Best Food for Labor & Delivery

Best Food for Labor & Delivery
4.62 (92.41%) 58 votes

Shorten labor time by hours, with less induction and less postpartum bleeding, with a humble fruit.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

A randomized, controlled trial of hundreds of pregnant women found that having women eat around six dates a day for a few weeks before giving birth can significantly improve “cervical ripening,” the readiness of the cervix, the opening to the birth canal. You can also use drugs or surgery to prep the cervix. “[O]xytocin is the most common agent”—you may have heard doctors talking about Pitocin—that’s the brand name. Although it’s effective, its use is “associated with multiple [potential] adverse side effects,” which can affect both the mom and the baby. If only there was a safe, simple, side-effect-free solution. Well, dates may fit the bill.

“The use of oxytocin for labor induction in the [date] group” was less than half that of the control group, and the few on dates that were induced had more successful deliveries. An earlier study in which prior date consumption appeared to shorten labor by more than six hours speculated that maybe dates themselves have oxytocin-like effects. All right, how about a head-to-head trial, “comparing the efficacy of dates [versus] oxytocin in the management of postpartum [bleeding]”?

“Postpartum hemorrhage [excessive blood loss after birth] is one of the major complications of pregnancy,” and the leading cause of maternal mortality. As the placenta peels off, the uterus is supposed to contract to staunch the bleeding, and if it doesn’t—if the uterus doesn’t have sufficient muscle tone—you can give an injection of oxytocin to help squeeze off the blood loss. Like all drugs, though, it can have side effects, sometimes causing a dangerous drop in blood pressure. There’s also various devices that can be inserted to apply pressure, and worst comes to worst surgery, but why not try fruit first? “[A]vailable, cheap,” and side-effect free; yeah, but does it work?

They set up a “randomized clinical trial” to find out. Immediately after the placenta came out, women were given a one-time dose of like five dates or an intramuscular shot of oxytocin. Then they just collected all the blood to see which worked better.

Overall, three hours after delivery, the blood loss average in the date group was significantly less than in the oxytocin group, by about a quarter-cup. Check this out. See how the date group was mostly in the lowest category, under two-thirds of a cup of blood loss, whereas the drug group was mostly about a cup…or more?

Conclusions: “use of oral dates”—I don’t know how else you’d take them—”after delivery decreases bleeding more than intramuscular oxytocin, and it’s a good alternative in normal delivery.”

But wait, if dates have oxytocin-like effects to contract the uterus, shortening labor by helping to “induce earlier uterine contractions,” might date consumption increase the risk of premature labor? I guess we’ll never know…until now.

The effect of date fruit consumption on the “length of gestation.” Starting at about 38 weeks, women were randomized to eat seven dates a day, or not. And…eating dates did not affect delivery dates, but what it did do is “significantly reduce” the need to induce labor with drugs. Half of the non-date group were induced versus 30% less in the seven-dates-a-day-for-a-week group.

And, induction of labor is serious business. It can increase complications such as bleeding,  [C-] section, uterine hyper stimulation, and even [uterus] rupture.” And, apart from the complications, women who are induced “tend to [feel] less satisfied with their birth experience.” “Therefore, dates consumption in late pregnancy is a safe supplement to be considered as it reduced the need for labour intervention without any adverse effect on the mother and child.”

The only thing we’re missing now is a double-blind study—not just a randomized trial, but a placebo-controlled study, right? The women in the date group obviously knew they were eating dates, and maybe that had some kind of placebo effect? The only double-blind study I could find on dates and delivery is in Arabic, but the English abstract describes how women just entering their active labor phase were given a date syrup or placebo. That’s brilliant. Hard to make a placebo date, but you could make some kind of placebo syrup, like molasses or something. Note when they say honey date syrup they’re not talking about a syrup of honey and dates, but a syrup made out of honey dates, which is a soft melt-in-your mouth variety easy to whip into a syrup.

And: “Normal labor progression” was evidently higher in the date group, around 98% compared to less than 70% in both the placebo and control groups. And, “labor duration was also shorter in the [date] group,” like two hours shorter.

So, on your due date, maybe we should give dates their due.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credit: Enotovyj via Pixabay. Image has been modified.

Motion graphics by Avocado Video.

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

A randomized, controlled trial of hundreds of pregnant women found that having women eat around six dates a day for a few weeks before giving birth can significantly improve “cervical ripening,” the readiness of the cervix, the opening to the birth canal. You can also use drugs or surgery to prep the cervix. “[O]xytocin is the most common agent”—you may have heard doctors talking about Pitocin—that’s the brand name. Although it’s effective, its use is “associated with multiple [potential] adverse side effects,” which can affect both the mom and the baby. If only there was a safe, simple, side-effect-free solution. Well, dates may fit the bill.

“The use of oxytocin for labor induction in the [date] group” was less than half that of the control group, and the few on dates that were induced had more successful deliveries. An earlier study in which prior date consumption appeared to shorten labor by more than six hours speculated that maybe dates themselves have oxytocin-like effects. All right, how about a head-to-head trial, “comparing the efficacy of dates [versus] oxytocin in the management of postpartum [bleeding]”?

“Postpartum hemorrhage [excessive blood loss after birth] is one of the major complications of pregnancy,” and the leading cause of maternal mortality. As the placenta peels off, the uterus is supposed to contract to staunch the bleeding, and if it doesn’t—if the uterus doesn’t have sufficient muscle tone—you can give an injection of oxytocin to help squeeze off the blood loss. Like all drugs, though, it can have side effects, sometimes causing a dangerous drop in blood pressure. There’s also various devices that can be inserted to apply pressure, and worst comes to worst surgery, but why not try fruit first? “[A]vailable, cheap,” and side-effect free; yeah, but does it work?

They set up a “randomized clinical trial” to find out. Immediately after the placenta came out, women were given a one-time dose of like five dates or an intramuscular shot of oxytocin. Then they just collected all the blood to see which worked better.

Overall, three hours after delivery, the blood loss average in the date group was significantly less than in the oxytocin group, by about a quarter-cup. Check this out. See how the date group was mostly in the lowest category, under two-thirds of a cup of blood loss, whereas the drug group was mostly about a cup…or more?

Conclusions: “use of oral dates”—I don’t know how else you’d take them—”after delivery decreases bleeding more than intramuscular oxytocin, and it’s a good alternative in normal delivery.”

But wait, if dates have oxytocin-like effects to contract the uterus, shortening labor by helping to “induce earlier uterine contractions,” might date consumption increase the risk of premature labor? I guess we’ll never know…until now.

The effect of date fruit consumption on the “length of gestation.” Starting at about 38 weeks, women were randomized to eat seven dates a day, or not. And…eating dates did not affect delivery dates, but what it did do is “significantly reduce” the need to induce labor with drugs. Half of the non-date group were induced versus 30% less in the seven-dates-a-day-for-a-week group.

And, induction of labor is serious business. It can increase complications such as bleeding,  [C-] section, uterine hyper stimulation, and even [uterus] rupture.” And, apart from the complications, women who are induced “tend to [feel] less satisfied with their birth experience.” “Therefore, dates consumption in late pregnancy is a safe supplement to be considered as it reduced the need for labour intervention without any adverse effect on the mother and child.”

The only thing we’re missing now is a double-blind study—not just a randomized trial, but a placebo-controlled study, right? The women in the date group obviously knew they were eating dates, and maybe that had some kind of placebo effect? The only double-blind study I could find on dates and delivery is in Arabic, but the English abstract describes how women just entering their active labor phase were given a date syrup or placebo. That’s brilliant. Hard to make a placebo date, but you could make some kind of placebo syrup, like molasses or something. Note when they say honey date syrup they’re not talking about a syrup of honey and dates, but a syrup made out of honey dates, which is a soft melt-in-your mouth variety easy to whip into a syrup.

And: “Normal labor progression” was evidently higher in the date group, around 98% compared to less than 70% in both the placebo and control groups. And, “labor duration was also shorter in the [date] group,” like two hours shorter.

So, on your due date, maybe we should give dates their due.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credit: Enotovyj via Pixabay. Image has been modified.

Motion graphics by Avocado Video.

Doctor's Note

I love this video series so much. Think about all the undiscovered benefits of whole foods out there that are just waiting for someone do a study about them. Maybe we should start crowdfunding science so it’s not just profitable drugs and devices that get the research dollars. Though how much more research do we need to decide to start eating healthier?

In case you missed it, watch my last video that covers cervical ripening: Best Food for Late Pregnancy.

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

37 responses to “Best Food for Labor & Delivery

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  1. Again, really happy that Dr. Greger is covering reproductive health-related literature. Having more easy vaginal births in the world would certainly be great!

  2. Amazing stuff! A glaring gap in medical school and residency training is evidence based Nutrition.
    Hope to see you at the Lifestyle Medicine conference. Sitting for the boards. Not sure how much it will do for me but hopefully the ACLM will begin to focus a lot more on nutrition. Nutrition first and all the others (pillars) will most likely fall in line for healthy living.
    Keep up the great work!

    1. So excited for you! Study hard, the Boards are brutal! See you this weekend at the conference. I’d tell people to sign up but they already maxed out full with more than 1,000+ hungry for some evidence-based nutrition. It’s going to be great!

      1. The last article you referred to to is in Persian and not Arabic.

        By the way there is so much more we dont know yet.. But I would recomment a research in Persian Islamic medicine… As far as I know my grandma knew a medicine for every symptom and illness…

  3. Different strokes, as they say. I would choose a C-section, no doubt in my mind, but eat the dates anyway. My doctor, herself, had both her babies by c-section. I will pass on the video – thanks Dr Greger!

    1. *pass on the video, meaning I will share the video with my doc and all who are interested! Just wanted to clarify- awesome video, food rules!

      1. Natural birth is better for a baby. I had two of them at home. My neighbor had her second C-section at the hospital 3 months ago for the convenience of the doctors, but she wanted to deliver her daughter naturally.

        It’s long overdue for women to make their own decisions about childbirth.

      1. Jimbo

        That is a good point.

        Having a child start off with bad microbiome and probably also have the parents not have a high oxytocin experience, it seems like the children start off with a disadvantage from birth.

      2. Hello Jimbo, thanks for your comment!

        Indeed, mode of delivery will play a critical role on baby’s gut health at birth and on later years. Fortunately, we have a lot of research on that and we will be able to do better desicion for the safety and well being of our children.

        I found this review on PubMed which is a very good review on the subject, in case you want to know more.

        C-section and the Neonatal Gut Microbiome Acquisition: Consequences for Future Health.
        https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30041194

  4. Just a anthropological guess but….suppose dates having such a critical beneficial affect upon birth speaks of some way way back evolutionary dietary item.
    AS in perhaps where human originated…. dates were a large part of what they ate. So we evolved in part to have this involved nutritionally with the most important part of our life, a new birth.

    In any event it seems most likely, the original growing place of dates(before cultivation) and the original humans probably were from the same areas.
    Other items then from this same place may perhaps have a adaptive advantage for us seemingly. How many others lie hidden perhaps overtly beneficial, but not really known of or consumed widely?.

    1. In the same vein would the ripening of dates in this part of the world perhaps coincide with the best time for a woman to give birth?
      We can of course birth anytime of year but it seems some evolutionary advantage would be at a certain time of year, food scarce times as opposed to food plenty times to provide mothers milk disadvantaged.

      Has there been study on the best time to give birth globally as to survivability of infants and does that coincide with the date ripening cycle.It seems that would be a evolutionary study import thing to know. I wonder. Would pretty much confirm human as evolutionary to coincide with date present places.
      Seems this effect speaks of a direct relationship.

  5. Interested in the fact that it is accomplishing the same thing as Oxytocin. Do dates increase Oxytocin? That could be potentially good for bonding with the baby and as a family. Maybe? Are there foods, which increase Oxytocin?

    I looked up Pitocin and it said that it doesn’t help with the psycho-emotional effects. “Though Pitocin is chemically equivalent to oxytocin, it works very differently in the body. Oxytocin is produced within the brain, so it has “psycho-emotional effects, it’s a hormone of calm and connection, a hormone of love, a hormone with natural pain-relieving properties. When we inject it into the mother’s body it doesn’t cross back into her brain and it doesn’t have these beneficial psycho-emotional effects.”

    But food sharing might.

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3906952/

    So maybe give some dates to every member of the family and have it become a social bonding Oxytocin moment?

    Someone listed these foods as ones to increase Oxytocin: apples, bananas, beans beets, watermelon and wheat germ.

    They also talked about gut microbiome as where Oxytocin can be fixed by fixing a single strain in the microbiota in mice.

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5102250/

    I am interacting with children whose mothers never bonded with them.

    Wondering if these foods might help.

    Also, in the mice studies, they are talking autism spectrum disorder and they are fixing it with that microbiome “fix”

    Seems like getting rid of bad bacteria and getting as much good bacteria as possible would be part of the pregnancy process.

    How do Whole Food Plant Based women fare during pregnancy? Wondering what the logistics are for a woman to switch while she is pregnant?

  6. Look, if the dates work it might decrease postpartum depression, too.

    “The researchers, led by Yale Child Study Center Assistant Professor James Swain, M.D., recruited two groups of parents from postpartum wards. One group of 12 mothers had cesarean sections and the other delivered naturally (vaginally). All women were interviewed and given brain scans two to three weeks after giving birth. During the brain scans, parents listened to recordings of their own baby’s cry during the discomfort of a diaper change. The researchers then conducted interviews to assess the mothers’ mood as well as their thoughts and parenting.

    The team found that compared to mothers who delivered by cesarean section, those who delivered vaginally had greater activity in certain brain regions in response to their own baby’s cry as measured by fMRI. These brain areas included cortical regions that regulate emotions and empathy, as well as deeper brain structures that contribute to motivation, and habitual thoughts and behaviors. The responses to their own baby’s cry in some of these regions varied according to mood and anxiety.

    Swain said that no parent in the small study developed clinical depression, making it hard to assess the significance of the findings without replication and follow-up studies. “I suspect that the parental brain is ‘primed’ by vaginal delivery and affected by neurohormonal factors such as oxytocin, a hormone linked to emotional connections and feelings of love,” said Swain. “C-sections may alter these neurohormonal factors and increase the risk of problematic bonding and postpartum depression.”

  7. “Studies have found that about 20% of new moms and dads feel no real emotional attachment to their newborn in the hours after delivery.”

    That is a lot of parents who don’t have an emotional attachment to their newborns.

  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19489802

    Early contact versus separation: effects on mother-infant interaction one year later.

    “The practice of skin-to-skin contact, early suckling, or both during the first 2 hours after birth when compared with separation between the mothers and their infants positively affected the PCERA variables maternal sensitivity, infant’s self-regulation, and dyadic mutuality and reciprocity at 1 year after birth. The negative effect of a 2-hour separation after birth was not compensated for by the practice of rooming-in. These findings support the presence of a period after birth (the early “sensitive period”) during which close contact between mother and infant may induce long-term positive effect on mother-infant interaction. In addition, swaddling of the infant was found to decrease the mother’s responsiveness to the infant, her ability for positive affective involvement with the infant, and the mutuality and reciprocity in the dyad.

    CONCLUSIONS:
    Skin-to-skin contact, for 25 to 120 minutes after birth, early suckling, or both positively influenced mother-infant interaction 1 year later when compared with routines involving separation of mother and infant.”

  9. Great about eating dates for easy birth
    In Israel, there are constant rumors that eating Etrog makes for easy births, Etrog is a lemon-like fruit used during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. After the holiday, you take the fruits and boil them several times until soft – and then give to the women according to need.
    Hmm.

    1. It seems clear to me that then late December would be the act. And a birth at around this time, fall, would be most advantaged for a woman to have birth and give milk. Food is most abundant for human in fall about always, local specific variance excepted. And the two things, the fruit, the time of year are coincided…seems far from accidental. Assuming the time of year of the feast, the time of year, probably coincides roughly with the ripening of the fruit for consumption. Which I do not know if fact. Or if the fruit is particularly suited for summer storage and then consumed in fall.

      But nevertheless, fall, the week long consumption and the best time for birth seems around this time(milk availability dependent upon enough food for mothers)….I wonder if they have studied this fruit?
      Is the ceremony then assisting in some unknown way successful birth by a general overall population considered. Leaving then these peoples slightly advantaged population wise.

        1. Yes I am certain it does Deb and thanks for providing that.
          I am thinking in this matter more as to a evolutionary or population advantage though. Why the eating of a fruit in a specific ceremony that goes on for a week at the time of year when a woman is found to be best having a child…..seems to coincide by my thinking.
          Fall is always most food available in primitive times, which means most breast milk in historical terms then, most surviving babies.

      1. Ron, I think late December is the worst time ever to have a baby — if you live in a religious western nation, such as the US. My daughter was born on Dec 25, and the hospital was short-staffed: I had concerns about her that nobody had any time to listen to. Not on that day, nor the whole week afterward. She ended up in the PICU with complete kidney failure — and before that, we were calling everybody daily, and being dismissed (“Oh, you’re a new mother, and worried/anxious/paranoid; what do you know?”) Worst experience ever.

        1. Sorry to be unclear Dr J..I mean the sex act was performed around December, resulting in the birth in September.

          December evolutionarily would seem pretty bad for a mother to produce milk as well. Fall is pretty abundant in foods. December they are starting to decline on into spring. Spring births food wise would seem worst in primitive terms. Milk supply would tend to decrease with much less foods. Nothing if starving the mother, the baby would likely die.
          Feb would be about worst by my read food wise. When things start to grow there starts to be some more foods. Early spring or late winter there is use of stored foods being eaten away.

          1. I don’t know of hardy any historical celebrations in late winter early spring in this culture at least. Probably late December would be the last time they had a excess of food to celebrate with till things started to grow again. Even then, seems to push it by my read. Perhaps in earlier times it was a minor holiday. Thanksgiving that would be the time of food plenty, fall. Late September even better. Depending on where one lived I guess and what the winters were back then.

            The change dates on things, maybe the dates have changed a bit as well.. Some say Christ was really born in March. Moved to fit in with a European feast then existing. I guess we would need a expert on celebrations from historic times to make such definitive statements.

            1. Ahh. pagan .solstice celebrations or the roman god Saturn celebrations…mid December,checking.
              A major alcohol thing in Rome that celebration..makes sense…. what would you have that you stored….soured grapes, or alcohol. Probably pretty common.

            2. Pretty sure the Biblical scholars think he was born in the fall.

              shepherds with their flocks and other things.

              There are some bible study teachers who are Messianic Jews and I think they believe it was during the Jewish autumn celebrations.

              But someone moved it and moved his death to a Friday, but neither line up with what scripture actually says.

          2. Thank you, Ron! I suggest that folks X-out the latter half of March, for that very reason: to avoid having a baby during the holidays. Which is, apparently, a very popular time for babies! Who knew?

        2. Dr J

          Holidays, weekends and nights are probably the mistakes made times.

          They used to say that about going to the hospital for anything at all.

  10. I am an Australian physiotherapist who has worked in pediatrics.
    I think it would be good to do a video re the higher rate of health issues due to overweight and obese pregnant mothers.
    Young Moms just do not understand how adversely effected fetuses are with additional visceral fat compressing the womb.
    Hypoxic events and poor positioning in the womb leading to musculoskeletal issues are more likely during term and labour.

  11. Off topic(of course)

    Greatest Health care system in the world…no problem
    Wonderful processed food diet…no problem
    Fast food predominance…no problem
    No exercise..no problem

    Except it appear…..there is a problem and it is seemingly getting worse…
    https://www.cnn.com/2018/10/17/health/life-expectancy-forecasts-study-intl/index.html

    Well everyone sees their docs eats good no fast food and exercises daily according to self reporting data…go figure.
    Facts tend to get in the way of self invention of things at times though we know.
    Average annual kale intake among Americans never ceases to amaze me. I wonder if they have a average burger and fries annual intake average?

    No problem here. KETO that’ll fix it. Yeah more meat and fat..that’s the ticket. Stay away from those evil fattening veggies. As we slip lower and lower and lower in life expectancy.

  12. The last study discussed in the video is written in the Persian language. While it is written in the Arabic alphabet, it is most certainly a separate language.

  13. The study that you mentioned is not in Arabic, but Persian. Persian belongs to Indo-European languages and not semitic languages like Arabic or Hebrew.

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