Practical cloth nappy advice

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By Karen Reekie

We used cloth nappies for both our children, from very early on until they were potty trained. I will often share my experience of using cloth nappies with parents who are thinking about using them or are curious as to why we chose them as an option.

I usually get lots of questions along these lines:

But aren’t they a hassle?

Don’t they make life more complicated?

How did you wash them?

Why are you using those when disposable nappies are so much easier?

Aren’t they expensive?

I usually try to answer very simply; no-one wants a 20minute lecture on the benefits of cloth nappies. But I thought I’d write a blog post about it as a longer explanation.

Why did we choose cloth nappies?

My big girl suffered from re-current thrush and painful, blistering nappy rash from almost day one of life. We were using a fairly popular brand of nappies, designed for new-borns. We tried using the standard treatment for thrush including oral and topical meds and lots of different creams and potions on her bum. We changed nappy brands. Nothing seemed to clear it up. After my 3rd trip to the doctors for antibiotic cream for her poor, sore little bottom, he referred me to my health visitor to see if she had any ideas. Her first suggestion surprised me: “why don’t you try cloth nappies? Some babies are actually allergic to the chemicals in disposable nappies”. My first reaction was, why, in this day and age would anyone in their right mind use them? After all I had enough going on; I was returning to work, running a home, caring for a baby, pumping breast milk for her and to donate to our local NICU, did I REALLY have time to deal with, and wash cloth nappies too? I had visions of scrubbing nappies, stinky buckets, lethal safety pins and mountains of laundry. But, nevertheless, I decided to do some research and look at costs of cloth nappies and how they worked. I figured it couldn’t hurt to try when nothing else had worked.

I found some excellent websites and blogs which helped me to decide that, actually, I might be able to manage. I also found some information on what was actually in disposable nappies, which horrified me. I won’t put it here, but I have included some links to blogs/websites with the details.

Frankly, I’m also a sucker for the cute factor and I like to do things differently, so I was immediately drawn to the whole variety and choice of cloth nappies. After chatting to my husband and working the numbers, we decided to try.

Within 3 days of wearing cloth nappies, her bottom started to clear up, and the horrible rash and blisters disappeared. She has never had the thrush return. We were sold, and never looked back.

Are they expensive?

Initially the outlay for cloth nappies and the various accessories can be a cost. But as Tamara highlighted in a blog earlier in this series, the overall costs compared to disposables over a baby’s lifetime are fractional. There can also be ways around this big initial outlay. It is possible, for example, to buy gently used cloth nappies at a cheaper price. Alternatively, some companies do a bulk discount if you buy their cloth kits. I’ve also found work at home mum’s or small businesses that make and sell beautiful cloth nappies at a fraction of the price that you can buy brand names. Also, you can use “flat” nappies, which are like the traditional, old-fashioned nappies our mothers and grandmothers used. These are very cheap, easy to wash, and don’t need as much maintenance. 

Are they a hassle?

It took me a few weeks to get used to using cloth nappies; working out roughly how many a day I’d need, how often to change my babies and how to use them whilst out and about. We also needed to figure out a system that worked for our family. In the end we went with lining our nappies with a liner that can be used several times and then re-washed before being flushed away. This helps to stop nappies staining and also means I didn’t have to soak or scrub them. We called it “plop and dump”: we’d plop the solid waste in the toilet, flush it, dump the nappy in a bucket… SIMPLES!! 😉

To be honest, I used cloth nappies on my babies for 2 and 3 years each so I got used to it, but there are a few things that you need to take into account.

  • They do need to be changed more frequently, particularly in the newborn/pooping often stage.
  • They are bulkier, so they do take up more storage space, and space in a nappy bag. You also have to plan to carry them about with you rather than disposing of them. You need a system, of wet bags or a storage system for this. I use small waterproof bags, which I pop under our pushchair, or back into the nappy bag. They seal, and don’t leak, so are easy to use. You also need to take into account clothes when using cloth nappies, as they do take up more room in trousers, baby-grows and tights.
  • You will add to your laundry regime, but as I have said, I don’t find it too much of a hassle and once you get into a routine, it works well. You can use a laundry service if you want (I didn’t look into the costs of this as I was fine doing my own nappy laundry).
  • You may not want to use them while travelling. I must confess, we tend to go for the very expensive eco-disposables when we travel, simply because I am lazy. I do know lots of families who are hard-core cloth nappiers and use them whilst away, even camping. If you decide to do this, you’ll need to plan and pack carefully (that sounds silly, because when packing for kids, who doesn’t?)
  • Initial cost may make you gulp, but there are plenty of second-hand websites and sales. Some councils also do a cloth nappy voucher towards initial payment of cloth nappies. Overall, when you work out how much you spend on disposable nappies and wipes it actually works out cheaper, particularly if you do like we did and use them for both children, and any future babies..
  • You have to be careful what washing powder you use and you CANNOT use fabric softener or tumble dryer sheets with cloth nappies. They will absorb the softener and lose their “wicking” or soaking ability and then leak, and you will have to strip and wash them. In fact some nappies can be ruined by fabric softener, so it’s best avoided.
  • You need to experiment with cloth at night, especially if you have a baby that is a heavy night wetter. We use a nappy wrap over my small boy’s cloth nappy which prevents leaks, wet pj’s and fumbling about in the dark changing bed sheets.
  • You also need to be careful what lotions and creams you use on your child’s bottom, some of them are not cloth nappy friendly, and can reduce the absorbency. I have found coconut oil based ointments or creams are safe and don’t cause any issues.

What kind did WE use and how to they work?

There a vast variety of types of nappies and many brand names, some better than others.

For ease of use we decided to use nappies that looked and worked like a normal disposable nappy that didn’t need a wrap or plastic cover and were easy to wash and dry. These could also could be used from newborn to toddler-hood/potty training. You can buy nappies in different sizes, but we worked out that this is more costly for us. Our most regularly used nappy of choice was Wonderoos by Hip Hop Baby.

Our nappies had an outer waterproof lining, are stuffed with an absorbent insert, and can be adjusted to fit the size of the baby wearing them. We lined our nappies with a flushable liner, so any “solid” waste can easily be plopped into the toilet I put used cloth nappies in a sealed bucket with a laundry net in it and when the bucket is full, or it is wash time, I lifted the net into the washing machine, ran a rinse cycle, then a wash cycle, on hot, then rinse again. They got hung up to dry overnight and then I spent a few minutes stuffing the clean inserts into them and putting them away. We didn’t soak, boil, scrape or scrub them. Occasionally I did what is called a “strip” wash, where I washed the nappies on an extra cycle, to remove build up of urine or detergent, but I didn’t have to do this often. They don’t need a lot of washing detergent used on them, and whilst I did use a biological powder to wash them, this is a personal choice and some people use normal washing powder while others use detergent specially marketed for cloth nappies. I also didn’t use a sanitizer or anti-bacterial detergent, but again, this is a personal choice.

Some final thoughts and tips

I don’t use cloth for the first week or so. That first week when you bring a baby home can be so exhausting, that I figured washing nappies was the last thing I needed or wanted to do. With my son, our second baby, we used the eco-disposable kind at first and then switched to flat cloth/prefold nappies and finally to our fitted all-in-one kind which he wore until he potty trained. This is personal preference. I was told our hospital would be fine with us bringing cloth nappies if we had wanted to and we may do this if we have another baby.

Cloth can also have an effect on potty training. I am pretty certain that my daughter potty trained so fast because she was in cloth and could feel she was wet and didn’t like it which encouraged her to be more enthusiastic about using the toilet. My son was also out of nappies quite quickly when he was ready to potty train and we skipped the whole middle man of pull ups and just went straight from cloth nappies to pants.

And so to sum up why we used them: I like them, I find folding and putting them away satisfying, we never had any real problems with them… and they look very cute on a baby bum. I don’t make any claims on environmentally friendliness, although I do think they are better for the environment when you think about what’s in a disposable nappy. They do mean a little more work, more washing etc, but I like to think I helped to not add to the landfill with more disposable nappies. Also, did you know, that even with disposable nappies you should “plop” the solid waste into the toilet before disposing of the nappy so that fecal matter doesn’t go into landfill, and spread diseases? Ah, see, I bet you didn’t. It actually does say it on most packaging, but very few people actually do it.

 

 

Some links:

What’s in a disposable nappy?

Which’s review of both disposable and cloth nappies.

The Used Nappy Company: A good place to buy or sell second hand nappies. I have used it myself for both buying and selling and have found it a very useful site. You can also get advice on cloth nappies there.

There are also groups on Facebook where you can chat to other people and also swap and sell nappies.

 

IMG_8546About the Author: Karen is a working mum of two living in South West London. She’s an ex-nanny and children’s nurse who writes a parenting blog and also runs a community charity supporting local families. She explains her parenting as ” mostly figuring it out as she goes”. You can find her at The Mad House of Cats and Babies where she writes about the ups and downs of family life and her love of coffee, chocolate and cats.

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