Fact Check: About the Claim that Doctors Prescribed Guinness to Pregnant Women in the 1920s for Its Iron Content

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In the 1920s, doctors prescribed Guinness beer to pregnant women for its iron content.


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Guinness marketed itself as a healthful beverage. Pregnancy was just one of the aspects of health Guinness was thought to support.


For years, claims have circulated that in the 1920s, doctors in Ireland and England prescribed the dark Irish beer Guinness to pregnant women:

This post on Reddit (archived) had garnered 8,600 upvotes and 361 comments as of this writing. On X, the claim (archived) that people used to think Guinness was good for pregnancy also appeared:

That claim is true. Not only did doctors and laypeople think Guinness was good for pregnancy, the stout was also perceived to be good for health in general, and the company even based its marketing on that idea:

(Dayna Bateman/Flickr)

In the 1920s, Guinness picked up on claims its consumers made that having a pint would help them fight all sorts of ailments — fatigue, lack of sleep, general weakness — and made them stronger. Those claims went back to the early 1900s, so the company began to promote its product as a tonic of sorts. It even reached out to medical professionals, promoting the beer the way a pharmaceutical company promotes its drugs. Eventually, doctors began to prescribe Guinness to their patients, including pregnant women. According to the U.K.'s Royal College of Physicians:

Many doctors responded positively, sending anecdotes and testimonials to their own personal use of Guinness as a tonic, and how they used it with their patients. It was believed to be rich in iron, so doctors would often prescribe Guinness to patients following an operation, or to pregnant women. This support from the medical world strengthened the campaign and it remained central to the Guinness brand for the next 40 years.

In hospitals in Ireland, new mothers also received a bottle of Guinness a day to support the production of milk. Beer has long had the reputation of stimulating lactation, and there, too, Guinness was thought to do that more than other beers.

In fairness, Guinness does have some health benefits other beers lack. As fermented drinks, beers contain vitamin B, prebiotics, soluble fiber and antioxidants. In addition to that, Guinness also contains more vitamin B and fiber than most (including other stouts), all this for fewer calories and a lower alcohol volume than other broadly marketed beers.

But alcohol is alcohol, and like other alcoholic drinks, Guinness' effects are detrimental with overuse. Research indicates that it's safer not to drink alcohol during pregnancy at all, especially in early pregnancy. As for lactation, the research is inconclusive on whether beer stimulates prolactin, the hormone responsible for milk production, and it is a known fact that in large quantity, alcohol actually inhibits both the "letdown" (the milk ejection reflex) and milk production. Chronic drinking will lower milk supply altogether, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, leading to shorter breastfeeding period.

Unfortunately, the myth about the health benefits of Guinness for pregnant women has persisted well into the 21st century. In 2015, a woman named Sam talk to the Daily Mail about the fact that she thought it would be safe to drink Guinness during her pregnancy. She said she was addicted to alcohol and had favored drinking the stout because she had heard it was good for her and her unborn baby, who was then born with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).


CDC. 'Alcohol'. Breastfeeding Special Circumstances, 10 May 2024, https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding-special-circumstances/hcp/vaccine-medication-drugs/alcohol.html.

DEJONG, KATHERINE, et al. 'Alcohol Use in Pregnancy'. Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology, vol. 62, no. 1, Mar. 2019, pp. 142–55. PubMed Central, https://doi.org/10.1097/GRF.0000000000000414.

Drayer, Lisa. 'Is Guinness Really "Good for You"?' CNN, 17 Mar. 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/03/17/health/guinness-beer-good-for-you-wellness/index.html.

Guinness Is Good for You? https://www.rcp.ac.uk/news-and-media/news-and-opinion/guinness-is-good-for-you/. Accessed 24 June 2024.

'Scientist Details in Black and White Why Stout Gets Hearty Approval'. The Irish Times, https://www.irishtimes.com/news/scientist-details-in-black-and-white-why-stout-gets-hearty-approval-1.391481. Accessed 24 June 2024.

Waterlow, Lucy. 'Mum's Grief at Damaging Son's Brain with Pregnancy Drinking'. Mail Online, 3 Mar. 2015, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2975755/Mother-s-grief-damaging-son-s-brain-pregnancy-drinking.html.