What's the deal with dates?
We all want to have the perfect birth, no intervention, short labour, safe delivery, quick recovery, so it’s no surprise that when we hear about things which can help us achieve this, we jump on-board - but is there anything which actually can help?
Today I’m going to be looking at one of these things, which if you’re pregnant you most likely will have heard about, and that’s eating dates.
Yes dates, the little gooey brown fruit which are natively grown in the middle east and you can often find in the baking section at the supermarket.
So how can dates help with a smooth labour?
There have been several, small scale studies which indicate consuming dates during pregnancy may help with having an smoother labour and birth.
The first study, carried out in 2011 by the journal of obstetrics and gynaecology (PMID: 21280989; DOI: 10.3109/01443615.2010.522267) looked at women who ate six dates a day from the 36th week of pregnancy and the results from the study showed the women were;
74% more dilated than non-date eaters at admission to birthplace
38% more likely to have intact membranes
21% more likely to spontaneously go into labour
28% less likely to use prostin/oxytocin to induce labour
77% shorter first stage of labour
The second study carried out in 2014 by the Journal of Midwifery & Reproductive Health, (https://dx.doi.org/10.22038/jmrh.2014.2772) looked at date consumption from 37 weeks, and found that women who ate 70-75 grams of dates per day after 37 weeks had:
50% higher bishop scores (cervical score) at admission to birthplace
43% lower rates of cesarean section
51% lower rates of vacuum/forceps
Plus, the date eaters were;
55% less likely to use oxytocin to induce labour.
68% more likely to have a successful vaginal delivery after labour induction.
And lastly the third study was carried out in 2017 by the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. This study looked at 77 women who ate seven pieces of date (approximately 80 grams) a day starting from their 37th week of pregnancy. The results from the study showed in comparison to women who didn’t eat the dates, there was no correlation in those who ate the dates and having a faster onset of labour.
However, the findings did show that the women who ate the dates were less likely to require hormonal intervention in the form of oxytocin during labour (which is often used to induce labour and intensify contractions).
Out of the women who ate the dates, only 37 percent of them needed oxytocin to help their labour progress, while 50 percent of women in the control group required it. There have also been similar studies carried out in Iran and Jordan which found comparable results.
Additional studies have concluded that consuming dates during pregnancy may;
Have an oxytocin-like effect on the body, leading to increased sensitivity of the uterus.
Stimulate uterine contractions.
Reduce postpartum haemorrhage.
The theory behind why dates have this impact on the body is due to the content of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids, such as oleic, linoleic and linolenic acids, which are involved in saving and supplying energy for the production of prostaglandins. Dates also contain serotonins, tannins and calcium, which contribute to the contraction of smooth muscles of the uterus.
Therefore it is theorised the reason eating dates might contribute to a smoother labour is because of their possible oxytocin-like impact on the uterus, helping to prepare it for labour.
It’s important to note that although these findings sound promising, these studies have all been done on a small scale, therefore further research is needed to determine whether dates can definitely can support birth and labour.
Although the science isn’t there to back-up eating dates during pregnancy to promote a better labour and birth, dates are full of beneficial nutrients, which could be worth eating based on this alone.
Nutritional benefits of dates;
Fiber - relieves constipation, and lowers your risk for gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia.
Potassium - a key electrolyte which supports water/salt balance and helps regulate blood pressure.
Magnesium - supports muscular health and helps alleviate muscle spasms and cramps in pregnancy.
Folate - Required for healthy spinal cord development and preventing neural tube defects.
Vitamin K - Essential for blood clotting and healthy bones.
When Should You Start Eating Dates During Pregnancy?
Based on the findings in the studies, the recommended amount of dates to consume would be 70-75g per day from week 36/37.
This typically equates to 6-7 deglet dates or 3 medjool dates.
The best way to eat dates;
Like most dried fruit, dates are high in sugar, which although is natural, is still processed by the body the same way all sugar is, refined or natural. Therefore the best way to snack on dates is to pair them with healthy fats/protein and space them out during the day to avoid a sugar spike.
Top ways to incorporate dates into your diet;
Add to a smoothie (with protein powder/ veggies/ nut/seed butter).
Add to porridge (with added protein/fats).
Have it natural/Greek or coconut yoghurt for a snack or desert.
Have them with some nut or seed butter (this is probably my favourite way to eat them).
Bake with them (just make sure you’re getting the right amount).
Have them with some nuts and seeds as a snack.