Now that your due date is finally just around the corner, you’ve probably spent some time (OK, a lot of time) researching ways to make labor and delivery go just a little bit smoother (and everyone from your bestie to your grandma is happy to offer you their two cents). While some suggestions are completely unfounded (sorry—all the hot sauce in the world won’t actually induce labor), there are some things that just might work. One of the most delicious-sounding methods? The theory that eating dates during the last few weeks of pregnancy can make for a smoother labor. Here’s the deal.
If your due date has come and gone and you’re looking for a way to kick-start childbirth, we have some bad news. Research has found that munching on dates doesn’t actually induce labor. But you still might want to pick up a bag at the grocery store, because dates could, in fact, have a positive impact on labor.
A recent study published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology looked at 154 women, half of whom were assigned to eat seven dates a day (about 80 grams) starting in their 37th week of pregnancy. Although the date-eating group didn’t experience a faster onset of labor compared with the non-date eaters (womp, womp), they did receive less labor augmentation with Pitocin compared with the control group. While 50 percent of the control group required oxytocin to help their labor progress, only 37 percent of the date-eating group needed it.
And another trial in Iran found similar results. In the study, 105 women between their 37th and 38th week of pregnancy were assigned to the date-eating group (chowing down on 70 to 75 grams per day) and 105 pregnant women were told to avoid the fruit. Researchers found that only 20 percent of the date-eaters needed Pitocin for labor induction versus 45 percent in the control group. Not only that, but those eating dates had a riper cervix when they were admitted to the hospital (4 centimeters versus 3 centimeters). Not too shabby.
While these studies are small, there does seem to be some evidence that eating dates in late pregnancy might reduce the need for a medical labor induction or augmentation, as well as increase cervical ripening.
Researchers aren’t exactly sure why this is, but they think it could be because the fruit might have an oxytocin-like impact on the uterus, helping to prepare it for contractions.
But that doesn’t mean that chowing down on dates every day will guarantee an easy labor, cautions OB/GYN Omnia M. Samra-Latif Estafan. And keep in mind that these fruits—although delicious—are also quite high in sugar.
“Dates are a great source of fiber and vitamins for pregnant women,” says Estafan. “Although their sugar is natural, I would caution pregnant women with gestational diabetes because of their sugar content,” she adds. If you have decided to go the date route, just a heads up that eating more than a couple of dates in one sitting can be...a lot. They're extremely sweet and filling, so you might want to switch things up by adding them into a salad or incorporating them into a dessert.
But as long as your doctor has given you the go-ahead, it can’t hurt to try. Sweet potato brownies with date caramel frosting, anyone?