5 women on the postpartum food customs passed down to them
Traditional ingredients and advice for nourishing life!
The beginning of life is treated with gentleness and finesse universally, with babies and mothers both requiring meticulous attention to be nurtured. And practices focused on nurturing life have been a constant inheritance in the human story. Ancient traditions have been bequeathed from one generation to another over millennia — and they travel with women and their families even as they move from the cultures and countries that founded them.
We spoke to five women about a specific aspect of these traditions: the food they eat in their postpartum months. Cultural nuances remain intact, as does the similar core value that a healthy mother makes for a healthy baby.
Born in Taiwan, Wu immigrated to Canada in 1991 and embarked on the journey of motherhood in 2015.
"[The] Chinese believe soup will bring extra production of milk from the mother," says Zoe. "There are a few combinations of ingredients which most of Chinese women have during postpartum, such as chicken or pork ribs with papaya [and] pork hock with peanuts."
In Taiwan, the postpartum diet also consists of chicken soup seasoned with black sesame oil or freshwater bass soup with ginger, something Wu saw her sisters consume a lot after they gave birth. These soups are said to promote speedy recovery of wounds.
Vinueza moved to Canada from Ecuador with her husband and two daughters in 2011. In 2013, she became a mother to twin girls.
As part of her postpartum nourishment, Vinueza was told by the matriarchs in her family to eat lean meat like fish, lamb and chicken to help her regain her physical strength post-delivery.
She was also advised to drink herbal teas — one made with amapola (poppy petals), another with a dried flower sourced in open air markets or outside churches that her grandmother referred to as 'Paraguay white flowers' — which she was told would increase milk production and soothe both mother and baby. Neither were available to her when she immigrated.
There were restrictions, too, when it came to what she should eat. "No dry beans, not spicy, [no] oregano and anise seeds… no milk, no pork, lots of fruits and vegetables. No fried food," says Vinueza. She was told that some of these foods, when passed through the milk, they could cause colicky symptoms in the baby.
"We have a daughter and a son who are now happily married, and through them we have two grandsons and a granddaughter," says Vidyasankar.
Vidyasankar is originally from Tamil Nadu in India, and has been a mother for the last 40 years in Canada.
She remembers the emotions that ran through her mind when she first became a mother.
"[I was] more tensed with the first baby," says Vidyasankar. "I avoided certain types of lentils and root vegetables, as per elders' advice, to prevent [my] baby from [having] gas problems." In addition to this, she says she supplemented her diet with copious amounts of garlic, said to help with milk production. "With the second baby, [I was] more relaxed and did not follow many of the food restrictions," she recalls.
Indu Singh Matta
"I am a proud mother of two boys," says Singh Matta. "They are 14 and 12."
Singh Matta's postpartum nourishment practices stem from the northwestern Indian states of Rajasthan and Punjab. "I ate all things given to a lactating mom from carom water to cumin water. Having my roots in Punjab, my mother gave me herbal medicines for uterus healing. She made panjeeri," she says.
Indu says that panjeeri, made with wheat flour (atta), ghee, lots of dried fruits, nuts, melon and pumpkin seeds, and fennel and ginger root, helped her recover from childbirth quickly and produce milk for her child.
Since moving to Canada over two years ago, Singh Matta has helped new mothers who have emigrated from India navigate their postpartum nourishment — and panjeeri remains a key part.
Thabet moved from Tunisia to Canada two years ago and is now a new mother to a baby girl. Adhering to Tunisian customs, once her baby was born, zrir was prepared.
"Zrir is a mixture of sesame, nuts, honey and butter. It is made for women after the delivery and shared with guests that visit [the] home too," says Thabet.
The delectable dessert is designed to give mothers the nutrients they need to help them regain their strength and improve milk production. Traditionally served in small elegant glasses along with tiny spoons, zrir is known to evoke elation and celebration.
Mouth-watering desserts aside, Thabet says that she was encouraged to eat sorghum and fenugreek. "[It is] good for milk supply."
Prajwala Dixit is a freelance journalist, columnist, playwright, writer and documentary filmmaker, living and working in St. John's. Follow her on Twitter at @DixitPrajwala