The new breastfeeding podcast every mum needs

Portrait of stylish women wearing blue outfit in front of blue background posed for camera breastfeeding baby

Creative director Kim Howells on launching her new podcast and changing the conversation around breastfeeding

By Dipal Acharya   Photography by Bella Howard

Breastfeeding support might sound like unglamorous work, but Kim Howells is a mother on a mission to change the face of it. The 38-year-old creative director and stylist, who’s worked for the likes of Hunger magazine, British Vogue and Glamour, gave birth last year – and, like so many new parents during the pandemic, felt ‘lonely and unsupported’ after the traumatic arrival of her baby boy, Indigo. 
By Howells’ own admission, her breastfeeding journey quickly went ‘tits up’ – but she feels passionately that the information she absorbed in the days and months following the birth ‘could be vital to another first-time parent in the future’. Which is where the idea (and name) for her new podcast, recorded at 180 Strand, came from.

‘I want TITS UP to be real [and] fully transparent,’ she says. ‘It needs to be accessible for everybody; I want mums who are about to give birth to listen to this podcast and go, “OK cool, I learnt loads of stuff there,” or “I feel a bit more equipped”. I want mums who decided not to breastfeed – who perhaps feel shame or guilt about it – to listen to this and get some closure on the subject.’
Becoming a mother was never an ‘if’ for Howells and her partner Fahrad Noir, but rather a ‘when’. ‘My boyfriend and I discussed having a family before we even got together properly,’ she says. ‘To me, family is everything.’ Although she became pregnant before the news began to spread globally about COVID-19, lockdown gave Howells the space and opportunity to prepare for a home birth (indeed, statistics from the ONS show that home births accounted for 2% of births in the UK in 2020 – an uptick from the year before). ‘Towards the end of the pregnancy, when news of the pandemic and lockdown started to emerge, I got really scared of going to hospital.’ 

Portrait of stylish women in front of yellow background posed for camera breastfeeding baby
Portrait of stylish women in front of yellow background posed for camera breastfeeding baby

'I want mums who are about to give birth to listen to this podcast and go, “OK cool, I learnt loads of stuff there”'

On the advice of a friend, she began studying The Gentle Birth Method, a programme developed by Dr Gowri Motha that’s rooted in an ayurvedic approach towards pregnancy and childbirth. ‘I became absolutely obsessed with it. I cleaned up my diet, did pregnancy yoga every day, visualisations, stretching, and massaging. Because it was that first lockdown, there wasn’t much going on, so you could really focus on indulging in the training – and I really did.’

But it was during Howells’ three-day labour that midwives realised something was very wrong, discovering that baby Indigo was suffering from meconium aspiration syndrome (a condition where a baby inhales its own body waste in the womb). ‘I went from having the most amazing experience to it suddenly becoming hell.’ Howells was rushed to hospital for an emergency caesarean, after which Indigo was taken straight to intensive care before she could even hold him properly. ‘He’d had to be fully sedated in a little nappy, bless him,’ she explains. ‘You couldn’t see much of his skin with all the tubes and the ventilator he was attached to. The only way I could touch him was through these holes in the side of the incubator.’

It’s well researched that skin-to-skin contact between a new baby and their mother is vital for bonding and establishing a healthy milk supply for breastfeeding. But after nearly two weeks of ricocheting between three hospitals and intensive care units, Howells was full of fear. ‘I hadn’t processed the trauma of what had happened. You’re supposed to be making happy breast milk, but you’re not very happy. So, the whole thing was a bit of a mess and we were having to top up Indigo with formula. You think, “Why aren’t I making enough milk to feed my son?” I definitely had a moment where I cried with my boyfriend and felt like I’d failed.’
Howells’ midwife mentioned donor milk in passing, admitting that she knew ‘it exists, but didn’t know where to get it.’ A lactation consultant pointed her towards the Hearts Milk Bank, the UK’s first non-profit independent milk bank, pioneered by Dr Natalie Shenker – a researcher at Imperial College London, with years of experience working for the NHS. ‘I felt like they were a real life raft, and after an emotional phone call they sent someone on a bike with the milk. [After that] we probably had about six weeks’ worth of frozen donor milk and it made the world of difference to Indigo.’

Portrait of stylish women in front of green background posed for camera breastfeeding baby

There are myriad benefits of breast milk – not least, ease of digestion, protection and immunity from many childhood illnesses, a reduced risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) for baby, as well as lowering the risk of contracting ovarian or breast cancer for mum. 
But is breast always best? There are some parents who simply do not share this view – whether it’s due to work demands, sharing feeding responsibilities with a partner, or just personal choice – and Howells acknowledges this with an open heart. ‘I would like every woman to feel like she can talk about it, openly and honestly,’ she says.  ‘I’d like them to understand before they have their babies what their options are and where they can get support. I think that’s the main goal of TITS UP – to provide support and awareness, so that women don’t feel like they don’t have any options, or ‘I didn’t know about x, y and z’.  I want them to always be able to feel like they can ask and that they’re never alone.’
Howells is certainly in good company for the first season of the podcast – guests include Dr Motha, Dr Shenker and Leanne Elliott-Young, founder of The Institute of Digital Fashion. She also harnessed the energy behind TITS UP to bring together a community of working mothers for a special anniversary shoot for Hunger magazine to celebrate modern motherhood, in all its chaotic, fabulous glory. ‘All the mums [featured] had their babies in lockdown. Babies hadn’t met other babies; mums hadn’t met other mums.  Mums hadn’t had their nails painted, and they definitely hadn’t had any mascara hit those lashes for some time.’ 
The result? ‘Vintage Versace meets Ab Fab, with a baby on your boob,’ Howells laughs. Cheeky, raw and unapologetically real, then – exactly like the podcast it pays tribute to.  

Click here to listen to the first episode
Portrait of stylish women in front of blue background posed for camera breastfeeding baby
Portrait of stylish women in front of orange background posed for camera breastfeeding baby
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