I was asked a very interesting question by a patient a few years ago “Dr. Liu, I’m almost 40 weeks pregnant and I want to go into labour, if I eat lots of dates will that help kick-start labour?” I had no idea what the answer to her question was, so we looked up the evidence.
First off, what is full term pregnancy?
Full term pregnancy is between 39 weeks and 41 weeks, with the estimated due date at 40 weeks gestation. As women near term pregnancy, they are often uncomfortable and wishing for labor to start to avoid going beyond their due date.
Some women will try to get natural labor started as they near term pregnancy. There are many old wives tales that tell of how women have started their own labors.
Some examples include eating spicy food, walking a lot, complementary and alternative medicine and even sex to help get labor started.
Many women will also hear from friends and from midwives that eating dates can help induce labor.
But is there any scientific data to support the theory that dates can induce labor?
Surprisingly, there has been research into this topic! Pregnant women for traditional reasons, particularly in Islamic culture, consume date fruits in pregnancy.
There have been several small trials examining the use of date fruit and pregnancy outcomes.
A randomized clinical trial published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology compared consumption of 7 dates (approximately 80g) per day to no date fruit in the diet. The study found that date fruit would not necessarily induce early spontaneous labor. However, it found that there was less need for medically induced labor induction or augmentation.
Another randomized clinical trial examining cervical ripening with date consumption showed promising results. The authors state that the average cervix dilation was higher in date fruit consumers at time of labor onset.
Lastly, there has been a recently published systematic review and meta-analysis that reviewed available literature to date. This review found that women who consume dates near the end of their pregnancies have shorter duration of latent phase of labor, less need for labor induction and augmentation, and higher onset of spontaneous labor.
How dates actually improve pregnancy and labor outcomes has yet to be established. There is ongoing research on this topic.
There are no known adverse effects to a fetus born to a woman who ingests dates during her pregnancy. Date fruit can be a part of a normal nutritious diet as they are high in B vitamins and fiber. But dates have a high carbohydrate and sugar content so women with gestational diabetes should use caution if they eat them.
Talk to your obstetrician or primary care provider before you decide to consume dates as you near term pregnancy.
This post was co-written by Erin Manchuk, BScPharm, BCGP and Stephanie Liu, MD, MSc, CCFP, BHSc.