Are you in your third trimester and thinking about how you might be able to speed up labour? Or maybe you’re wanting to know how you can reduce your chances of needing an induction? The answer you’re looking for is: dates. Despite their small, shrivelled exterior, these little fruit sure do pack a punch when it comes to helping out during pregnancy and child birth. Here’s why…
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What’s so special about dates?
Dates are full of key vitamins and minerals that help during pregnancy, such as potassium and folate (both of which are needed for healthy baby development). They’re also rich in antioxidants, which help protect the body from cell damage, and high in fibre, which can help keep constipation at bay during pregnancy.
There is also research-backed evidence to suggest that eating dates in late pregnancy may have benefits for women during labour – both by speeding up the delivery process and making the labour itself easier.
When should I start eating dates during pregnancy?
Eating dates anytime in pregnancy is generally a good thing for most pregnant women. In addition to being high in fibre, potassium and folate, dates are also a low GI food, which means they’re digested more slowly and give you energy for longer.
If you want to just focus on eating dates as a way of helping during labour then the research suggests that the third trimester is the right time to start including more dates in your diet. There is no strict rule for exactly when to start but benefits have been identified when dates are consumed from 36 weeks onwards.
How many dates should I be eating?
It is generally recommended to consume around 70-80 grams of dates per day. This roughly translates to about 5-7 medium-sized dates per day.
How can dates help during labour?
In addition to being packed full of energy-boosting vitamins and minerals that help during pregnancy, dates have some specific benefits at the child birth stage too…
1. Shorter first stage of labour
The first stage of labour is the longest and most physically demanding stage of labour, during which the cervix gradually opens up to allow the baby to pass through. This stage can generally take between 8 to 18 hours for a first-time mum.
A study published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology found that women who ate dates in the last few weeks of pregnancy had a significantly shorter first stage of labour than those who did not. The researchers suggested that the high nutrient content of dates, including their fibre and hormone-like substances, might contribute to the speedier delivery.
2. Increased cervical ripening
During pregnancy, the cervix is usually closed and firm, acting as a protective barrier to keep the baby inside the uterus. However, as the time for labour approaches, oxytocin helps the cervix become softer, thinner, and more dilated in preparation for giving birth.This process is called cervical ripening.
Dates are rich in natural sugars and nutrients, such as calcium and magnesium, which can help to stimulate the production of oxytocin in the body. Therefore, the more dates that are consumed, the more likely it is that oxytocin will be produced and the cervix will begin to dilate.
3. Reduced need for induction
Induction of labour refers to the process of stimulating contractions to start labour artificially before it begins spontaneously. Some induction methods may include a membrane sweep, a cervical ripening balloon, breaking waters or intravenous medication.
The induction of labour is not without risks and, where possible, going into labour naturally is often the preferred option. A study published in the Journal of Midwifery and Reproductive Health found that women who ate dates during the last four weeks of pregnancy were more likely to go into labour spontaneously and were less likely to require any intervention during child birth.
4. Increased energy during labour
During labour, a huge amount of energy is needed to birth a tiny human. Dates are a good source of natural energy to provide a quick energy boost when you need it most. Dates are also easily digestible and can be scoffed quickly between contractions (although we suggest opting for the pitted option!).
Are there any risks of eating dates during pregnancy?
Whilst dates do have many benefits, they may not be for everyone during pregnancy so it’s important to know about a couple of risks too…
- Everything in moderation: Although dates can offer nutritional benefits, they are also relatively high in natural sugars and calories. It’s important to consume them in moderation as part of a balanced diet. Incorporate dates into your overall calorie and nutrient intake, and consider them as a healthy and nutritious snack option.
- Dietary variety: While dates can be a healthy addition to your pregnancy diet, it’s important to focus on a diverse range of nutrient-rich foods. Don’t rely solely on dates for your nutritional needs but incorporate them as part of a well-rounded diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
- Don’t get your hopes up: The research suggests that dates can speed up the stages of labour and reduce the need for intervention, however nothing is guaranteed so remember to keep an open mind.
And remember, whilst dates can offer potential benefits during pregnancy and in preparation for labour, they should be consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet. If you have any specific concerns or dietary restrictions during pregnancy, speak with your GP or midwife, especially if you have any medical conditions (such as gestational diabetes) or concerns about your pregnancy.
Birthbabe does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The resources on our website are provided for informational purposes only. You should always consult with a healthcare professional regarding any medical diagnoses or treatment options.