivated by humans, about 10,000 BCE. It contains a certain polysaccharide that increases the milk-production hormone prolactin, and barley is used around the world in many different forms as a milk-supply boosting galactagogue.
According to pictorial hieroglyphs, women and slaves were involved in the labor of large scale beer production in Egypt. Later, in Greek and Roman times, barley was just one of many ingredients that might be freely combined in a variety of alcoholic recipes. When these ingredients included lactogenic herbs and fruit, the effect was doubtless noticed by breastfeeding women. The Greek doctor Dioscorides (1st century C.E.) gives us an alcoholic beverage to increase milk supply. It was made using dried black figs, freshly pressed grapes, fennel and thyme--all of which are known lactogenic ingredients. The Greek surgeon Antyllus (2nd century CE), mentions a fermented grain beverage that was combined with the crushed unripe seeds of the sesame plant and crushed palm dates--another potential galactagogue. In all likelihood, these were just two of many beverages that were enjoyed by breastfeeding women across the ancient world.

Moving on to Europe

During the Dark Ages, when the skills and knowledge of the ancient world were largely forgotten (suppressed), the art of brewing was kept alive in monasteries across Europe. Eventually, however, with the growth of farmsteads, brewing techniques again passed into the hands of women as domestic work. Each thriving family farm brewed its own beer, and the term “Brewster”  referred to a woman who brews in her home.
Brewsters used barley and other grains with a range of herbs added in for their taste and medicinal properties. The preferred herbs had a bitter taste to balance the sweetness of the grain, were antiseptic to keep the drink free of pathogens, and were anti-parasitic (for instance, they killed intestinal worms). Lactogenic herbs such as pepper, cinnamon, coriander, caraway and anise were also used in brewing. They might have been added in when the Brewster was breastfeeding. Mind-altering, narcotic and sexualizing herbs might also be used in brewing. Such drinks were later ascribed to the practice of witchcraft and were forbidden.
Hops flowers, a bitter, relaxing and slightly narcotic herb, and an herb which reduces sexual drive and potency, eventually became standard for brewing. Hops is an estrogenic galactagogue with a strong reputation for the milk-ejection reflex. Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), an influential nun, author, herbalist, songwriter and philosopher of her day, is said to have strongly advocated for hops as the standard herb used in beer. My guess is that Hildegard knew what she was doing for mothers. Thank you, Hilde!
For several centuries, brewing remained domestic work. It eventually became a source of family income, with beer sold through local pubs or directly from the farm. As economies began to evolve, however, the upper classes passed laws that successfully suppressed these small family businesses. Brewing recipes were strictly regulated, and fees and fines imposed. Brewing became impractical for small domestic breweries and pub houses, so the way was free for large industrial breweries that have prospered to the present day.
The predatory nature of industry, and the collusion of industry with the wealthy class and government is illustrated in this example with beer. Small breweries today are attempting to break free from the stranglehold of big industry. If you enjoy beer, I urge you to support them!
Guinness, one of the big breweries, specializes in stout that is made with barley malt and barley grain. The added grain makes the stout "silkier" and "thicker" due to  beta-glucan, the polysaccharide (long-chained sugar molecule) in barley that increases prolactin. It makes  sense that Guinness would be the commercial beer most frequently recommended today by breastfeeding mothers, as it is one of the very few to still contain beta-glucan. (See my article Malt as a Galactagogue for more information on beta-glucan in brewing.)
Beginning in the early 1500s, German law limited the ingredients to be used in beer to barley, hops, yeast, and water. Reasons for this  went beyond taste preferences. By prohibiting the use of wheat, more wheat was available to bake bread. But limiting the ingredients also forced various other types of beer into obscurity. It effectively got rid of competition as the law formed a protective barrier to the importation of foreign beer. These restrictions would come to influence the international production of beer, as brewers in neighboring countries conformed to the restrictions of the large German market so that they could compete there.
Today, almost all major brewers incorporate "extra" ingredients such as corn, rice, wheat or oats into their brews. Luckily for breastfeeding mothers, the “pure” ingredients defined by German-type beer, barley, malt, hops and yeast, are intensely lactogenic. This is why classical European beer is recognized by breastfeeding mothers as the best beer-type galactagogue.

Once upon a Beer

Alcohol is anti-galactagogue. Studies on animals and humans show that alcohol impairs the milk ejection reflex, slows the flow of milk, and leads to a reduced intake of milk by the baby during approximately four hours after drinking. Because of the back-up of milk, the breast feels fuller. Because the flow of the milk is slower, it requires more time for a baby to remove milk from the breast. Because the breast feels fuller and the baby drinks longer, researchers say the mother believes that her baby is drinking more milk.
However, in traditional beer, particularly the "small beer" and "second brew" (see next section), lower levels of alcohol are present in the beer. In this case, the lactogenic ingredients used in brewing may prevail over the effect of the alcohol. Other factors that can override the anti-galactagogue effect would be whether the mother drinks the beer on an empty stomach, and how soon after drinking she breastfeeds again. It is likely that if several hours pass between drinking and nursing, the effects of the alcohol will have worn off, and the effects of the lactogenic ingredients will still be potent.
This seems to be the case, according to reports by exclusively pumping mothers. Pumping mothers will not be fooled by how their breasts feel or how long their baby drinks. They report that by drinking one glass of beer in the evening (beer rich in barley or hops, such as Guinness Dark Stout or non-alcoholic, malty St. Pauli Girl), they pump measurably  more milk the next daySome also say that they have more and stronger let-downs at the pump that same evening.

Small Beer - Big Effect

Historically, the beer used by mothers to increase their supply was nutritionally rich and low in alcohol. In
home brewing, the so-called “mashing” (or boiling of malt, grains and herbs) was performed twice with the same grains and herbs. Whereas the first mashing returns a strong alcoholic beer, the second mashing returns a low-alcoholic beverage called “small beer” that was loosely filtered—a thin, porridge-like fluid that could practically be eaten!
She who buys her beer at the store is happier and healthier than the mom who makes beer herself at home. Thus do industries undermine women's competence and self-confidence.
Up until 150 years ago, “small beer” was viewed as a healthy, nutritious beverage that could be given to children, servants, to men performing hard labor, and to pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. In Germany, the second mash was called “Nährbier,” meaning, literally, “nutritional beer.” Into the mid-20th century, Nährbier was produced in Germany commercially and  recommended to breastfeeding mothers as nutrition and to enhance their milk production.
This then is the typical historic beer used by breastfeeding mothers: stronger in nutrition, weaker in alcohol. It is quite a different brew from any commercial beer today.
It is important to keep this in mind. Our typical, light-colored alcoholic beers do not contain enough lactogenic ingredients to counteract the anti-galactagogue effects of alcohol. These beers can lead to a decrease in supply! Non-alcoholic beer, however, especially if rich in barley or hops, can be a good galactagogue.

Our Grandmothers were Right!

Clearly, our foremothers knew what was happening in their bodies. They would use either a classic stout-type beer, rich in beta-glucan, to support their milk supply, or they would drink "small beer."
The British OBGYN, Charles Routh, writes about beer in his book Infant Feeding and Its Influence on Life (1869)He writes that too much beer and not enough food will reduce supply and risk alcoholism. For these mothers, he suggests one oz of beer taken together with one oz cream (delicious!) every few hours--I believe he was weaning these mothers off of their beer habit. He also recommends certain stouts/ales used by successful wet-nurses.

Malt Beer


Malt and Hops - the ingredients of beer - long understood to be a support for mothers after birth.
During the 19th century, "temperance movements" formed in many countries around the world to discourage the use of alcohol. In response, beer industries produced  non-alcoholic beer-like beverages using hops, yeast and malt. In the US, malt beer was called Near-Beer; in Germany, Malz-Bier, and in France, bière de nourrice, or "wet-nurse beer." All were recommended as nourishing beverages for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, and were reported to support milk supply.
Malt is derived from barley grain, and both as gooey malt syrup and as a powder is a widely used historic galactagogue.
Today, many new brands of malt-beer are available commercially. The best known is Guinness Malta. Malt beers are very popular in South America, Africa and Israel. Many mothers swear that Malta helps support their supply.
For more information about malt-beer and malt as a galactagogue, about how malt has changed and how this change may affect the lactogenicity of beer, see my article Malt as a Galactagogue - A Brief Overview.

Do I recommend beer as a galactagogue?

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This article represents my original research, and is an excerpt from a book in progress, The History of Low Milk Supply and the Lactogenic Diet. All rights reserved. Do not re-print or use without my permission ©hilaryjacobson 10.2011-2016
I'm moving: check out www.beerandbreastfeeding.com and www.lactogenicdiet.com

Join me  -- I know you'll like it! There's great new info and lots of free stuff :)


31 comments:

  1. Excellent article!! I wonder if the Nahrbier is available anywhere?

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  2. Thank you! Nahrbier was "transformed" into malt beverages, and some are available today. Not the same thing, of course. You might check your local markets to see if any malt-based, beer-like beverages are for sale. Sometimes small breweries produce and sell such drinks locally. I have some research on this as well that may find its way into an article some day.

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  3. great article thank you for sharing!

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  4. Awesome! Beer is especially helpful in the early days after my kids are born, when I'm stressed and can't get my milk to let down. It has just enough alcohol to relax me so that it lets down. I typically enjoy a Guinness or oatmeal stout in the evening, as a nutritional supplement, of course. ;) Guinness does make a non-alcoholic beer called Kaliber (sp?). These beers are also high in iron.

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  5. Thank you! It is interesting how some doctors recommend beer in the early postpartum. That's a typical practice in Germany. One has to wonder what they "know" (have experienced, or were told). BTW, dark beers are not really high in iron - that was propaganda put out by the Irish gov to support Guinness - an example of government collusion with a corporation, been going on a long time. So dark beer will not help with anemia, unless you have copper-deficiency anemia, as it does contain a lot of copper. See my blog post on this :).

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    1. I am from Germany and you are absolutely correct when I had my daughter 26 years ago my doctor told me if I wanted to breastfeed to drink at least one bottle of Malzbier. A lady who was in the hospital with me drank alot more than one and she produced alot of milk.

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  6. Nice work,thanks! I wonder if that Nährbier thing is the same as what used to be called "bière de nourrice" ("wet nurse beer") in French?
    For postpartum energy and lactation, nothing beats placenta...

    Violaine -beer, 20 years and counting; breastfeeding 5 years and counting.

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  7. Thanks, Violaine. Nice bit of information. I should add in a paragraph at the end about malt beers, which is what the Nährbier morphed into commercially, and that is very lactogenic. YES to the placenta as galactagogue.

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  8. Very interesting! Too bad I don't like beer...I sure wish red wine was a galactogogue!

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  9. Thanks! Red wine, yum, we can find other good reasons for drinking it... helps prevent gum disease. There you go!

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  10. Hilary, an insightful and well thought out article as usual, thanks for sharing!

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  11. This helped information helped me in many ways, too many to list and I tend to ramble ;) I was wondering about the difference in drinking beer with food? Is there any info on drinking a beer with dinner as compared to drinking it without food? Does the alcohol affect your milk-ejection refex the same since we metabolize alcohol differently depending if we drink on an empty stomach or not.

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  12. Hi Amber, so happy the info helped you. No official studies on taking beer with food to without food, and I'm sure it's important not to drink it on an empty stomach. I would think that the sudden surge of alcohol (without food) would have a stronger inhibitory effect on the let-down reflex, but that's speculation for now. I'm working on an article that will give more "how to" info. Send me your story and questions privately, if you'd like. I'll be happy to read your rambling.

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  13. I figured that drinking with food would be the obvious thing, but that doesn't fit well into that 4 hour window of possible lowered lactation. It's my observation that some moms have a drink after the kids go to sleep, so it's more likely that they would be drinking on an emptyish stomach. Hmmm. I can't figure out how to email you privately. I've fallen behind on my computer savy since having my littles :) I would love to pick your brain!

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  14. the scale of research for this article is huge.Very useful thx.

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  15. @ amber - glad you contacted me privately, hope things are working out for you now.

    @ Seltenet, thank you. I've lived with the material for a few decades now so am in a position to connect some dots :) More in the works!

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  16. I know this article/post is old so I am not sure if i will get a response, but what about home brewed beer?

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    1. Sorry, I've been vfb ... that means, vacationing from blogging. :) Yes, home-brewed beer is a good choice, especially if you add in flakes of the grain as for stout and if you add in some nice potent hops flowers. I have never done it but I believe some experimentation would reveal good results.

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  17. Beer can be brewed at home at to be more lactogenic. I do not personally have experience, but what I understand is that the recipes for stout that include raw barley flakes or raw oats flakes are the most efficacious. Good helpings of hops are also helpful. Let me know if you experiment and what the nursing mom finds out! Thanks.

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  18. Well this is a unique study that i ever heard about mothers diet, I also agreed with Hilary.

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  19. Hi. This article was very enlightening. Pls does guiness malta contain barley? U mentioned in ur article on malt that, malt brewers hd remuvd barley frm the recipe. Wud rily love 2 improve my milk supply. Am frm nigeria btw so brewin at home aint feasible ere. Luv 2 hear frm u, thanks

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    1. It is my understanding that all these malt drinks do contain barley, but if they don't put ingredients on the label, you can't control if they stretch it with corn syrup. You will surely have your own traditional herbs that are good for supply. I remember reading once about Nigeria having very strong herbs that are used in food that are helpful. Ask the older women. Good luck to you.

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  20. Great information! I'm going to get some guiness stout tonight and see how it goes. How long after drinking should I wait to pump?

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    1. I would wait about three hours. I believe you'll see the best effect from it the next morning and day. The idea is to take it after pumping or breastfeeding in the evening, wait a few hours, feed a bit at night as needed. The major effect should be seen the next day, from what I've been told. Good luck. It doesn't work for everyone, and if you have true chronic low milk supply issues, there are better, more tried-and-sure galactagogues to try.

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  21. My son is almost 11 months, and we just did a cross country move that inhibited my extra pumping session for the last month. I am having reduced output due to that and starting back my cycle. Think a Guinness will bring it back, or is it too late at this stage/age?

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    1. It is not too late. Take your time, relax into it, increase you use of lactogenic foods and herbs, add in your pumping again, take a calcium/magnesium supplement pre-menstruation. This is all described in my book, and you can find peer support at mobi on yahoogroups, and other sources online.

      Your baby will soon be eating more so that a reduced supply will suffice to meet his needs. If you can, add in dandelion greens and lots of fresh greens into your diet, this is a good time of year for it.

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  22. Hi! Nice article. So apparently, my pump broke and I am having low milk supply for my 18 month old. I just bought a new pump and mother's milk tea. I will be looking for Guinness to help me with my milk. Thanks a lot for sharing.

    Bottoms up Mommas!

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