Can Eating Dates Shorten Labor?

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Can eating date fruit shorten labor-science says it might
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Don’t you love when something really simple and inexpensive is actually the most effective option? Like when simple natural ingredients make the best laundry detergent? Or when children ditch the expensive toys and play for hours with a cardboard box or mixing bowl and spoon?

Can Eating Dates Shorten Labor?

I recently stumbled across a study that supports an old (mid)wives tale that eating dates (this type) might be the best way to naturally shorten labor and reduce the risk of induction.

Sound too good to be true?

I thought so too for years and wrote off the idea (partially because dates have always seemed too sweet to me and I didn’t want to eat them). Turns out, there is now some scientific evidence and anecdotal experience from many women that supports the ability of dates to shorten labor and contribute to a outcome.

The study, conducted in 2011 and published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, has some really interesting results from comparing two groups of women: those who consumed six dates per day in the last four weeks of labor and those who did not.

I also found it fascinating that in my completely un-scientific poll of friends and readers, those who consumed dates in later pregnancy did in fact have shorter labors (including a few friends who craved them and had labors under 2 hours!). My friend Genevieve ate dates in the last month of her pregnancy and had a shorter labor (and there are quite a few comments on her post from other women with the same experience!).

As someone who tends to have labors more on the 24-28 hour side, it was enough to intrigue me… disgust of dates or not.

The Effect of Late Pregnancy Consumption of Date Fruit on Labor & Delivery

This study was very interesting, and not just because I’m a nerd who loves reading scientific studies. For any woman who has been through labor, this line from the study specifically should be intriguing:

The mean latent phase of the first stage of labour was shorter in women who consumed date fruit compared with the non-date fruit consumers (510?min vs 906?min, p?=?0.044).

In mom terms, that means that the 0-10 cm stage of labor was significantly shorter in woman who consumed dates compared to those who didn’t. In fact, those who consumed dates had an average 8.5 hours of first stage labor (0-10 cm) while those who didn’t had an average 15.1 hours of first stage labor.

Don’t get me wrong, compared to my usual 24+ hours, I’d gladly take either one, but for a woman in labor, 8.5 hours sounds a lot better than 15.1 hours!

Other points of interest from the study:

  • The women who ate dates were dilated an average of 3.5 cm upon admission, compared to 2 cm in those who didn’t
  • 96% of the women who consumed dates went into spontaneous labor and did not have to be induced (compared to only 79% of those who didn’t)
  • Only a small percentage of women who consumed dates needed pitocin (28%) vs those who didn’t consume dates (47%)
  • A smaller percentage of women who consumed dates had their membranes rupture in early labor compared to those who didn’t (17% vs 40%)

Overall, the study authors concluded that:

…the consumption of date fruit in the last 4 weeks before labour significantly reduced the need for induction and augmentation of labour, and produced a more favourable, but non-significant, delivery outcome.

What I’m Doing

That study and the stories I’ve read of dozens of women who tried eating dates in late stage pregnancy are enough to convince me to give dates a try this time. (These are the ones I’m ordering)

I’ll personally start sneaking 4-6 dates per day (six was the magic number in the study) into my meals starting at about 35 weeks (I tend to deliver at just over 39 weeks). Since I don’t love dates on their own, I’ll make some of these chia seed energy bars and some homemade almond milk to blend them in.

I’ll also be drinking my red raspberry leaf tea at that point and incorporating lots of natural movement like walking and squatting to help get my body aligned for labor.

I’ll let you all know in February how things go and if my labor was any shorter! Ever tried this? Did it work for you? Please share below!

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


110 responses to “Can Eating Dates Shorten Labor?”

  1. Jessica Valentine Avatar
    Jessica Valentine

    I just read Fitnessista’s blog post on her labor and delivery, and she said that she ate dates throughout her pregnancy. Apparently, consuming a large amount of dates can also make a woman’s bag of waters stronger and less resistant to breaking, which prolonged her labor. Keep this in mind, ladies!

  2. Lindsay Avatar

    You’ll have to keep us updated! I just had a baby 3 weeks ago, and my labor took 10 minutes to get from 3 centimeters to 6 (I came in for induction- breaking of waters- at 3 due to pregnancy complications). Then it was 5 minutes until she was out completely, sunny-side up with both hands on her face. I would rather have a longer labor! My first was 4 hours and much more manageable and less intense.

  3. Brianne Avatar

    Ok so now we need some ideas on how to incorporate into our diets daily!! Any ideas?!

  4. Katie Avatar

    Good luck! You can also use dates instead of sugar in baked goods. I make a banana harvest muffin with dates processed in the food processor and they’re delish.

  5. Kate Avatar

    Worked for me. Had 6 hours of labor with my first. Arrived at the hospital at 10cm. I am now pregnant with second and plan to follow same routine. I ate Lara bars throughout pregnancy (not necessarily everyday but frequently). Last month or so I made date energy balls. Chocolate and an oatmeal raisin flavor were the two I tried. Just popped a few of those a day. I really don’t care for dates by themselves or even those energy balls, but 6 hours of labor will definitely have me eating them again! Doesn’t hurt to try it, hope it works for you.

  6. Pauline Avatar

    I’m really excited to try this, especially since I love dates! First baby and due beginning of January.

  7. Monika Avatar

    I ate dates the last weeks of my first pregnancy started at week 36. Also daily 3cups of red raspberry leaf tea starting from 3rd trimester. At week 38 started on 500mg primrose oil capsulas.
    At 38.5 weeks I had a labor that started at 2.30 pm and at 10.43 pm that night I was able to hold my beautiful baby boy in my arms. We barely made it to hospital in time around 9.30pm my water broke at home. I also did the Hypnobirthing. Now pregnant with our second baby I do the same things. Due date is Nov 21st hopefully this one also will have a relaxed way of joining us and soon we will be a family of four.

    1. Hannah Avatar

      That is amazing for first baby!! I’m on #3 but I love dates so I will be looking forward to trying this. I would love it to go this well:)

  8. Melissa W. Avatar
    Melissa W.

    I read this study during my last pregnancy and I have so many thoughts on it I don’t even know where to begin! (Sorry, it’s a long comment.)

    First of all, let me just say that both of my labors were about 2.5 days long, even though I ate dates during the second pregnancy and not the first. (I think my very long labors are probably due to the anatomy of my pelvis. I’ve never had a doctor tell me that, but my sister was told after her C-section that she has a “pelvic shelf” that would make it very hard to have a natural delivery. My first labor probably would have ended in a C-section if I hadn’t had a team of patient midwives and a great doula.)

    Anyway, back to dates. A few thoughts on the study (and my own experiences):
    – During my non-date-eating pregnancy I did start having labor contractions spontaneously, but after 1.5 days of labor I had NO dilation, so a balloon catheter was used to help get me started dilating. During my date-eating pregnancy my dilation was very slow, but I didn’t need medical intervention.
    – How did all these women get admitted to a hospital at 2 – 3.5 cm?? I had to beg the hospital to take me at 5 cm because I was desperate to get into the labor tub!
    – As far as the stats about “needing pitocin,” this seems really subjective and probably depends a lot more on the paradigms and philosophies of the medical staff than the progression of labor. I think most people who had experienced my labors would have been given pitocin, but since I was working with a group of patient, natural-friendly providers who are okay with baby coming when she’s ready, I didn’t “need” pitocin. Pitocin would have shortened my labor, but it wasn’t a “need.”
    – My personal experience with membranes rupturing was that in both labors my membranes didn’t rupture until the very end. If date-eaters keep membranes intact longer, it’s probably just correlation rather than causation. (For example, women who are mindful enough to eat dates during pregnancy were also probably more mindful of their protein intake throughout pregnancy, which would have a direct effect on the strength of the amniotic sac.)
    – Finally, I can’t help but think (as I review the study’s findings) that none of these findings can really describe how positive or negative the overall birth experience is. It has been shown that a lower level of pain over a long period of time is more manageable than intense pain over a shorter period of time. (So, it’s better to slowly peel the Band-Aid off than to rip it off quickly.) A woman who has a 5-hour labor could have a much worse experience than a woman who has a 5-day labor, because pain intensity means a lot more when in labor than any other factor. All of my birth attendants thought that my date-eating labor was easier and better than my first labor, but I was much more traumatized by it because transition was beyond horrible. My first birth had much longer active labor, but the pain levels of transition never came close to those I experienced in my second labor. So I guess, in summary, that I think it’s hard to quantify a birth experience with numbers and statistics. It’s just so personal.

    Anyway, my own anecdotal experience isn’t really supportive of this study’s findings. That said, I see no reason NOT to eat dates during my current pregnancy since I love eating homemade Larabars made from Medjool dates! I figure it can’t hurt and it might help.

    1. Angie Avatar

      Interesting…I was wondering about the same thing though. Is it better to have a slower, less intense labor or get all the pain over with at once? My midwife sells clients an antenatal seven-week herbal supplement that includes red raspberry leaf among other things, with a slowly increasing dose from week 35 and on. She says she can’t be 100% sure it definitely helps labor go smoother, but what’s the harm in trying it? I guess dates are kind of expensive though…

  9. Leah Avatar

    I didn’t read the study, the link shows the abstract only, I’d like to know if the birth times in the test and control groups were compared also by previous vaginal births? Like, if the birth was the first, second, third etc for each woman.
    I’m due Dec 20 with #2, hoping and praying for successful vbac 🙂

  10. Mariana Avatar

    Well this is definitely something I would be happy to try, although I’m not a fan of dates either. My first labor was around 24 hours too (although active labor was around 9-10 hours).

  11. karina Avatar

    Worked for me
    First labor start to finish 36 hours
    Second 18 hours
    Third 45 minutes. Third, i arrived at the hospital not in labor for a check up and i was 8cm already! Only thing I changed was eating dates every day from 30 weeks after reading about how it could shorten delivery time.

    1. Melissa W. Avatar
      Melissa W.

      Wow, that is a crazy story! I would love to have received awesome news like being 8 cm without feeling contractions. I can’t even imagine!

  12. jennifer Avatar

    I tried it. Didn’t work and was much harder than I thought to consume so many dates due to heartburn. The really aggravated it. good luck!

  13. T Skinner Avatar
    T Skinner

    This made me giggle. However I just forwarded it onto 4 pregnant friends. Now I wanna be pregnant just to try it out 😉

  14. Mara Avatar

    I don’t love dates, but I love shorter labor! I had my 4th child this summer, and I think all the red raspberry leaf tea I drank contributed to his 4 hour birthing time. (1st was a c-section, #2 was 48hr VBAC, and #3 was 8hr VBAC.) if I’m blessed to have a 5th, I’m definitely trying dates, too. Thanks!

  15. Grace Perdew Avatar
    Grace Perdew

    So, as you say to start eating dates 4 weeks before does that mean they should be avoided earlier in the pregnancy or is that just a good time to build enough benefits from them? I may not have long labors but any shortening of time is awesome!
    My last pregnancy I read that taking high doses of vitamin c strengthened the uterus, muscles, ligaments…My main reason for trying that was I had hemorrhaged three times before and a study was cited to say that none of the women on vitamin c did. It may be something worth investigating more as my fourth labor was shorter, less painful and NO bleeding at all! And the last trimester was not nearly as uncomfortable…for whatever its worth:-)

    1. Ember Avatar

      I made the mistake of beginning to eat dates as soon as I hit my third tri (with my third child) at 32 weeks I was 80% effaced and 2cms dilated and had to be put of bed rest because they were afraid my mega soft cervix was going to continue dilating and my baby wouldn’t make it to term. I’m almost 33 weeks now and am taking each day as I can but I wouldn’t recommend eating the dates BEFORE you are term. In my other pregnancies I was never preterm and never softened/dilated before labor began and I also didn’t eat the dates with them. So just be careful.

  16. Ana V Avatar

    Your pregnant? Wow congrats how exciting. My sister gave birth this past August and her labor was way shorter then her first born, she did eat dates throughout her pregnancy.

  17. Isabel Avatar

    I believe that all natural food has it’s own power! I was told at one point of my life…after I had my daughter that drinking cinnamon tea as soon as your real labor pains start it will help with continual labor and you can’t have no epidural or any induced medicines. I tried this with my daughter with her 1st and only pregnancy and she had her baby within 4 hours! The funny thing is that the doctor had told us that it would take about 24 hours and insisted in sending us home. I asked if we can stay a little longer and he agreed within 3 hours she had the baby naturally! Right after my beautiful grandson was born, My dear daughter told me: “Mom, I can have another baby!” I was in tears because she didn’t suffer what most women do nowadays.

    Just a note: We ended up going to another doctor, because her previous doctor insisted that she would need a c-section. And we had a great doctor at a hospital near our home with nurse/midwifes and a very natural & awesome experience!

  18. Virginia Miner Avatar
    Virginia Miner

    I love dates and I’m due in April! You can let me know in Feb if I should go for it!

      1. Umm Avatar

        Hey I am not sure if i missed a post where you updated us. But how was your experince with dates? Did you feel it helped in anyway?

      2. Nella Avatar

        I had 8h stage one and pushed for 30min and baby made it to this world. I ate my dates 5week prior and I love dates. Do I think they helped I would say so I had easy delivery for my first baby? and not to mention my Doctor thought I was lucky to deliver so fast. I was 33yrs with first baby and one on the way now at my 35 will still do my 5-6 dates a day. Good luck ladies!

  19. Stephanie Avatar

    I loved dates in late labor, since I was trying for a VBAC and wanted things to move quickly! I also ate a ton of pineapple to help effacement… and because it’s delicious. Definitely recommend both!

    1. mistie Avatar

      I’d not heard about pineapple! This weeks grocery list is getting yummier by the minute!

  20. Catherine Avatar

    Did nothing for me. After reading articles & studies on this, I diligently consumed 6-8 dates/day in my last trimester (along w drinking red raspberry tea), at the advice of my midwife (which resulted in lots of extra & unnecessary $$ spent). Nevertheless, had a painful 10 hr labor which resulted in a cesection.

    1. Mara Avatar

      I’m sorry your birth didn’t go as planned. My first was a c-section and it can be really traumatic in a lot of ways. I did Hypnobabies for my 3rd and it was a total game changer.

        1. Mara Avatar

          I did the in person class for my 3rd birth and it was wonderful!!! My teacher was an amazing woman and I learned so much about birth and my body. Then for my 4th birth, I did the home study. But I think it’s really necessary to do the class at least once to really grasp the material. I highly recommend Hypnobabies. It’s not something I thought I’d ever try but I saw my sister use it with great success and that changed my mind. It just totally changed my mentality about childbirth

          1. Mia Avatar

            Thank you!! I definitely plan on it but was debating about in person classes vs home study. The classes are 2hrs away unfortunately!

      1. Audrey Avatar

        No Kidding! My first was 45 hours – I will gladly take anything under 30 this time 🙂 Just ate 12 dates .. and plan to every single day these last weeks.

      2. Jennie Avatar

        But, she had to have a c-section. More than likely an emergency c-section—which is way worse than a planned c-section. No one wants one of those for sure!

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