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There’s no shortage of advice out there for how to have an easier labour, and when you’re sifting through the well-intentioned information on the internet, you may come across an interesting suggestion—eating dates during pregnancy. These sweet fruits have long been associated with healthy childbirth—the Quran names them as one of the best foods for moms-to-be—and some women believe that eating dates can induce labour.
So what does the science say?
While recent research concluded that snacking on dates doesn’t kick-start childbirth, it did find that eating the fruit might still have a positive impact on labour.
In 2017, the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology published a study out of Malaysia in which 77 women ate seven pieces of date (approximately 80 grams) a day starting in their 37th week of pregnancy. Researchers found that these women didn’t experience a faster onset of labour when compared to the 77 women in the study who didn’t eat any dates during their pregnancy. However, they were less likely to require intervention in the form of oxytocin, the hormone that induces and intensifies contractions. Only 37 percent of the date-eating moms needed oxytocin to help their labour progress while 50 per cent of the control group required it. Studies conducted in Iran and Jordan reached similar conclusions.
While it’s not clear why eating dates might lead to a smoother labour, scientists have theorized that the fruit might have an oxytocin-like impact on the uterus, helping to prepare and stimulate the organ for contractions.
Despite the promising results, it’s important to remember that the studies are small and there is no guarantee that eating dates will lead to a smoother, more natural labour. Ashley Gilman, a Toronto OB/GYN, notes that while she’s unaware of any concerns around pregnant women consuming dates, she wouldn’t recommend eating them in excess and that, if you do choose to snack on them, they should be incorporated into a well-balanced diet.
Ultimately, says Gilman, there’s no shortcut to a fast or smooth labour. “Labour is, for the most part, totally out of our control,” she says, adding that her advice for moms-to-be is to have patience and go with the flow as much as possible.
Regardless of the impact of dates on labour, they’re a good snack to have on hand when you’re pregnant. In addition to their sweet taste, dates are high in antioxidants and rich in fibre, meaning they can help you get relief in at least one way.