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Overview

Dates are the fruit of the date palm tree. They are a small oval fruit, about one to three inches long, or three to seven centimeters, and they have a pit in the middle of them. Dates are high in sugar and contain nutrients like fiber, potassium, magnesium, iron, and vitamin B6. Dates are rumored to naturally induce labor and make for a shorter labor. Sounds pretty great right? Thankfully there are several studies available to examine these claims and evaluate the evidence for eating dates late in your pregnancy. This article breaks down the claims that dates will help your labor, and the science and studies behind them.

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What are Dates?

Dates are the fruit of the date palm tree. They are a small oval fruit, about 1-3 inches long or 3-7 centimeters, and they have a pit in the middle of them. Dates are high in sugar, but they do have some nutritional content like fibercalcium, potassiummagnesiumironvitamin B6, and folate. Dates are sweet and delicious. You can eat them plain, sometimes they are stuffed or wrapped in bacon. 

The Claims on the Benefits of Eating Dates

When doing research for this episode I found all kinds of claims about the amazing benefits of eating dates from them acting as an aphrodisiac to preventing cancer. I am not digging into all of these claims, I just want to focus on the ones relating to pregnancy and birth.

Dates are rumored to naturally induce labor and make for a shorter labor. Sounds pretty great right? This article breaks down these claims, and the science and studies behind them. This should give you the facts to decide whether you want to eat dates towards the end of your pregnancy.

The Research on Dates and Labor

The first research study on dates was a very small study done in 2011 that tested the effects of eating dates on labor. The women who consumed date fruit ate six per day (60-67 grams) for four weeks leading up to their due date. The women who ate dates had significantly higher mean cervical dilatation upon admission. Basically, their cervixes dilated more quickly. The expecting moms who ate dates were admitted with a mean dilation of 3.5 cm, compared to 2 cm. Spontaneous labor occurred in 96% of those who consumed dates, compared with 79% of women who did not eat dates. Use of synthetic oxytocin was also significantly lower in women who consumed dates, 28% compared to 47% in the group who did not eat dates. Lastly, the first stage of labor was shorter in women who consumed date fruit. An average of 8.5 hours, compared to 13.5 hours in the group who did not eat the fruit. The end result of this study is that the consumption of date fruit in the last 4 weeks before labor significantly reduced the need for induction and augmentation of labor, and produced a more favorable, but non-significant, delivery outcome. Keep in mind this was a really small group of women, 69 total. But, you have to admit, the results are very persuasive for eating dates.

A randomized clinical trial from 2013 of 182 women found dates contributed to shorter labors. Half of this group consumed 70–76 grams of dates daily from the 37th week of their pregnancy. They found that the mean length of the active phase of labor was much shorter in the group who ate dates 5 hours 29 minutes, compared to a mean of 9 hours 8 minutes. The active phase is the time from the start of labor until you are dilated to 10 centimeters. It was also shorter in the 2nd stage, which is the pushing stage, with a mean of 33 versus 42 minutes. Even the third stage, where you birth your placenta, was shorter with a mean of 5 vs 7 minutes.

A clinical trial was done in 2013 that included 210 women. The group that ate dates starting in week 37 and ate 70-75 grams of dates per day. This study set out to specifically look at cervical ripening, which is when your cervix thins and dilates. This is significant because increased cervical ripening increases the likelihood of vaginal delivery. The researchers did find that the group who ate dates had higher rates of cervical ripening and recommend that pregnant women eat dates for that purpose in the last weeks of their pregnancy. 

That wasn’t all, rates of cesarean were lower in the group who ate dates, 8.9% compared to 15.2%. Forceps use was lower, at 1.9% compared to 3.8% in the group who did not eat dates. Use of oxytocin was lower at 20% in the date eating group and 44.8% in the group who did not consume dates. For the participants who did end up getting induced, had much higher success rates of vaginal delivery with 47% achieving that, and 28% of the other group having a vaginal birth.

A study published in 2017 of 154 women found the group who ate dates had a reduced need to have their labor augmented with oxytocin. Otherwise outcomes were very similar between the two groups. In this study the intervention group ate 7 dates per day, which was about 80 grams, from 37 weeks until going into labor. 

The research is pretty promising on the benefits of eating dates towards the end of your pregnancy. Especially relating to the duration of labor and the reduced use of synthetic oxytocin during labor.  

The Proposed Mechanisms

Dates contain saturated and unsaturated fatty acids and these play an important role in making prostaglandins that are needed for ripening of your cervix and contraction of your uterus. Fatty acids provide energy, along with carbohydrates from glucose, fructose, and sucrose and you need a lot of energy during the marathon of labor.

The main theory behind the mechanism of dates having these positive effects on labor is that dates have oxytocin like effect. Your oxytocin receptor concentration increases 200–300 times during pregnancy. Dates affect oxytocin receptors by making your uterine muscles respond better to oxytocin. This results in more effective uterine contractions, which could explain the shorter labors and the lower use of synthetic oxytocin in the groups who ate dates.

The Risks 

An evaluation of any intervention would not be complete without examining the risks, and there are some downsides to consuming dates. 

The first drawback is that date fruit is really high in sugar. They contain around 60-65% sugar. So if you are eating 75 grams of dates per day, you are looking at consuming an additional 45-50 grams of sugar per day. This could be an issue if you have gestational diabetes and need to be mindful of your glucose levels. Even if you do not have gestational diabetes, that is a lot of sugar to be eating every day for weeks. If you have any questions or concerns about your blood sugar and eating dates please bring it up with your doctor or midwife.

Another downside is that dates can be expensive, depending on their availability in your area and whether they are in season. There are some tips when shopping for dates later in this article.

Lastly, the only other downside I could come up with is any inconvenience in eating them. If you like dates this shouldn’t be too bad. Eating them every day for weeks might make you sick of them after a while. You could always throw them in a smoothie or check out some recipes online to mix it up.

 Overall, the downside to this intervention is minimal. Especially when considered with the potential benefits.

How Many Dates to Eat and for How Long?

If you do decide to incorporate dates to your diet towards the end of your pregnancy I have a few tips for you. 

Based on the research reviewed the expecting moms in the intervention groups ate about 6-7 dates per day or 60-80 grams. Since dates vary in their size even within the same variety, you may want to stick to eating them by weight rather than the number of fruits. The good news is you don’t need to run out and buy a food scale. You can roughly calculate their approximate weight by the weight of the package and the approximate number of dates included.

One study had participants eating dates from 36 weeks, and all others started at 37 weeks. The time frame is entirely up to you. Starting anywhere in this time frame would be okay. If you are reading this article at 38 weeks you can even start now. While there has been some research on this, the exact quantities and dates have not been determined. There are no studies comparing two groups who ate different amounts of dates or ate them for varying time frames.

Comparing and Buying Different Kinds of Dates

Medjool and Deglet Noor are the two most common types of dates you see in stores. They are very similar in their nutrient content. Deglet Noor are slightly higher in protein and fiber. On the other hand, Medjool dates have slightly more calcium, magnesium, potassium, and zinc, but less folate. Your choice on the type of dates to consume will likely be a function of what is available and what the price difference is. Medjool dates are often more expensive than Deglet Noor. The biggest difference between the two is their size. Medjool dates are 2-3 times larger. For this reason, you may want to pay more attention to how much you are consuming by weight, rather than by the number of dates.

Dates are found fresh in the produce section of grocery stores. When fresh, they may look dried, like a raisin, but bigger. Over time you may see sugar crystals that form on the skin or just beneath the skin of the date. If that bothers you those crystals will disappear with heat, but there is no harm in them.  

Dates are relatively easy to find in Southern California, I can get them at Costco, Trader Joe’s, any health food store. If you are in an area where they may be tough to find you can buy them on Amazon. I went through the dates available on Amazon and they have both organic dates and dates that are less expensive and not organic if that is something that is not important to you.

Talking to Your Doctor or Midwife

Please check with your doctor or midwife if you have gestational diabetes or any concerns over your blood sugar levels or your sugar consumption during your pregnancy.

 

Thank you to the amazing companies that have supported this episode.

Zahler makes a high quality prenatal vitamin that has the active form of folate plus omega 3s and DHA. This is my favorite prenatal vitamin, the one I take every day and the one I recommend to all expecting moms. Zahler is offering an exclusive discount to listeners of the Pregnancy Podcast. To check out the vitamin and find out how you can save 25% when you buy a one month supply on Amazon click this link Zahler Prenatal + DHA.

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