By Cathy Daub, founder of BirthWorks International
What if eating just six dates a day in the last four weeks of pregnancy helped you avoid an induction, helped your cervix to dilate, and therefore shortened your labor, without drugs and without adverse effects?1 Knowing there are risks that accompany any drug, finding a natural alternative is attractive.
We are all born from the food our mothers eat. The fetus in the womb is even familiar with the foods his/her mother eats before birth. The types of food we eat all have an impact on our bodies, often in specific ways. I love finding foods that can help us accomplish something naturally instead of through drugs.
In the last 30 years, the rate of labor induction has increased dramatically in the USA. In 1990 fewer than 10% of deliveries were induced. By 2005, the rate had increased to 23-24%. The current rate in the United States in 2022 is 71%.
What if eating just six dates a day in the last four weeks of pregnancy helped you avoid an induction, helped your cervix to dilate, and therefore shortened your labor, without drugs and without adverse effects?
Risks of labor induction
Labor induction is not to be taken lightly. Induced labor can give rise to increased complications such as bleeding, cesarean section, uterine hyperstimulation, and uterine rupture (WHO 2011). Women have also been found to be less satisfied with their birth experience (Dowswell et al 2010). Furthermore ACOG states, “When a woman and her fetus are healthy, induction should not be done before 39 weeks. Babies born at or after 39 weeks have the best chance at healthy outcomes compared with babies born before 39 weeks. When the health of a woman or her fetus is at risk, induction before 39 weeks may be recommended.”2
Dates fruits found to shorten labor time
In this study3, eating dates was tested in a randomized, controlled trial for cervical ripening. Dates were shown to shorten labor time by up to seven hours, with fewer inductions and less postpartum bleeding, and all with just a humble fruit.
Towards the end of labor, there is a change in the myometrium where the lower uterine segment loses its integrated structure and becomes soft and dilated as soon as strong contractions begin – the exact mechanism still unknown. However, it is this softening that allows it to open and dilate, a process called cervical ripening which is directly associated with vaginal delivery.
Researchers wanted to find a safe, inexpensive, and easy method of cervical ripening. They gave dates to 210 women with singleton pregnancy, cephalic (head down) presentation, and with a gestational age of 37-38 weeks at the Omolbanin Hospital in Mashhad, Iran4. They divided the women into two groups – one ate just six date fruits per day until the first contraction, whereas the other group ate none. They used the Bishop Score where 5 or less is unfavorable and 8 or more is favorable showing a high likelihood of spontaneous labor. The Bishop score of the experimental (date) group upon admission was higher (about 8) as compared to the control group (about 5). The mean cervical dilation was also higher in the women consuming date fruits as compared to the non-consuming group. Thus, consuming dates in the last few weeks of pregnancy helps cervical ripening. In addition, date fruits are full of energy and nutrients.
Dates help decrease blood loss after birth
Researchers also found that women eating just five dates versus getting one intramuscular shot of Pitocin three hours after birth, had significantly less blood loss than the Pitocin group (162.5 ml vs 220.7 p=0.02) They concluded that the use of eating dates after delivery decreases bleeding more than intramuscular Pitocin (oxytocin) and that this is a good alternative in normal delivery.5
Do dates cause premature birth?
Researchers wondered if giving women dates would cause premature labor. A total of 154 first time mothers with uncomplicated singleton pregnancies were divided into two groups: date consumer vs control. The date consumers had significantly less need for augmentation of labor and a longer intervention to delivery interval. The need for augmentation was only 37% in the date consumer group as compared to 50% in the control group. Date consumption reduced the need for labor augmentation but did not expedite the onset of labor. In other words, eating dates did not affect delivery dates and it did reduce the need to hasten labor with drugs.6
Honey-Date Syrup (type of date – no added honey)
But since the women knew they were eating dates, it was not a double-blind study. So the faculty of nursing and midwifery at Mashhad University of Medicine Sciences in Hashhad, Iran, gave intervention and placebo group a honey-date syrup and placebo respectively. The results were that the normal labor progression rate was higher among the honey-date group than two other groups 96.7% vs 66.7% in placebo and 60% in usual care group. Labor duration was also shorter in the group taking the honey-date syrup than the other two groups. Conclusion was that oral honey-date syrup induced a higher rate of normal labor progress. It may be used during labor to prevent prolonged labor.7
Drinking water to shorten labor
Besides date fruits, there is another way to shorten labor – water. Collagen is protein molecules made up of amino acids. It provides structural support to the extracellular space of connective tissues. The cervix is composed mostly of connective tissue with only 8% of the distal portion being composed of circular smooth muscle. What helps the cervix begin to ripen before birth is due to a decrease in the collagen concentration rather than a relaxation of smooth muscle. What helps this to happen most is hydration.8 Yes, simply drinking water! Instinctively, women in very active labor and nearing full dilation will typically be thirsty and just want to drink water. This need is also a symptom of adrenaline production as the body prepares to birth the baby. Kind words are often thought to help the cervical ripening. Certainly, they can help a woman in labor to relax using other muscle groups, but hydration with water is much more effective in actually dilating the cervix for birth.
There are many undiscovered benefits of eating whole foods as an alternative to taking drugs. Hopefully more studies and research will begin to investigate them. But at least now, we have good reason to eat dates whether pregnant or not, and choosing to eat a more plant based whole foods diet is healthier and sure to provide many long-term benefits to your body.
- Friday Favorites: Best Food for Late Pregnancy, Labor, Delivery. Michael Greger MD. June 10, 2022 (NutritionFacts.org)
- Induction of Labor. Practice Bulletin No 107. August 2009
- O..Al-Kuran et al, The Effect of Late Pregnancy Consumption of Date Fruit on Labour and Delivery. Jordan University of Science and Technology, Irbid, Jordan. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. June 2011, 1,31, pages 29-51.
- Ibid. O.Al-Kuran
- Ibid Greger, Michael. Nutrition Facts.org
- Masoumeh Kordi (MSc) et al, The Effect of Late Pregnancy Consumption of Date Fruit in Cervical ripening in Nulliparous Women. Journal of Midwifery and Reproductive Health. March 16, 2014, p. 150.
- Kordi M, et al. The effect of oral date-honey syrup intake during labor on labor progress of nulliparous women. Iranian Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Vol 17 No. 2. June/July 2010. Pages 23-30.
- Aristizabal, Michelle MD, FACOG, Natural Labor and Birth: An Evidence-Based Guide to the Natural Birth Plan. McGraw Hill. New York. 2019. P. 77.
Nutrition Corner ~
Chocolate Peanut Butter Date Nuggets
By Cathy Daub, founder of BirthWorks International
Are you a chocolate lover? Here is a simple yet delicious date fruit snack I make all the time and which is a favorite with all who taste it. And it is a great way to eat dates which are so healthy in pregnancy, labor, and birth.
Step 1: Slice pitted dates open but not quite through.
Step 2: With a knife, insert a little crunchy peanut butter into the date.
Step 3: In a double boiler, melt a large dark chocolate bar that is at least 75% cacao.
Step 4: Roll the peanut butter/date in the melted chocolate and place on a cookie tray with parchment paper on the tray surface.
Step 5: When the tray is full, put into the freezer for a few hours or overnight. I then put them all into a plastic bag, back into the freezer, and snack on them when the urge comes – like right now as I write.