Dates are a type of stone fruit that grow on date palm trees. They’re usually sold slightly dried, which concentrates their natural sweetness. You may have heard that there are benefits to eating dates during pregnancy, so in this blog post, we’ll look at exactly what those are and talk about some ways that you can enjoy dates during your pregnancy.
General Benefits of Dates
With their inherent sweetness and caramel-like flavor, dates might be a good way to satisfy your pregnancy sweet tooth. There are about four or five dates in a serving and a serving contains a whopping 6.5 grams of fiber. As hormones of pregnancy slow your digestion in order to allow for the maximum absorption of nutrients, you might experience constipation, which can lead to discomfort and hemorrhoids. Just a small handful of dates can help you get fiber that will help keep your digestive system moving. In addition to the fiber, dates also contain vitamins and minerals—including potassium, magnesium, and B6—and protein. Their sweetness does mean that they come with a lot of sugar per serving, so particularly if you have concerns about gestational diabetes, it is a good idea not to overdo it.
Dates, Labor, and Birth
There is a lot of chatter out there about the benefits to eating dates toward the end of pregnancy, but it’s not always clear how to get these benefits or even what they are. In this section, we’ll discuss a handful of studies that have looked at date consumption and outcomes in birthing people. As always, if you have questions about whether eating dates during pregnancy is right for you, please speak with your healthcare provider.
In 2011, researchers from the Jordan University of Science and Technology published a study in which they had 69 pregnant people eat six dates each day for the final four weeks before their estimated due dates and then compared their experiences of 45 pregnant people who did not eat any dates. According to the authors, the groups were comparable in age and other characteristics, but the date-eating group had significantly better outcomes. When they came into the hospital in labor, their cervixes were more dilated as compared to non-eaters and their membranes were more likely to be intact. Plus, the subjects who ate dates were much more likely to go into labor on their own and have a shorter first stage of labor. Finally, fewer members of the group who ate dates needed labor augmentation with synthetic oxytocin (Pitocin) than the group that did not eat the dates.
In 2017, a study of 154 pregnant people performed by researchers at University Malaya in Malaysia corroborated the finding that people who ate dates were less likely to need augmentation of labor than those who did not. This study did not find a difference in spontaneous onset of labor between the group that ate dates and the group that didn’t. Two studies—published in 2014 and 2017—from a group of researchers in Iran showed that date consumption was associated with both shorter labors and increased cervical ripening and dilation.
These results all sound like great news if you want to eat dates and hope for a labor that starts and progresses smoothly, but there are a few caveats to keep in mind. First, each of these studies was on the small size. None of them was larger than 210 participants, meaning just over 100 people were in the test group—the group that actually ate the dates—of the largest study. That’s not a very large sample size. Plus, while all of these studies were randomized, meaning researchers randomly chose which people in the study would eat dates and which would not, which gives strength to the findings, there was no way for people to not know that they were in the test group. In other words, people knew if they were eating dates, so that might have skewed the results. Finally, the studies were inconsistent about how carefully they kept track of other things people were eating. It’s possible there was some confounding factor that the researchers didn’t pick up on.
If you want to try eating dates daily at the end of your pregnancy, and your care provider gives you the go-ahead, you don’t just have to eat them plain. They make a great sweetener for smoothies, or you might enjoy them stuffed with cheese or almonds, wrapped in bacon, and baked in the oven. Or you can check out this recipe for almond butter-stuffed dates, a protein-packed, vegan treat.