Dates for days: What eating 6 dates a day has to do with my 2-hour labor
I've touched on my birth story with Sage, my oldest, but let's just say it wasn't exactly ideal. Though I was blessed with a labor that was short compared to some (about 12 hours), it was rife with complications and interventions that I never intended on, making the entire experience unexpected, scary and honestly quite traumatic. I was put on medication to kick-start labor, medication to dull the pain of an unintentionally intense labor, and I came scary-close to emergency surgery when I almost passed out from exhaustion towards the end. Like I said- certainly NOT ideal! And where I know every birth is different, there is no 'normal' and things happen, I also know it doesn't need to be the way mine was. It was over three years before I even considered having another baby, due to the complications I endured during pregnancy, delivery and the months following. So once I worked through the trauma of my first birth story and wrapped my mind around going through another labor experience I knew I wanted to do everything I could to make this time around different. So, being the science nerd I am, I dove into the research- everything from anecdotal advice from fellow been-there moms to peer-reviewed research studies, I pored over ways I could make this pregnancy and labor healthy and low-complication. One of the funniest, yet most interesting, pieces of evidence for a faster, more effective labor? Dates.
That's right-- dates. The yield from the date palm tree, dates are small pitted fruits that are incredibly dense in nutrition; most notably fiber and minerals, including calcium, magnesium, potassium and iron. They are also incredibly sugar and energy-dense, making them an ideal food for athletes or those who need a quick boost of calories. As they are high in natural sugars, they are also ideal to use as a natural sweetener; and that's how I typically use them (check out my pregnancy power ball recipe). But other than as a natural sweet treat-- how do dates relate to pregnancy and labor? A study done out of Jordan in 2007/2008 revealed that women who consumed dates (6 per day, to be exact) daily in the month prior to their delivery had a significantly quicker labor in terms of cervical dilation as well as a higher likelihood of spontaneous labor (meaning they did not require induction). The mean latent phase (the early/active stage of labor- that 0-10% dilation) was shorter- by almost half (8 1/2 hours on average vs. 15). The use of oxytocin was almost half in those that consumed dates than those that didn't, as well. This demonstrated that the consumption of dates seemed to significantly impact and reduce chances of induction, labor intervention and length. Now I understand, this is only one study- and we can't gather any definitive conclusions from one randomized trial. However, along with several anecdotal reviews (midwives have been recommending dates for this purpose years) and the fact that dates in and of themselves are a nutrient-dense food, I figured it wouldn't hurt to try.
I started enjoying dates daily at around 34 weeks, almost a month prior to when I delivered Sage (there is no conclusive evidence that delivering early the first time means you'll deliver early again; but it does seem somewhat more likely-so I went with it, and I went into labor a whole 5 days later than I did with Sage, still 2 weeks early). I enjoyed them in a variety of ways- my pregnancy power balls, smoothies and on their own, stuffed with almond butter or goat cheese (don't knock it til you try it!) or chopped up on yogurt with some sprouted granola. Nutrition note: As a nutritionist, I do need to note- despite being nutrient-dense, dates are VERY high in sugar. If you struggle with blood sugar balance and/or gestational diabetes, I highly recommend you space out your date consumption throughout the day and as with any carbohydrate-rich foods, pair them with protein and/or fat to balance the effect on your blood sugar.
The result? Well, if you read Wren's birth story (part 1 and part 2), you'll know. It is important to note; I also prepared better overall for this labor by exercising regularly, staying incredibly nourished and drinking lots of red raspberry tea; and it WAS my second delivery (which typically happens faster in most women, anyway). But shaving TEN hours off of my labor? I'll take it! My friends joke that if I ever have another kiddo (not likely) I'll have to plan for a home birth (and I sort of agree!). So do I think dates are the key to a faster, easier labor and delivery? Maybe! Maybe not. I think there are a lot of factors that contributed to a healthier pregnancy and delivery (more on these, soon). But it doesn't hurt to try, does it?!
What do you think? Are dates the magic key to an easier labor? Or a sweet coincidence? Read the study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21280989
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