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How Food Traditions Nourish New Moms

Although Dr. Conti, who is half Mexican-American, did not observe the strict postnatal customs that her second-generation immigrant mother did, her maternal grandmother brought her tamales, corn masa wrapped in corn husks before being steamed — a delicacy that is warming and easy to digest, according to her grandmother — after the births of her children. “To her, that’s the way she could provide safety to her family,” Dr. Conti explained.

Unsurprisingly, these culinary traditions are often preserved by family matriarchs. Until recently in the United States, with the publication of community cookbooks like “From Mothers to Mothers: A Collection of Traditional Asian Postpartum Recipes” or culturally specific websites offering recipes and support practices, such know-how was usually shared orally or through observation. Food startups like Nouri Mama, a pregnancy and postpartum meal delivery service in New York City, are aiming to bridge the cultural gap for those who may be living far from their grandmothers and aunts, and even their native foods.

“The idea of staying in a postpartum hotel or having a person dedicated to you, all of these other cultures have that, but that seems to be lost in translation once you’re in the States,” said the nutritionist and private chef Jennifer Jolorte Doro, Nouri Mama’s co-founder, along with Irene Liu. The company’s offerings are rooted in the tenets of postpartum traditional Chinese medicine and employ Asian cooking techniques and ingredients, such as white fungus, mung beans and sesame oil, though the dishes are more modern in their sensibility.

In Indigenous cultures where colonization disrupted the passing down of traditions, doulas and birth workers are reclaiming, reviving and recording food traditions for new parents in their communities. Camie Jae Goldhammer is a Seattle-based member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton tribe, creator of Indigenous Breastfeeding Counselor training and a doula at Daybreak Star Doulas, which provides free services to pregnant women living in King County, Wash., who identify as American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander. “We have this really diverse, huge Native population here, and I always think about the family we’re serving,” she said. “I’m not going to serve my Navajo client salmon chowder” — a traditional dish of Natives in the Pacific Northwest — “but I’m going to call my midwife friend in Arizona and ask her to send me blue cornmeal to make mush. I’m always researching things for our families.” She harvests nettle in the spring to make tea, which is recommended as a milk-maker.

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