Dates: A Surprising Pregnancy Superfood
Here’s a food you probably don’t think of as a natural pregnancy and birth superfood – dates.
Dates are a whole food, the dried fruit of the Phoenix dactylifera tree. They are high in carbohydrates and fiber. They contain smaller amounts fats and amino acids. Some of these amino acids (protein building blocks) are not commonly found in other fruits. Dates are also rich in phytochemicals such as tannins; vitamins; and have 15 types of salts and minerals, including the powerful antioxidant, selenium. Dates contain a greater amount of minerals than any other commonly eaten fruit.
As well as being nutritious, dates may be a special food for helping women prepare for birth.
Traditional food for pregnancy
Date fruit have traditionally been an important food for fertility, during pregnancy and breastfeeding in many Islamic traditions.
Modern science has been investigating its traditional use for birth preparation, with some very interesting results.
What the research says
One study compared 69 women who ate 6 dates per day for four weeks before their baby’s due date with 45 women who didn’t eat any. The women who ate the dates:
- Had a significantly greater cervical dilation when they arrived to hospital in labour
- Were more likely to go into spontaneous labour (labour that starts naturally, without the use of drugs).
- Were less likely to need synthetic oxytocin to augment labour
- Had a much faster first stage of labour (by an average almost 7 hours!)
In another study, 105 women were given 70-75g of dates (approximately 6-8 dates) to eat every day from 37 weeks gestation until the day labour started. Another group of 105 women were asked to avoid dates. Mothers in the date-eating group:
- Had a significantly higher Bishop’s score (more favorable cervical dilatation, effacement, position, and consistency, and fetal station) on arrival to hospital.
- Were more likely to be able to birth naturally (vaginal delivery)
- Were less likely to need vacuum/forceps assistance in a vaginal birth
- Were more than 50% less likely to need labour induction drugs
- In women who needed to be induced, there was a much higher chance of success (resulting in vaginal delivery)
Another study looked at 105 women randomly divided into normal care, and normal care plus eating dates (7 dates per day from 38 weeks pregnant). The women in the date-eating group were less likely to go ‘post-term’ with their pregnancy, reducing the need for induction. They also had better cervical ripening and greater cervical dilation on admission to hospital.
The latest study from 2017, involving 154 women, had the study group eating 7 dates per day, approximately 80g of dates. Compared to the women who ate no dates, the date eaters were much less likely to require labor augmentation, which is the speeding up of labor using synthetic oxytocin.
A small study looked at using dates postpartum for the prevention of bleeding. Immediately after birthing the placenta, one group (31 women) were given 50 grams of deglet noor dates to eat. Another group (31 women) had no dates and were given an injection of oxytocin. The women who ate dates and had no oxytocin had significantly less bleeding in the three hours after birth, especially in the first hour.
How do dates help in birth preparation?
It’s not entirely clear. Researchers have suggested that date fruit probably influence oxytocin receptors, ripening the cervix and causing more effective contractions.
Plant foods and herbal medicines are complex. There usually isn’t just one plant chemical that does the job, or one way in which they work. There are many different helpful qualities that dates have.
Dates contain serotonin, which may assist uterine contractions and to help prevent post partum bleeding. They contain calcium, which in an important mineral for muscle contraction. Dates have a laxative effect, which stimulates uterine contractions. Tannins make up about 1% of the weight of deglet noor dates (and are also found in raspberry leaf) and are known to help prevent bleeding. Fatty acids in dates, including some that deliver prostaglandins, may help with uterus contractions and with bleeding control.
Are there any side effects?
No side effects were noted in any of these studies. Although dates were shown to prevent ‘post-term’ birth, there are no reports of dates causing pre-term birth in these studies.
How and when to eat dates while pregnant
You can eat dates in regular food amounts throughout your pregnancy. In accordance with the studies above, you may wish to increase your intake of dates in the last month before your due date. The therapeutic “dose”, used in the studies is 6-8 dates per day. This is a lot of sweet food at to take at once! You can spread out eating the dates over the day.
Although sweet, most varieties of dates are quite low on the glycaemic index scale, meaning they aren’t likely to cause large blood sugar fluctuations. If you are sensitive to sweet foods, try eating them with meals containing healthy fats and proteins. If you have gestational diabetes, always talk with your health care practitioner about your pregnancy diet.
You can eat dates by simply eating the whole pitted dried fruit. You can stuff them with nut butter for a high protein and high mineral snack. Try chopping and adding them to salads, curries, yoghurt, muesli, or energy bars. You can ‘drink’ them by adding them to smoothies.
They are also great to add to your hospital bag to eat as an energy snack during labour.