When New Yorkers Irene Liu and Jennifer Jolorte Doro launched Chiyo, their postpartum meal delivery service, they weren’t only interested in making it easy for new mothers to heat up delicious dishes like pumpkin lentil curry and larb tofu. They were using food to challenge an entrenched idea: that maternal care begins with pregnancy and comes to a screeching stop at childbirth.
Named after a popular Japanese girls’ name that translates to “eternal” or “a thousand generations”, Chiyo draws from postpartum practices common in eastern cultures. In most Asian countries, the first 40 days after birth are considered a crucial period of recovery. In this month-plus-long restorative interval, new mothers recharge through a strict regimen of rest, isolation and a nourishing diet. Another key ingredient: the support of family.
The US, by contrast, is the only rich nation without a national paid parental-leave policy. A 2018 report from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists found that postpartum women in the US typically experience “a period devoid of formal or informal maternal support”. A 2019 Unicef report put the US at the bottom of its rankings of 41 countries for paid maternity leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act, passed 30 years ago, gives some US workers up to 12 weeks of leave after childbirth – although it is unpaid.
For Liu, who is Taiwanese American, and Doro, who is Filipino American, their startup gives them an opportunity to tap into their own heritage and offer women an alternative to the status quo. “The idea that the postpartum period is ‘the fourth trimester’ has only recently gotten a lot more awareness,” said Doro, 35, a clinical nutritionist and private postpartum chef.
Chiyo’s postpartum meal plan, which costs $517 a week and runs a six-week course, draws from Chinese herbal medicine and western nutritional science. New mothers start the day with an herbal tonic followed by a vegan breakfast of, say, zucchini chickpea pancakes or mung bean congee. For lunch, they’ll have a nourishing stew or noodle bowl and, later, heat up an herb-infused bone broth. Dinner options are hearty and protein-forward, like jackfruit rendang or salmon over carrot brown rice.
“Our big vision is that we are the go-to nutrition source for women from the start of their menstrual cycle through menopause,” said Liu, 29, who attended the Wharton School of Business and previously worked at Top Box Foods, a nonprofit that delivers healthy groceries to residents of food-insecure neighborhoods. “It’s food as the foundation to an experience of feeling supported.”