Magical Dates

Not only do I love dates myself, but dates are an incredible food for labour, pregnancy, and the postpartum period and in fact for life in general and something that I always chat about with all my clients.

Have you heard about the magical qualities of dates?

I lived in Oman for 4 years with my family and when our children were young from 2011 – 2014.  One of my fondest memories is walking with them all through a beautiful wadi called Wadi Shab with the date palms and their feathery fronds towering above us and gently swaying in the hot breeze.  The bunches of dates hanging like jewels clustered together above us. When it was time to harvest them, it was an incredible sight watching the date pickers ascend the palms with nothing but a rope and their impressive strength. A testament to both skill and tradition.

Magical dates
Magical dates

While the exact location and origin of this very special fruit remains debatable, both theories point to the Middle East and surrounding areas as the birthplace of dates. These regions have a hot, arid climate perfectly suited for the growth of date palms and their fruit.

Dates hold great significance in these regions both for their practicality and having a food source that when dried will store for long periods in the harsh heat.

Culture & Traditions

Magical dates

They were and are used for sustaining energy levels during long hours of physical work and the high sugar content offers this immediate energy.

Apart from being delicious and nutritious to eat they are also culturally deeply woven into the fabric of life.  Traditionally, they are used to break the fast during the Holy Month of Ramadan, signifying a time of renewal and community.

Offering coffee and dates to guests in your home is a time-honoured custom throughout the region symbolising hospitality. While we lived there as a family, we were honoured to visit many Omani families and the first welcome was always a pot of fragrant coffee and delicious dates.

Varieties

There are many varieties of dates varying in colour, texture, size and of course flavour. I often hear people say that they ‘hate dates’ but perhaps they have only tried one very rich and large variety from the supermarket.

I have a particular fondness for the smaller, drier dates. Maybe it’s because they remind me of such happy memories living there. They are slightly chewy without the sticky mess! Those were the dates we enjoyed in Oman, and every bite brings back wonderful memories.

The online seller My Jam is a great place to try out different types of dates. They may also have different varieties in your local supermarkets or health food shops.

The magical properties of dates

So, you’re probably wondering if you don’t already know why I am focusing on this fruit and  writing my first blog on this subject. Well, not only do I love dates myself, but dates are an incredible food for labour, pregnancy, and the postpartum period and in fact for life in general and something that I always chat about with all my clients.

They are a treasure trove of nutrients that are important for mother and baby.

Vitamins and minerals that are essential for our overall health and contain more potassium than a banana as well as iron and folate which are important through pregnancy.  The minerals are said to contribute to the contractions of the muscles in the uterus and magnesium is suggested to ease cramps during pregnancy.

They also contain fibre which can ease constipation during pregnancy and those early days.

There have been studies carried out that have shown that eating dates can help to soften and ripen the cervix as well as shortening the first stage of labour.

It is said that it has an oxytocin-like effect on the body stimulating uterine contractions and reducing postpartum haemorrhage in the same way oxytocin does.

Dates for marathons of all kinds!

Living in Oman, I ran (when I was a lot fitter!) with a group of Omani athletes who swore by dates for their long runs and marathons. Their secret weapon applies perfectly to labour, another endurance event!
One of the many wonders of dates is their huge power to provide a quick and natural energy surge during labour. Labour and birth are a marathon of their own, demanding both physical and mental strength. Just like those long runs, proper nutrition is key. Without it, you can tire quickly, leading to potential drops in blood pressure and a feeling of being overwhelmed. This, unfortunately, can increase the likelihood of needing medical interventions.
Packed with natural sugars, dates offer a brilliant and readily available source of energy when your body needs a pick-me-up that’s easy to digest. I always have them in my Doula bag for myself as well as my clients and their partners. Always plan for the ‘long haul’!

Early preparation

From 36 weeks of pregnancy you could build up to 70 – 80 grammes of dates per day. As I mentioned some dates are much bigger. For example, that might be only three Medjool dates, but it could be six Deglet Noor dates.

In preparation before labour – de-stone them, take off the hard stalk at the end (if there is one) and cut them into small bite-sized pieces ready for when they are needed

Postnatal

And the benefits don’t stop there! Dates are a fantastic postnatal snack too. Easy to eat while breastfeeding, they offer a concentrated dose of nutrients to fuel your body as you feed your little one. They are also an easy snack in the night when you are feeding.

Ways to eat dates

Magical dates

There are lots of ways that you can eat dates: just neat on their own but also in salads, flapjacks, and chopped up finely or liquidised with other ingredients to make a power snack for breastfeeding…… there are so many options.

If you would like to have a look at a study that has been done into the benefits of dates for labour and birth, use the link below:

It is important to remember that the research into the benefits of eating dates before labour is ongoing. Eating dates is not necessarily a ‘magic bullet’ or guaranteed to shorten your labour and avoid interventions.

A well written and thought out, informed and thorough birth preferences (birth plan) which is completely understood by your partner is one of your ‘number one’ tools. Make sure your birth partner really understands your wishes and knows how to advocate for you. Find someone who has experience of birth such a Doula to look over your birth preferences and make sure that they are clear and relevant so that your wishes are easy to understand.

Remember, a positive birth experience is about feeling empowered, safe and treated with respect, no matter how your baby arrives.
So, whether you’re planning for labour of not, the next time you’re looking for a natural, portable energy source, remember the wisdom of the Omani runners – reach for the dates!

*Moderation is key though with this delicious fruit as although they are a heathy food, they do still contain sugar so if you are reducing your sugar intake during pregnancy for various reasons this is something you may need to think about and discuss with your doctor or midwife.

My Honey And Date Flapjacks

Healthy recipes with Fiona Gordon
Healthy recipes with Fiona Gordon
Healthy recipes with Fiona Gordon
Healthy recipes with Fiona Gordon

Ingredients:

150g butter cut into wedges
75g light brown sugar preferably muscovado
3tbsp runny honey
250g porridge oats
175g dried, stoned dates cut into small pieces
1 tsp dried ginger (optional)
50g roasted chopped hazelnuts (can be left out if allergic to nuts)

A small traybake tin measuring about 30cm x 23cm greased and lined with greaseproof paper

Preheat the oven to 160C, 140C(Fan oven), Gas mark 3

• Measure the butter, sugar and honey into the pan and heat on a low heat until everything has dissolved and then remove from the heat
• Add the porridge oats, ginger and chopped dates
• Mix really well
• Pour into the baking tin and spread out the mixture press down with the back of a spoon
• Sprinkle over the hazelnuts and press those down a little too
• Cook for 20-25 mins. It should be just browning around the edge. It will look uncooked and soft when you take it out but it will harden up
• While it is still warm cut into the cooked mixture but while still in the tray and mark out the slices
• Once the flapjacks are cold remove them from the tin and store them in a biscuit tin or airtight container

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