Dates, those odd-looking, deliciously chewy and sweet little brown nuggets, have been a dietary staple of many traditional cultures for centuries. They often play a significant role in traditional medical practices as well. It turns out, dates can help birth and postpartum, too.
And for good reason. Dates are nutritional powerhouses jam packed with no less than 15 different minerals, at least 23 different amino acids, and contain 7g of dietary fibre per serving. Traditionally, dates have been attributed with helping alleviate a variety of health complaints, from constipation to heart conditions to cancer!
Dates for Reproductive Health
This mighty little fruit is also well known in fertility circles, with much folklore and many old wives’ tales trumpeting its mystical powers. Research in more recent years has begun backing up many of these tales with real results. With my own pregnancies, I have been committed to doing whatever I can to ensure a safe, healthy, natural birth for both myself and my child. Two quick, uncomplicated births later, and I firmly believe that dates played a role in that.
Dates Help Improve Labour and Birth
Research has found that women who eat six dates per day for the four weeks leading up to their estimated delivery date dilate faster and easier than women who don’t. These women also have a 23% lower incidence of spontaneous membrane rupture (meaning strong membranes that don’t rupture too soon), an 18% greater incidence of going into labour spontaneously, and a 21% lower use of labour augmentation. In addition, the women who ate dates had a latent phase of labour of almost half of that of the women who didn’t consume dates (510 minutes vs. 905 minutes). (1)
I don’t know if the dates deserve all the credit, but I have gone into labour spontaneously twice now, had quick labours with no interventions or augmentations. The first time, my membranes did not rupture until half an hour before baby was born. The second time they ruptured 12 hours before baby was born.
Dates Help Improve Postpartum Outcomes
And if shorter labours with fewer interventions weren’t enough to make you want to dig in, research has also shown dates to be more effective than oxytocin at preventing postpartum hemorrhage in normal deliveries. When women consumed 50g of Deglet Noor dates following placenta delivery, they lost approximately 30% less blood than women who received 10 units of IM oxytocin and 26% less blood overall. Not only are dates significantly more effective than oxytocin at reducing blood loss, they come without the risks associated with the use of synthetic oxytocin. I have not been able to personally try this approach, unfortunately. With my first birth, I didn’t have the dates with me at the hospital as a result of my precipitous birth. The second time I was at risk of hemorrhage, so I needed stronger (natural) tools to manage the bleeding than dates alone could provide. (2)
A Note About Fructose
The biggest catch with all these dates is fructose. Dates are very high in fructose and too much fructose consumption can lead to a host of issues, such as obesity, insulin resistance, hypertension, fatty liver disease, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome and increased cancer risk. But before toss the idea of dates for birth and postpartum, these concerns result from excessively high fructose consumption (>50g/day). Low to moderate fructose consumption (10-20g/day) can actually be beneficial, helping to reduce blood glucose levels and improve insulin sensitivity! While six dates per day is not exactly moderate fructose consumption, it certainly does not meet criteria for high consumption, unless you are combining them with a diet that is otherwise higher in fructose to start with.
Minimizing the Effects of Fructose
So how do you take advantage of the benefits of dates while minimizing the effects of their fructose content?
- Choose wisely as not all dates are created equal. The two most common types of dates available in Canada are Medjool and Deglet Noor. Deglet Noor dates are smaller and contain only 2.5g of fructose and are just as effective as Medjool dates which contain 7g of fructose.
- Eat your dates solo. Consuming glucose and fructose together accelerates the absorption of fructose, which you don’t want.
- Take some extra vitamin D. Excess fructose has been shown to have a neutralizing effect on vitamin D. If you supplement with extra vitamin D while your fructose consumption is higher, it should help to compensate for any neutralizing effect. Studies have shown that it is not only safe but beneficial for pregnant women to take 4,000 IU of vitamin D daily.
- Finally, consuming higher levels of fructose for a short amount of time (like four weeks leading up to your estimated delivery date, or once after your placenta is delivered) is not likely to have a significant long-term impact. For me, the pros far outweighed the cons!
Wondering how to get those dates in? Here are a few of my favourite recipes (because stuffing your face with plain dates gets old fast):