Dates are the fruit of the date palm tree. While dates are high in sugar, they also contain nutrients like fiber, potassium, magnesium, iron, and vitamin B6. There are many claims about the health benefits of eating dates. Among the many claims is that dates can naturally induce labor and make labor shorter. Sounds pretty great, right? Thankfully, several studies are available to examine these claims. Learn about the research on eating dates and labor, the proposed mechanism of action, and the recommendations for including these in your pregnancy diet.
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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 have nutritional content like fiber, calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron, vitamin B6, and folate. Dates are sweet and delicious. You can eat them plain, and sometimes they are stuffed or wrapped in bacon.
The Claims of the Benefits of Eating Dates
When researching this episode, I found all kinds of claims about the amazing benefits of eating dates, from acting as an aphrodisiac to preventing cancer. I am not digging into all of these claims. I want to focus on the ones relating to pregnancy and birth. Dates are rumored to naturally induce labor and make labor shorter. 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 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 than those who did not eat dates. This means their cervixes dilated more quickly. The expecting moms who ate dates had a mean dilation of 3.5 cm upon admission, compared to 2 cm. Spontaneous labor occurred in 96% of those who consumed dates, compared with 79% of women who did not eat dates. The use of synthetic oxytocin was also significantly lower in women who consumed dates, 28%, compared to 47%. Lastly, the first stage of labor was shorter in women who consumed date fruit, with an average of 8.5 hours, compared to 13.5 hours in the group who did not eat the fruit.
This study shows that the consumption of date fruit in the last four weeks before labor significantly reduced the need for induction and augmentation of labor and produced a more favorable but non-significant delivery outcome. This was a small group of only 69 women, but the results are very persuasive for eating dates.
A randomized clinical trial of 182 women found dates contributed to a shorter labor. 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 your cervix dilates to 10 centimeters. It was also shorter in the 2nd (pushing) stage with a mean of 33 versus 42 minutes. Even the third stage, where you birth your placenta, was faster with a mean of 5 versus 7 minutes.
A clinical trial with 210 women specifically looked at cervical ripening when your cervix thins and dilates. This is significant because increased cervical ripening increases the likelihood of a vaginal delivery. The group that ate dates started in week 37 and ate 70-75 grams of dates per day. The researchers found that the group who ate dates had higher cervical ripening rates. Researchers recommended that pregnant women eat dates for that purpose in the last weeks of their pregnancy.
Cesarean rates were also lower in the group who ate dates, 8.9% compared to 15.2%. Forceps use was lower, at 1.9% than 3.8% in the group who did not eat dates. The use of oxytocin was lower at 20% in the date eating group and 44.8% in those who did not consume dates. The participants who had an induction had much higher success rates of vaginal delivery, with 47% and 28% of the control 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 seven dates per day, about 80 grams, from 37 weeks until going into labor.
A systematic review and meta-analysis looked at the effects of consuming date fruits on gestation, labor, and delivery. The meta-analysis found that date fruit consumption significantly reduced gestation duration, increased cervical dilation on admission, and shortened the first stage of labor.
The research is 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.
Research on Dates During Labor
A randomized controlled trial examined the effects of consuming date fruit during labor. This study included 89 pregnant women admitted to a hospital for normal vaginal delivery. 32 consumed seven date fruits followed by drinking 250 mL of water, 26 consumed seven date fruits alone, and 31 did not consume any dates. There was a positive impact of consuming date fruits on the duration of the first stage of labor. The mean length of labor was 210 minutes for those who ate dates, 224 minutes for those who ate dates and drank water, and 362 minutes for the control group. There were no significant differences in cervical dilatation, rupture of membranes, strength, frequency, and regularity of uterine contractions. The date fruit consumers were less likely to have meconium staining and fetal heart rate variability and had better APGAR scores at 5 min.
This is a small study, but it does show promising results for consuming dates in the first stage of labor. Labor is a physically demanding event, and you need energy during labor. Date fruits and the sugar they contain are an easy source of energy. It is also essential to stay hydrated during labor; this is why most hospitals routinely use IV fluids during labor. An episode examines the research on eating and drinking during labor.
The Proposed Mechanisms
Dates contain saturated and unsaturated fatty acids, and these play an important role in making prostaglandins needed for the 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 leading theory behind the mechanism of dates having these positive effects on labor is that dates have an oxytocin-like impact. 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 Downsides and 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 dates are 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 them 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 considering the potential benefits.
How Many Dates to Eat and for How Long?
If you decide to incorporate dates into your diet towards the end of your pregnancy, I have a few tips.
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 start now. While there has been research, no study has determined the exact quantities and timeframes to eat dates. No studies compare 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 dates 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 of 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, kind of like a raisin, but larger. Over time you may see sugar crystals that form on the skin or just beneath the date’s skin. Those crystals will disappear with heat if that bothers you, but there is no harm in eating them.
Dates are relatively easy to find in Southern California; I can get them at Costco, Trader Joe’s, or any health food store. If you are in an area where they may be tough to find, you can buy them on Amazon.
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.
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