Pregnancy

Should you eat dates to shorten labor? Experts advice

February 14, 2024

Written by Chandana (Chandy) Balasubramanian

Medically reviewed by Rita Faycurry, RD

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Key Points

  • Long labor is one of the leading reasons for primary cesareans in the United States.
  • Some research believes that eating dates induces labor naturally.
  • Dates are high in nutrients, antioxidants, and soluble fiber, which are great for the gut.
  • However, they are high in carbs and sugar; some may also be allergic to them.
  • It’s best to consult with your OBGYN and a Registered Dietitian before making changes to your diet during your pregnancy.

A long labor is more than an uncomfortable, painful, and stressful time for people who are pregnant. It is associated with medical complications and even fetal disorders, particularly in developing countries.

In the United States, research finds that 60% of first-time cesarean surgeries happen when labor takes too long. One leading cause of this is when contractions aren't strong enough, which can lead to labor being induced or the need for a cesarean.

Some research seems to show that eating dates is a natural way to induce labor, with the potential to reduce the risk of a cesarean.

Do dates really help start your labor and shorten the time for your contractions? OBGYN Gia Eapen MD and Registered Dietitian Rita Faycurry RD help us learn more.

Do dates shorten labor?

Dr. Gia Eapen, MD, OBGYN, explains, “Some research suggests dates could shorten labor and reduce the need for oxytocin to induce labor or improve contractions, but more evidence is needed for a definitive conclusion. On the flip side, there is no data that dates have a negative impact on pregnancies. So, if you’re not allergic to them and do not have diabetes, there may be no harm in eating 1-2 dates a day in your third trimester.”

Registered Dietitian Rita Faycurry, RD, adds, “Since some research indicates that dates may cause contractions, limit the number of dates you consume during weeks 1-37 of your pregnancy.”

Note: We strongly recommend discussing any dietary changes during pregnancy with your OBGYN. Also, consider consulting a Registered Dietitian for nutritional guidance.

Why are dates healthy?

Dates are the fruit of date palm trees. In the Western world, they are usually found in their dried state. These oval-shaped, wrinkly fruits are a powerful source of nutrients and essential minerals.

According to studies, just 100 grams of dates fill over 15% of your dietary requirements from minerals, including:

  • Selenium: Selenium is naturally found in foods and helps reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. It benefits your thyroid, helps with fertility, and boosts immunity. The best foods for selenium are Brazil nuts, fish, and eggs. However, you only need a small amount of selenium daily, and dates are a good source.
  • Copper: Copper helps your body make blood cells, support your immune system, make collagen, absorb iron, and help convert sugars into fuel. The good news is that copper is present in many foods, including seafood, nuts, beans, vegetables, and fruits like dates.
  • Potassium: Potassium helps regulate your blood pressure and keeps your nerves and muscles working well. Some potassium-rich food sources are Avocados, spinach, beets, bananas, and beans. Dates can also contribute to your daily potassium needs.
  • Magnesium: Magnesium plays several crucial roles in the body, from turning food into energy and forming proteins to supporting muscle function and boosting bone health. It may also reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. Foods like pumpkin seeds, almonds, beans, brown rice, and dates are excellent sources to help meet your magnesium needs.

Dates are also an excellent source of insoluble fiber, varying between 6.5% to 11.5% based on the type of dates. Insoluble fibers soften the food in your digestive tract, helping it pass through your digestive system more easily.

Faycurry, RD says, “Dates are packed with nutrients and fiber but are also high in carbs and sugars, with just four dates (100 grams) hitting over 300 calories. If you have insulin resistance, type 2, or gestational diabetes, discussing your diet with your OBGYN is important. A Registered Dietitian can also offer helpful dietary advice during pregnancy.”

How to eat dates?

Throughout history, dates have been a regular part of diets in the Middle East, North Africa, and India. Sticky, sweet, and utterly delicious, you can stuff them with goat cheese and nuts, wrap them in bacon, or use them as a natural alternative to refined sugar in your oats.

If you’re about to go into labor, the easiest thing to do is to keep a few seedless Medjool dates on hand and pop them in your mouth whole.

Faycurry, RD, cautions, “Some brands of dates have a lot of sulfites, common preservatives often found in dried fruits. If eating dates cause a skin rash, itching, red eyes, a runny nose, or other allergy signs, stop and seek medical help. If you've never had dates before, it's safer to avoid them during pregnancy.”

How to get the right nutrition during your pregnancy?

Sometimes, planning your meals and getting the nutrition you need during your pregnancy can be overwhelming, especially during the third trimester.

There are many hormonal and physical changes you may face, including:

  • Indigestion and heartburn
  • Water retention
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Issues sleeping, and much more.

Consider a Registered Dietitian (RD) on your support team to help you with:

  • Personalized nutritional advice based on your specific needs
  • Managing your weight during this time
  • Preparation for labor, delivery, and postpartum care.

Use Fay to find a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist near you, covered by your insurance.


The views expressed by authors and contributors of such content are not endorsed or approved by Fay and are intended for informational purposes only. The content is reviewed by Fay only to confirm educational value and audience interest. You are encouraged to discuss any questions that you may have about your health with a healthcare provider.


Sources

Fay Nutrition has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.

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Chandana (Chandy) Balasubramanian

Written by Chandana (Chandy) Balasubramanian

Chandana Balasubramanian is an experienced healthcare executive who writes on the intersection of healthcare and technology. She is the President of Global Insight Advisory Network and has a Master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA.

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Rita Faycurry, RD

Medically Reviewed by Rita Faycurry, RD

Rita Faycurry, RD is a board-certified Registered Dietitian Nutritionist specializing in clinical nutrition for chronic conditions. Her approach to health is centered around the idea that the mind and body are intimately connected, and that true healing requires an evidence-based and integrative approach that addresses the root cause of disease. In her books and articles, Rita offers practical tips and insights on how to care for your body, mind, and spirit to achieve optimal health and wellness.

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