Eating dates is a well-known method for trying to speed up and ease labor, but is this simply an old-wives’ tale and if so, are dates off-limits in early pregnancy?
Not only are dates a great way to up your fiber, vitamin, and mineral intake, but eating dates can actually help ease and encourage natural labor. Despite the effects on labor, dates are still safe to enjoy when pregnant, no matter what point in pregnancy you’re currently at.
There are different types of dates, including medjool, deglet noor, and Chinese red dates. I’ll break down the different types of dates while also pointing out the other pregnancy-related benefits and any possible side effects of eating dates while pregnant.
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Are Dates Safe to Eat When You’re Pregnant?
It likely comes as no surprise that dates are safe to enjoy while pregnant.
The fruit does have some reported benefits when it comes to health as well as labor. We’ll take a closer look at these specific benefits more below.
Health Benefits of Eating Dates During Pregnancy
First up is the health benefits of dates. While these fruits may be tiny, they’re also packed with nutrition.
Note: Nutrition benefits of dates are similar across most date varieties. For the purpose of this article I’ll provide a generalized breakdown for all types combined.
While many date varieties are soft and chewy, they’re full of fiber. Just a half-cup of dates offers over 20% of your daily fiber needs, which helps boost helpful gut bacteria, keep digestion regular, and prevent pregnancy-related constipation (source: Food and Nutrition).
Dates are also full of energy from carbohydrates and naturally sweet. A single large date, such as a Medjool date, contains 18 grams of carbohydrate (source: USDA).
This is why dates are a common ingredient in homemade energy bites and granola bars (they’re also sticky, which helps binding). Their carbohydrate content makes dates a good pre-workout snack or quick bite if you feel your blood sugar getting low.
Beyond being a good way to get some quick energy, dates are also rich in vitamins and minerals including vitamin B6, potassium, magnesium, and manganese. If you’re experiencing nausea or morning sickness, the high amount of vitamin B6 in dates may help settle your stomach (source: Michigan Medicine).
Chinese dates, also known as jujube or “red dates”, are not actually dates at all but look and taste strikingly similar (source: Berkeley Wellness). Like other fruits, Chinese dates are a good way to get vitamin C in your diet.
What Kind of Dates Are Best for Pregnancy?
Dates come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. The most popular types of dates include Medjool, Deglet Noor, Halawi, and Barhi (source: Epicurious). In the US, most dates found in grocery stores are either Medjool or Deglet Noor.
You can tell these two particular types of dates apart by size alone, as Medjool dates are much larger than the Deglet variety.
Chinese red dates are the only variety that contain vitamin C, making them a better choice if you’re not eating much other fruit. Aside from this difference, there’s not much that makes one date variety better than the rest, even during pregnancy.
Each date variety has its own texture (ranging from soft and moist to dry and chewy) and taste, but since they offer similar nutrition and health benefits the “best” type of date is the one that you like best! (source: Berkeley Wellness)
Side Effects of Eating Dates When Pregnant
Dates are a pretty innocuous food, not to mention common in many cultures across the globe. If you’re a fan of dates, there’s only one main consideration when it comes to enjoying the fruit.
Dates are high in natural sugar. While this is great for snacking and fueling up before exercise, it is also a major consideration for those who need to limit carbohydrates for medical reasons.
If you have a condition such as diabetes, including gestational diabetes, keep in mind that dates are a concentrated source of carbohydrate, and be mindful of your portion size.
Note: For those who have been instructed to track carbohydrate servings by their medical provider or registered dietitian, one date counts as one carbohydrate serving.
Can I Eat Dates in the First, Second and Third Trimesters?
Since dates are thought to help bring on labor, many women question whether or not it’s safe to eat dates in every trimester or if doing so will lead to early labor. We’ll take a closer look at the science behind this home-remedy more below.
Dates are known to be safe to enjoy regardless of how far along you are in your pregnancy. There are no known risks to either mom or baby when eaten in moderation.
Eating dates can actually help with symptom relief during the different trimesters of your pregnancy. The vitamin B6 in dates can ease morning sickness and nausea, which are common in the first trimester.
Rich in fiber, eating dates in the second and third trimesters can help reduce or avoid constipation as your uterus continues to grow and support the baby.
Do Dates Induce Labor?
Eating dates is a well-known method for trying to speed up and ease labor, but does eating dates really work or is it simply an old-wives’ tale?
Surprisingly, quite a few studies have looked at women using dates to help with labor.
Three different studies showed that women who ate dates starting at 36-37 weeks gestation experienced less need for labor induction, shorter first stage of labor and increased cervical dilation at the time of admission to the hospital for birth (source: Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Journal of Midwifery and Reproductive Health, Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research).
Researchers working on a fourth, and more recent, study determined that eating dates during late pregnancy reduced the need for labor induction but did not significantly speed up labor (source: Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology).
In all of these studies, the women ate dates daily during the weeks leading up to labor, meaning that consistency is likely key to this method.
Oxytocin is a hormone responsible for uterine contractions during labor and the labor effects of eating dates are thought to work because of this hormone.
Dates interact with the oxytocin receptors in the body, increasing how well the uterine muscles respond to the hormone leading to more effective contractions (source: Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research).
Overall, eating dates is an effective way to move labor along enough to avoid medical interventions for induction.
When Should I Start Eating Dates During Pregnancy?
If you are looking to incorporate dates into your pregnancy diet for their fiber, micronutrients, or other nutritious benefits, any time is a great time to start!
For women looking to ease or bring on labor more quickly, timing matters a bit more. Based on all of the studies I’ve shared, women had the best response (ie: easier labor) when they started eating dates around week 36 of gestation.
Of course, if you’re a date lover you don’t need to limit yourself to just the last four weeks of pregnancy, but this is the time you may want to enjoy more dates, more often.
As I mentioned above, dates are often incorporated into energy bites or homemade granola bars. Other ways to enjoy dates are:
- In a smoothie
- Chopped and stirred into a bowl of oatmeal
- Baked into cookies in place of raisins
and my personal favorite…
- Sliced in half and stuffed with peanut butter (or simply dipped into peanut butter, for the lazy version)
How Many Dates Should I Eat When Pregnant?
Since dates are such a concentrated and sweet fruit, many women wonder how many of them it is safe to eat.
The serving size for dried dates is different from the fresh version of the fruit. A standard serving of dried fruit, including dates, is ¼ cup (source: Today’s Dietitian). Fresh dates vary quite a bit in size, but for large dates a serving is typically 2-3 dates.
Looking at the studies that found dates to be helpful when it comes to labor, women were eating anywhere from 3-6 dates per day.
If you’re looking to dates in hopes of avoiding the need for an induction, it’s likely that you’ll want to enjoy a serving or two on a regular basis (source: Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Journal of Midwifery and Reproductive Health, Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research).
Studies and Scientific Evidence on Dates During Pregnancy
Many women have asked for information and resources on eating dates while pregnant, and are interested in reading the resources themselves.
Below is a list of relevant articles, research, and resources to help you make the best decisions possible for you and your baby.
- General information about dates: Berkeley Wellness
- Benefits of dates: Food and Nutrition
- Effects of dates on labor: Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (second article), Journal of Midwifery and Reproductive Health, Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research, BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth
Overall, dates are well-researched compared to other foods during pregnancy. Regularly eating dates during your final 3-4 weeks of pregnancy has been shown to reduce the likelihood of needing an induction.
Dates are also safe to enjoy throughout pregnancy where their high fiber and vitamin B6 content may alleviate constipation and morning sickness.
|This article has been reviewed and approved for publication in line with our editorial policy.|