I am 34 weeks pregnant this week and beginning to prepare my body for birthing our baby. I am hoping to have an intervention free, natural childbirth. One of the many things I'm doing to prepare is eating 70g+ of date fruit per day. Which is three dates.
I originally learned about the benefits of eating date fruit during pregnancy for an easier labour during my Burrell Education course, Advanced CPD in Modern Pregnancy Functional Exercise Programming & Birth Preparation which I studied in 2015.
I think all pregnant women dream of having a relatively short and uncomfortable rather than unmanageably painful childbirth. If eating date fruit during pregnancy will help me get there, I'm eating lots of them!
I looked for the studies related to this and listed all the ways eating dates benefits us when we go into labour. Prepare to stock up!
The date fruit (Phoenix dactylifera) is a sweet tasting fruit which grows on the date palm, native to the Middle East and Northern Africa. Eating date fruit during pregnancy and after delivery has been emphasised in many Islamic traditions. The Islamic Qur'an tells of Maryam eating dates in labour to ease her discomfort. This ancient wisdom is now being researched.
Birthing Secret: 6 Dates a Day Keeps The Interventions Away
This study from the Jordan University of Science and Technology and published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology (Al-Kuran et al., 2011) concludes that eating 6 (or 70g) date fruit daily during the last four weeks of pregnancy “significantly reduced the need for induction and augmentation of labour, and produced a more favourable, but non-significant, delivery outcome”. Participants were recruited at 36 weeks of pregnancy and asked to either consume six pieces (60-70g) of date fruit per day or consume NO date fruit for the last four weeks of their pregnancy (until labour began).
Some significant findings:
- Spontaneous labour occurred in 96% of the women who ate dates (This means less medical intervention which is always a plus.) and only 79% of the women who didn't eat dates.
- Cervical dilatation measured at hospital admission was significantly greater in the date-eating mothers (average of 3.52cm) than the non-date-eating mothers (average of 2.02cm).
- The early latent phase of labour was almost 7 hours shorter in the date-eating mothers compared with the non-date fruit eaters (510 min vs 906 min).
- Upon admission at the hospital, 83% of mothers who consumed dates had their membranes (amniotic sac) still intact and only 28% of these women were given synthetic Oxytocin in their labour; 60% of the non-date-eating mothers had their membranes intact upon admission and 43% of those were given synthetic Oxytocin. If your membranes are broken your risk of infection increases with time (and number of vaginal exams) putting you at risk of receiving interventions to "speed things up".
- Use of synthetic Oxytocin was significantly lower in women who consumed dates (28%), compared with the non-date fruit mothers (47%) Although the use of synthetic oxytocin is considered an effective method for cervical ripening, it is associated with multiple adverse side effects such as uterine hyper-stimulation, intoxication with water, postpartum haemorrhage, embolism of amniotic fluid, and neonatal jaundice.
- Date fruit has been shown to increase cervical ripening before the onset of labour when consumed during the last weeks of pregnancy. Journal of Midwifery & Reproductive Health 2014.
- A study in March 2017 concluded that eating date fruit reduces the need for labour augmentation with synthetic Oxytocin. "Date fruit consumption during late pregnancy has been shown to positively affect the outcome of labour and delivery without adverse effect on the mother and child.”
- Research by Khadem, Sharaphy, Latifnejad (2007) found that date fruit has an oxytocin-like effect on the body, leading to increased sensitivity of the uterus. It also helps stimulate uterine contractions, and reduces postpartum haemorrhage the way oxytocin does. This study demonstrated a statistically significant reduction in the amount of postpartum bleeding experienced by women who consumed 50g date fruit compared to women who received a synthetic oxytocin injection immediately after delivery of the placenta. Blood loss mean in the end of first hour after delivery were significantly different in dates and oxytocin groups (104 ml vs 141.6 ml).
Date Fruit, a Pregnancy Superfood!
Dates are a powerhouse of nutrients. Containing minerals such as potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, sulphur, phosphorous, manganese, copper and zinc, plus amino acids, vitamins, carbohydrates, protein, 14 types of fatty acids, dietary fibre (bye bye to pregnancy constipation) and a lot more, these sweet little fruits are a nutritional powerhouse. [International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 2003]
“Date fruit contains saturated and unsaturated fatty acids such as oleic, linoleic, and linolenic acids, which are involved in saving and supplying energy and construction of prostaglandins. In addition, serotonin, tannin, and calcium in date fruit contribute to the contraction of smooth muscles of the uterus. Date fruit also has a laxative effect, which stimulates uterine contractions.”
The nutrients contained in date fruit can contribute significantly to a healthy pregnancy by means of preventing anemia, reducing nausea, controlling blood pressure, regulating blood sugar levels, helping restore depleted calcium, expelling toxins, and increasing strength and immune resistance.
How much should I consume to reap the benefits?
Date fruit can be eaten throughout pregnancy, but is especially helpful during the late third trimester to nourish the body in preparation for labour. Aim to eat 70g of dates, 4 to 6 whole dates a day from 34 weeks of your pregnancy onward.
Don’t like the taste of dates? Try eating your daily dates with pure peanut or almond butter and a little sea salt. A mum in my Prenatal Pilates class tried this, and she went from barely able to eat one date to looking forward to them! And it doesn’t require lots of extra washing up.
Keep in mind that dates are high in natural sugar, so if you have gestational diabetes or any other condition that means you need to avoid high blood sugar, you may want to avoid eating dates. Sorry ladies!
What else helps us have an easier childbirth?
- Prenatal exercises to help get your baby into an optimal position. A great book on this topic is "Let Birth Be Born Again" by Jean Elaine Sutton. This book made me feel like I could birth a 20lb baby, easily! Baby’s position can be the reason women go past their due date, require induction or have longer, more painful labours. Though there’s no such thing as easy childbirth, getting baby in the best position before labour begins makes it easier on both of your bodies.
- Perineal massage to soften the tissue between the vagina and anus so it can stretch. I describe how to do this in this article:
"Prepping to Push: The Pelvic Floor in Pregnancy"
Let me know if you eat dates and if you had a great labour!