Meher Malik’s striking nazar battu, a shimmery blue and luminescent white Turkish evil eye pendant fringed with zircons, is a conversation starter. “When I tell them it is made of my first batch of breast milk, people are amazed,” says Malik, a movement mentor and founder of Studio Banjara, a bellydance school in Delhi. She discovered breast milk jewellery on Instagram through a friend who specialises in creating such keepsakes.
Malik is one of many parents across the world who have chosen to immortalise their breastfeeding journey through a piece of jewellery. For some, it is a way to celebrate a short-lived experience; for others, a symbol of the work that goes into nursing a child.
Breast milk jewellery is not particularly new, with reports suggesting American artists were selling it in 2007. The tradition of preserving DNA material or incorporating it into accessories is not unusual either. It is common for parents to preserve their child’s first tooth or lock of hair, to create accessories with hair, or get tattoos with the ashes of a loved one. In India, however, the trend of making pendants and bracelets and cufflinks from breast milk is just catching on.
Delhi’s Preety Maggo got interested in breast milk jewellery when her child was six months old. She first came across such jewellery on a Facebook group sometime in 2017 and then saw a German artist doing it on social media. “I wanted to make one for myself but I coudn’t find the same standards of jewellery in India as that German artist was doing. That’s when I thought maybe I can do this and bring international standards of keepsake jewellery in India,” she says. Her medical background as an optometrist helped her research and plan her jewellery line, she says. She tested methods and raw materials that would yield aesthetic and enduring keepsakes, and, in 2019, when her daughter was two, she started working full-time to launch Magic of Memories. “I made promotional samples from my breast milk and received initial orders from Facebook groups for mothers,” she says. “Some send in a portion of their colostrum, the first milk. Those who are weaning may send in their last drops. Some get emotional on the phone, as this will never happen to them again. There are also clients who have lost their babies and want to remember them through jewellery.”
It’s generally niche brands that create such jewellery. Like all precious pieces, they are made in the belief that they will become heirlooms. The usual pieces on offer are earrings, cufflinks, tie pins, bracelets and matching accessories for partners, at prices ranging from ₹2,000 to a few lakhs, depending on the choice of metals or design. If you want a piece of this, you would need to send in about 20ml of breast milk. Each brand has its own process of preserving, dehydrating and mixing the milk with a non-yellowing resin. Gold flecks, shimmer and sequins can be added; shapes and sizes are customisable.
Shangavi Rajendran, an architect and a gymnast in Bodinayakanur, Tamil Nadu, discovered the concept through Pinterest three years ago, when she had her baby. She continued to breastfeed her daughter for two-and-a-half years.
“I was not sure how to order this jewellery in India. When a breast milk jewellery brand sponsored my recent school alumni event in Salem (Tamil Nadu), I contacted them to find out more,” she says. She is now the proud owner of a pendant in the shape of a mother and baby elephant, an animal she loves. She plans to pass it on to her daughter.
Salem-based Kavitha Parameswaran, who founded La Memoire in 2017, created Rajendran’s necklace. “This is about an emotional connection. One of my customers is an autorickshaw driver who ordered a piece for his wife,” she says.
These jewellery makers say the rising interest is reflected in the increase in number of orders. “I receive 100-200 enquiries on social media daily,” says Maggo. “When I began in 2019, I received about two-three orders a month; now I work on 30 orders every month.”
Parameswaran’s orders have doubled from 30 a month pre-covid to 60 currently. Her customers find her largely on social media though some are also ordering via her recently launched website.
Saakshi Mehra’s Mom’s Memoiirs in Mumbai creates pieces in silver, gold and silver-plated options, with prices starting from ₹2,500. Mehra, who has seen a rise in orders, from six-seven a month in 2018 to 40 now, intends to ramp up marketing. “I have several customers who are keen to have these sentimental keepsakes but cannot afford the more expensive options.”
Most customers order one piece; some, however, want matching sets for partners or a few different pieces for the family. “My largest single order was a set for the parents and grandparents,” says Mehra.
These pieces sometimes symbolise an often-difficult journey for mothers. For breastfeeding can be stressful, given the societal norms on how long to nurse your child, disapproval of breastfeeding in public, insufficient infrastructure to make public breastfeeding comfortable, and offices ill-equipped to support nursing mothers.
Jayshree Chatterjee, a content manager at a B2B marketplace in Faridabad, Haryana, has a mother-and-child-shaped breast milk pendant she plans to pass on to her daughter. Chatterjee is candid about her challenging post-pregnancy journey.
“My understanding of breastfeeding was very different from what I experienced. Breastfeeding is not easy for all women and does not come ‘automatically’. I received a lot of help from a lactation consultant. You are made to feel inadequate when others say it’s not a big deal and all mothers do it. Your discomfort is insignificant,” she says. “This is my way of bonding time with her. I got this piece of jewellery made because this journey is special and I did it for my daughter and myself.”
“If an experience like this can be immortalised, then why not?” asks Malik. “We could pass these on as heirlooms. I think that is beautiful and special.”
Reem Khokhar is a Delhi-based writer.