Reclaiming Chinese postpartum traditions with Feeding Mama

This article is sponsored by Feeding Mama, a meal preparation and delivery service for new birthing parents in the early postpartum weeks, based in Vancouver, BC. Read further for a special discount for Cold Tea Collective readers. Cold Tea Collective is not affiliated with Feeding Mama, makes no representation or warranty to the information provided herein, and shall not be responsible or liable for any losses, injuries, or damages from the use of the information provided herein.

Reclaiming Chinese postpartum traditions with Feeding Mama

Two months before her twin babies were due, Mona Stilwell’s mother sat her down and said “I’m going to tell you something and you can’t say no.”

To her relief, her mother told her that she had hired a private chef for her postpartum period. The chef, a former Taiwanese nurse, would bring fresh and nutritious meals incorporating traditional Chinese medicine practises.

The post-birth period, often known to as the “fourth trimester”, is both a physically and emotionally exhausting time. While the new parent is transitioning into her new role, the newborn requires care around the clock. There is little personal time for recovery.

Reclaiming Chinese postpartum traditions with Feeding Mama. Image of Mona Stilwell, founder of Feeding Mama in a kitchen wearing an apron, and holding a knife to a cutting board with ingredients found in Feeding Mama dishes.
Photo: Sophia Hsin

Stilwell is grateful for her mother’s foresight and the nourishing foods during a challenging period in her life. She also struggled with postpartum anxiety.

“I can’t imagine if I didn’t have the food to support my body – it would’ve been worse.”

Birthing new life and livelihood

In returning to work after this tough transition, she spoke with others about her experience. Many of them wished someone had made food for them after the arrival of their babies.

With this in mind, Stilwell quit her long-term project manager role at a software company, as her postpartum experience gave birth to a new mission: supporting new moms through food and passing on the wisdom of ancient Chinese postpartum rituals.

Mona Stilwell is embracing the rituals of Zuò Yuè Zi – a traditional practice of postpartum recovery – and reclaiming Chinese postpartum traditions with Feeding Mama, a meal preparation and delivery service for new birthing parents in the early postpartum weeks based in Vancouver, B.C.

Read more: Sitting the Month: A new mom’s experience in self-care and motherhood

Reclaiming Chinese postpartum traditions with Feeding Mama

Many new parents receive the support of friends and family who bring food. However, not all food is nutritionally appropriate.

Zuò Yuè Zi is about more than nutrition. It’s a holistic practice that prioritizes the overall health of the birthing mother by giving her the food, space and community support to recover mentally and physically.

Through bowls of love, the Vancouver-based entrepreneur is passing on her learnings, so other new mothers can begin reclaiming Chinese postpartum traditions with Feeding Mama.

Reimagining traditional ingredients

After the mother’s body goes through a traumatic event, a diet high in protein and iron is critical. Herbs with warming properties also aid in restoring physical and mental health.

Many traditional postpartum dishes feature pork liver, pigs’ feet or Chinese herbs. These ingredients contain healing nutrients like iron and collagen.

“I thought [about making] the food that I would want to eat and really focus on organic produce and slow cooking processes,” she said. 

Reclaiming Chinese postpartum traditions with Feeding Mama. Display of dried ingredients used in Feeding Mama dishes such as multiple types of mushrooms, quinoa, lotus root, dates, ginger, and more.
Photo: Sophia Hsin 

She consulted a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) doctor to learn more about postpartum nutrition and the concepts of yang (hot) and yin (cold). Then, she put together a list of equivalent ingredients that can be sourced locally in Vancouver.

Some superfoods in Feeding Mama meals include lentils, chickpeas, tempeh and a variety of organic pickled vegetables. Together, they offer important postpartum recovery nutrients.

Ingredients in Feeding Mama meals aim to bridge the cultural gap between traditional rituals and the modern North American palate.

Community care in reclaiming Chinese postpartum traditions

Beyond nutrition, building community and providing emotional support are integral to reclaiming Chinese postpartum traditions. In ancient times around the world, women in the community would care for the new mother by taking on the chores and sharing their knowledge and tips.   

“Those aunties or moms making food for you in the village were also showing you how to breastfeed and giving you advice,” she said. “It’s a lot about modelling or passing down traditions between women and strengthening that bond.”

With each Feeding Mama delivery comes a handwritten note of encouragement to the new parent.

Image of a handwritten note from Feeding Mama to customers receiving meal deliveries. The note reads "Do what you need to be ok. Your mental health is as important as your physical recovery. XO, Mona"
Photo: Submitted

“I send them so much love and acceptance.” she said. “Sometimes I don’t get that kind of unconditional love even from my own mom or family.”

As part of her commitment to community care, Feeding Mama donates 5% of her net proceeds to the ekw’í7tl doula collective. The network of Vancouver-based Indigenous doulas provides culturally-sensitive birthing services to Indigenous mothers and families.

In her experience as a former caseworker for a First Nations advocacy organization, Stillwell says she is “blessed to have that partnership with them.”

See also: What it means for me to be as settler of colour on Indigenous lands

CONNECTING AND PASSING ON TRADITIONS

Although the entrepreneur proudly celebrates the postpartum traditions of her heritage, she recognizes that we need to work harder at honouring and preserving them.

Drawing from her lived experiences, Feeding Mama’s foods are created to meet the specific needs of the Vancouver diasporic community, comparing it to the invention of Chop Suey in Canada.

“The reason Chop Suey came about was because bok choy was available – it’s not fusion food, it’s Chinese Canadian food,” Stilwell said. “I’m doing the same…I’m adjusting and taking learnings from Zuò Yuè Zi.”

See also: Redefining authenticity: How Chop Suey and Sweet & Sour Pork reflect Chinese Canadian values

Reclaiming Chinese postpartum traditions founder of Feeding Mama, Mona Stillwell, standing beside a plant and holding a tea cup.
Photo: Sophia Hsin

While everyone has a different way of interpreting traditions, Stilwell believes that deepening the connection with our heritage fosters compassion and understanding of different people and beliefs.

“I feel like I have way more respect and openness to what other people believe in, because I feel more rooted and connected to my own ancestors and past,” she said.

Stilwell expresses a profound respect for other chefs who are continuing the tradition. She is grateful for their work in preserving the ancient wisdom for future generations.

REDEFINING MOTHERHOOD BY RECLAIMING POSTPARTUM TRADITIONS

The traditions of Zuò Yuè Zi have been around for over 2000 years. Yet, it is a polar opposite to the way North American society views postpartum care and motherhood.

“North Americans don’t realize that there needs to be postpartum care at all and that women’s bodies need a year to recover,” Stilwell said.

Display of meals found in Feeding Mama signature meal plans, including a breakfast dish, lunch, and dinner.
Photo: Sophia Hsin

With the rise of midwifery care and laws on parental leaves, awareness is growing around postpartum care.

“In Traditional Chinese Medicine, there is respect for the mothers’ bodies and their minds,” she said. “It values the mother archetype and [honours] her value to the family.”

By reclaiming Chinese postpartum traditions with Feeding Mama, we can move towards more compassionate and community-supported care. More importantly, incorporating these rituals into modern day can redefine the role of motherhood in North American society.

Read also: Reconnecting with my roots ahead of motherhood


Know a new parent in need of nourishment? Feeding Mama is happy to offer a special discount to Cold Tea Collective readers. Get 5% off anything with the code “COLDTEA5” at checkout on www.feedingmama.ca


Advisory note from Cold Tea Collective:

Cold Tea Collective is not affiliated with Feeding Mama, makes no representation or warranty to the information provided herein, and shall not be responsible or liable for any losses, injuries, or damages from the use of the information provided herein.

Advisory note from Feeding Mama:

The information and claims made about potential health benefits of ingredients in our products have been widely proven by nutritional science, and Traditional Chinese Medicine. These statements have been fact-checked, but have not been evaluated by Health Canada.

Feeding Mama foods, drinks, provisions, and written content are not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure an illness or disease, and are not a substitute for professional medical advice. Any reliance upon said information is taken at your own risk.

When in doubt, always seek the counsel of your health care provider: never disregard their advice because of anything you have read on this website.

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