“It’s a Tradition, But The Food is Not Traditional”

When Vancouver-based mom and software project manager Mona Stilwell gave birth to her twin boys in 2014, her mother hired a Taiwanese private chef (who also happened to have a nursing background) to make sure Stilwell ate nutritious food as she recovered from giving birth. Every day for a whole month, Stilwell received a delivery of three healthy, hearty and traditional meals that were meant to help her heal after giving birth. I was so busy and freaking out over having twins that I didnt even think about food, says Stilwell. As I entered my third trimester, my mom basically told me that she had hired this person and I couldnt say no.It wasnt until she went back to work the following year that she realized how many new parents wished they could receive the same kind of support. There are postpartum traditions around the world centred around community care within villages and families, but it wasnt put into a consumer-packaged service, Stilwell says. So, in 2018, she launched Feeding Mama to provide new moms in the Vancouver area with delicious and nourishing meal deliveries that follow the traditional Chinese practice of sitting the month.Sitting the month, or zu yu zi, is a form of postpartum care followed by practioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). The practice has been traced as far back as the year 960 and there are documents from over 2,000 years ago that highlight postpartum care rules that have been passed down for generations. Typically, postpartum mothers are taken care of by their relatives: grandmas, moms, and aunties help with everythingincluding household tasks and childcareso the new mom can focus only on resting and recovering.You basically dont leave your home for 30 days, you dont take care of all the [other] children, youre not cooking, youre not cleaning the house, youre not taking a shower, youre not getting your hair or body wet, and you have to eat warm foods, explains Stilwell.These rules all stem from TCMhair washing, for example, is forbidden because, its believed, you might catch a cold. (Its also why having a fan or the air conditioning on is a no-no.) There are also specific, traditional dishes that are meant to be eaten, containing ingredients like ginger, chicken, or liver to boost health and fulfill nourishment needs. Foods that are anti-inflammatory and full of iron, protein, and vitamin C are emphasizedthe first to help replenish iron lost from bloodshed during childbirth and in the weeks that follow, and the rest to provide energy for a lactating parent who may be up at all hours, consoling the baby and nursing or pumping.Stilwell grew up in Richmond, B.C., but she was born in Malaysia and her mothers family was from China and her dads family was from Macau and Portugal. This blending of cultures has influenced her business: Feeding Mama uses traditional ingredients, and also leans on modern nutritional sciences to design and deliver meal plans to new parents in the greater Vancouver areafrom broths, teas, and lactation cookies to dinners of steamed salmon with bok choy and ginger rice quinoa. Feeding Mamas soups and meals are chock-full of ingredients like lentils (which are high in iron) and sweet potatoes (which have a ton of vitamin C).I grew up in a very Chinese family, so many of the things we eat are for function, even though its bitterlike Chinese medicine is the most horrible-tasting thing you can consume, but its good for you, she says. So, I thought, there must be a way to make very functional foods really tasty and incorporate more of the foods Ive been exposed to as a foodie growing up in Vancouver.Aside from providing clients with delicious and nutritious meals, Stilwell also hopes to bring a community care aspect to the business. Every time I send a delivery, I write a little note of encouragement, she says. Things like your recovery matters, be gentle with yourselfthings I wish someone had said to me in a non-judgmental, unconditional love kind of way.Often, new parents dontor cantallow themselves much time to rest. They arent prepared for how relentless newborn care is, Stilwell says, and the grandparents often forget how hard the early days were: It can be difficult to feed yourself well if youre trapped under a nursing or sleeping baby, or when you often only have one hand free. Simply getting to a grocery store with a newborn whos sleeping-and-feeding-and-pooping in two-hour increments, around the clock, can feel logistically impossible. Plus, parents may live far away from their relatives or dont have the space to accommodate long family visits, so there isnt anyone to help cook meals for them.This is where a service like Feeding Mama can step in. And while the practice of sitting the month has existed in China and the Chinese diasporic community for a thousand years and similar practices are common in other East Asian cultures, Stilwell believes that theres room to adapt the tradition for all parents. Its a tradition, but the food is not traditional, she says.Signature meal plans start at $200 (and can cost as much as $2,600, depending on how many meals you want, and for how long). Gift cards from $25. feedingmama.caThis story is part of Best HealthsPreservation series , which spotlights wellness businesses and practices rooted in culture, community and history. Read more from this series here:


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