Reusable Nappies – Take Another Look!
Cloth nappies? Why bother when we have disposables these days? Many people are becoming more concerned about what disposables are doing to our baby’s health, the environment, and our wallets, so more people are turning to cloth than ever before. But, where to start? Gone are the days when you only had terry squares with a plastic cover. There are soooooo many choices for using cloth nappies, it is important to take a little time to find the one that best suits you. A lot of things depend on what you want from choosing cloth over disposables. For example:
- To be more green (then selecting natural fibres, like cotton and hemp, may be a preferable choice)
- To be more environmentally friendly by cutting down on what goes into the rubbish (any cloth will do)
- To have an easy alternative to disposables (consider an all-in-one or pocket nappy)
- To save money (any cloth will save you money in the long term and even more if used for more than one baby, and the old terries used in the past are the cheapest of all – but most difficult to use)
- For health reasons: To have something soft and gentle against your baby’s bottom – without unregulated chemicals in it! (some of the fleece lined nappies are great for this)
- To reduce nappy rash instances (again, cloth is superior for this)
Most babies will suffer the dreaded nappy rash at some point, but it should never be a regular occurrence, and if it is then the root causes need addressing. ‘Nappy Rash’ is caused by prolonged skin contact with irritants such as moisture, friction or by chemical substances found in nappy materials. Contrary to popular belief, cloth nappies are not a leading cause of nappy rash, in fact quite the opposite. Instances of nappy rash increased dramatically alongside the arrival of the disposable nappy, with all of its adhesives, plastics and chemicals - and in turn, along came the nappy rash creams - which now go hand in hand.
Things to consider when choosing cloth
Your preferences and habits
It is important to choose a nappy system that you will find rewarding to use. Consider your own personality and habits. Different people find different aspects of their cloth nappies rewarding - Will you enjoy knowing that your whole system cost you under €300 or will you revel in your nappies being the newest, coolest thing around? Will you love being able to use the same set of nappies for your baby from birth to potty, or will you marvel at the neater fit of multi-sized? Will bold or bright colours or cute prints make you go gooey or will it be white and fluffy? Is quick and convenient going to be what keeps you going after a broken nights’ sleep or will you enjoy learning a bit of origami and folding nappies “just so” for your baby? Does the simplicity of having one type of nappy in your nappy kit appeal to you or will you enjoy choosing from a selection of different nappies to suit each particular occasion? Also consider if you are willing to change your baby more? Using cloth means changing during the day about every 2.5 – 3 hours, and actually you should be changing the disposables that often too.
Ease of care and washing
Many people worry about the extra work required to use reusable nappies, and are justifiably put off by the thought of getting too involved in the pooey ones. Reusable nappies do require a bit more effort than disposable nappies. With a disposable nappy you wrap it up, put it in the garbage, and then you never see it again (though you might get the odd reminder whiff from the garbage can as you walk past!).
Of course your descendents in a few generations might see it too. An interesting aside here is that it is actually illegal to put human waste products in the garbage due to the risk of disease contamination of landfill sites. Disposable nappy manufacturers recommend that you scrape the solids off your nappies before you dispose of them in the garbage.
Another consideration is do you have a washing machine that has at least a 60 °C wash cycle? And, is your plumbing able to take extra washes? Today's nappies really are easy to care for – take soiled nappy off, shake solids into the loo, put the nappy in dry bucket with lid (lined with nappy mesh bag). On wash day put whole mesh bag into machine and put on rinse cycle, then wash at 60 °C (or 40 °C) with 1/2 of the usual amount of detergent – then tumble or hang dry. FYI, hospitals wash their linens at 60 °C. Using reusable nappies will mean an extra load of washing every two-three days – truly unnoticeable compared to the other washing babies and young children produce!
Type of nappy to select
Each type of reusable nappy has different pros and cons, which are discussed in this handout, and many people find that having a few different types works best so that they can choose which suits the occasion best at the time. Are you willing to do a bit of trial and error to find the best system to suit you?
No matter how extravagant you are with the reusable nappies you choose, you will almost certainly spend less than you would on disposable nappies (unless of course you become ‘addicted’ to cloth nappies: you know who you are and you are not alone!). However the money you spend on reusable nappies will be more noticeable as you tend to spend in ‘chunks’ rather than the €20 or so lost in your weekly shopping with buying disposable nappies. There are a lot of calculations performed by many people comparing the costs of reusable versus disposable nappies, and reusable seem to come out ahead in terms of savings every time. Also consider that many garbage collection services in Belgium are beginning to introduce charging based on weight when collecting your trash, and that’s another expense against disposables. By choosing to use cloth, you could also be eligible for refunds or subsidies from your local government (commune/gemeentehuis) or by the refuse collection company in your area.
The Often Overlooked Health Reason
Most people underestimate the ability of the skin (your largest organ) to absorb all with which it comes in contact. There is a reason pharmacologists created a birth control patch that adheres to your skin and releases chemicals that alter the hormonal functions of your internal system: Your skin is like a sponge. Consider what you will be putting against your baby’s vulnerable skin for the next 2 - 3 years, 24 hours a day. Chemicals of varying kinds are present in disposable nappies and it is unclear to what extent these are absorbed into the skin or precisely what the effect of this might be, especially over the long-term. The scary fact is that disposable nappy manufacturers are not regulated with regard to what they can or cannot put into their disposable nappies.
What types of nappies are there?
There is a massive diversity of cloth nappy styles, and this can make them seem more complex than they really are. That’s what this handout is all about, and why we encourage you to let us help you to make your decision.
You can also find an enormous range in the types of nappies now available: from plain old terry squares like those used on us or on our parents, to colourful or whimsical. There is bound to be a nappy type to suit you and your baby, your needs, and your budget.
In the following section, we will try to de-mystify the seemingly complex and confusing range of reusable nappies now available.
Cloth Nappy Lingo
If you are new to the idea of using a washable cloth nappy system, this should briefly explain the different parts that make up a cloth system.
WRAP (aka SOAKER)
Starting on the outside you have the wrap. This is the waterproof part of the system which stops the clothes getting wet, and could be plastic, PUL, fleece, or wool. Different sizes of wraps are needed as the baby grows bigger, if you use a multi- sized nappy system. A cute wool soaker, made to order.
Traditional plastic (or PVC) nappy covers/pants are - quite frankly - disgusting and should be outlawed! You would not wear them yourself, so why make your baby wear them? Most importantly, plastic pants are hot and sweaty, and they tend to leave painful red marks on the waist and legs. Because of this environment, sweat rashes easily develop, especially with night nappies. They may seem very cheap, but because they go hard so easily and need to be replaced, it is a very misleading economy.
Inside the wrap you have the nappy that absorbs the wee and can be either shaped or flat (for you to fold). Nappies are either available as a sized system needing maybe 2 or 3 sizes from birth to toilet training or as a birth-to-potty system which is one size of nappy and is adjustable to fit for the entire nappy wearing period.
Inside the nappy and against the baby’s bottom you have the liner, which is designed to catch the poo while wee passes through to the nappy. Liners are either washable (e.g. cotton, fleece, or silk) or disposable. They are not theoretically essential, but make dealing with reusable nappies much easier.
At night, most babies need extra absorbency and this is provided with a booster. Some birth-to-potty nappies have daytime boosters which can be popped in/out according to the size of the baby and the absorbency required.
- A two piece nappy system means there is a separate nappy and wrap.
- In an all-in-one nappy, the nappy and wrap parts are built together into one item.
- A pocket nappy is a two piece nappy that you stuff with something absorbent and can be put together beforehand to act like a kind of all-in-one.
One-sized reusable nappies are adjustable so that you can adapt the nappy to fit from birth to potty training. With multi-sized nappies you will need to buy several sizes from birth to potty (usually two, sometimes three or rarely four, depending on your baby’s size at birth, build, growth and when he or she potty trains).
There is no single best nappy system and most people find it useful to have a few different nappies.
* Even if you don't choose this nappy as your main nappy system, it is handy to have a few all-in-one or pocket nappies for quick changes when you're out-and-about, for the childminder, or for travelling.
If you are going to be stressed using cloth nappies while out and about, I suggest you don’t do it! It’s not against the law to use the occasional disposable.
What do I need to buy?
Just like anything to do with babies, you can go overboard with things to buy, but what do you “really” need? This is just a guideline:
- Your basic nappy system, which may comprise separate nappies and wraps, All-in-Ones, or Pocket Nappies.
- Liners, can be reusable cotton, fleece, or silk or disposable paper liners
- Extra absorbency for night use (boosters or fleece boosters)
- Lidded nappy bucket
- Something to clean baby's bottom with (disposable wipes / washable wipes / cotton wool)
- Waterproof nappy bag for trips out
- Changing mat
Illustrations of some of the types of reusable nappies (diapers) available
How many do I need to buy?
The number of nappies you will need depends upon the age of your baby and how often you intend to wash your reusable nappies. This is intended as a rough guide and some people will find they need a few more or less.
- You need to consider that newborns may need a nappy change up to 10 times a day! As the baby gets a little older this will reduce to 6 – 8 times whereas an older toddler may only need 5 nappy changes a day.
- Most babies require three sizes of the multi-sized type nappies from birth to potty training (small, medium and large). Smaller or more petite babies may only need small and medium before they potty train in the daytime, though may go on to need the large size for night time until night training (which may take another few years after your child is dry in the day). Based on this, for one day, you will need as a minimum:
- 10 small sized nappies
- 9 medium sized nappies
- 7 large sized nappies
- With the one-size system, the minimum number of 10 per day will be required if you are using the nappies from birth or soon after.
- Nappies can be washed with other laundry at 40oC or 60oC and some types dry very quickly, so it is possible to wash the nappies daily and hang them in a warm place to dry ready for the next day. This way you will only need enough nappies for one day.
- However, you may find it more convenient to have enough nappies for two days and do a ‘just nappies’ wash every other day. In this case, you will need a minimum of 20 small, 18 medium and 14 large of the sized nappies. If you are going for the one-size nappies a minimum number of 20 will be required if you are using the nappies from birth or soon after.
- You may be able to manage with fewer nappies and still wash every 2 – 3 days. Many people manage fine with 18.
- Most babies potty train in the day earlier than at night and can be in night nappies for a long time after they are dry during the day. You may well need to buy a set of XL nappies for this stage, but you will not need many (maybe 3 nappies and 1 – 2 wraps).
Remember, you can use cloth nappies for more than one baby, meaning if the cost from the number of nappies you need scares you off, consider the long-term cost over one or more babies.
Where to buy?
We have compiled a list of resources over the years, some we know, some we have had recommended by others. We can’t guarantee you will have the same experience as others have had, but it is a starting point for you to see what is out there and available to you. And we are always interested in your feedback and recommendations.
There are many places to find cloth nappies, but to get you started, we have compiled some resources that may be of interest:
Babykind and The Nappy Lady are both competitive suppliers of cloth nappies, and the UK doesn’t tax baby items (!) making them both very cost effective options. Both Babykind and The Nappy Lady let you buy several different kinds and offer nappy trial packs, and will take returns if they don’t suit you or your baby. Plus, you can arrange to set up a “list” should you want friends and family to be able to gift you part of your chosen system.
With the sometimes low US dollar, some of the suppliers such as Fuzzibunz can become quite competitive to get directly sent over from the US. You could try Nicky’s Diapers to check out US prices.
To see & touch a range of cloth nappies in Belgium, the following have a good selection:
- Doekjes en Broekjes, Diestsestraat 153, 3000 Leuven, www.doekjes-en-broekjes.be/ (in Dutch)
- Petit Baobab, Chausee de Vleurgat 314, 1050 Ixelles, www.petitbaobab.be (in French)
- Knusjes 78A Aarchotsesteenweg, 1800 Vilvoorde, www.knusjes.be (in English, French & Dutch)
- Natur Pur, Rue Francois Dons 49, 1050 Ixelles, www.nat.urpur.com
For nappy washing/delivery service, we’ve been told about the following:
A home delivery company is Ecotribu, reported to use bicycles for pick-up and delivery. www.clairedelune.be/ramassage-nettoyage-couches-lavables.htm LUCE Luierservice http://www.luierservice.be/ (in Dutch) Local Belgian WAHMs made-to-order nappies: For those wanting something more personal, there are many SAHM/WAHMs who make nappies and wraps and soakers and much much more, such as Tucana’s Dream. Tucana’s Dream (www.tucanasdream.be) is run by a Work At Home Mum who will make what you want to order, and while her site is in Dutch, she speaks and writes English well. Or you could also try these WAHM’s sites: http://users.telenet.be/hetkakkernestje/luiers1.htm http://www.mamaskindjes.be/ http://www.flanelleke.be/index.htm Do-it-yourself nappies: If you know your way around a sewing machine and fancy making your own nappies, there are a lot of online resources to help you with what you need including patterns and support. Just do a search on “cloth nappy (or diaper) patterns”, and you are bound to find a site that will help you.
An amusing, and true, story about The Adventures in Folding a Cloth Nappy
How many people does it take to fold a cloth nappy? I don’t know...I lost count!
Imagine an array of people with years of mothering experience and high levels of education all being completely lost when it came to folding a nappy... and not even a piece of loose cloth but one that is pre-folded. Yes embarrassingly it’s true!
I’m happy to report that we eventually solved the puzzle and are now happily using cloth nappies on our darling eco-baby but it was a journey... We chose to buy the Chinese Unbleached Prefold Nappy. This type of nappy was new to both my Mother and Grandmother who had used the plain unfolded type, so I was clearly charting my baby’s bottom into new territory. Excited about using them, I scanned the online world to find the numerous ways of folding. I found some great sites with clear diagrams and, after practicing on a teddy bear, I found that I liked the Angel Fold the best. This was going to be simple... or so I thought!
When baby was born, a petit 2.7 kg, the hospital nurses wrapped her in a tiny disposable. I felt smugly confident that on the next change I would have her in my desired cloth, but that was not to be. Suddenly the fold that was easy on the teddy bear was a highly complex piece of origami on a live and fragile baby. After a few failed attempts I decided not to traumatize the newborn child and postponed the endeavour until we got home.
However, despite many subsequent practices at home the simple fold refused to work. There was simply too much cloth, it was bulgy and made baby’s legs splay wide apart. I felt like my manifesto to be an all-natural eco-Mama was being diminished with each disposable and I kept scouring the net for further support. With the days flying by and noone else in my support network having much of a clue what to do, I decided to get creative and try to modify one of the prefolds by cutting it into the shape of a disposable and fitting it around baby’s bum without the bulk. Without a sewing machine I was left to sew the frayed edges by hand and, as demands on my time were being made by much more important things, I simply got fed up of the laborious project.
I then became concerned that I had selected the wrong type and that the thickness of these nappies were going to prove unsuitable for the Caribbean climate. I fretted that I would find no use for the several boxes that had been kindly purchased for me. So I purchased some of the plain cloth squares that my mother had used but these were utterly useless as they were so thin and got wet every 2 minutes. In the spirit of recycling these were transformed into great burp cloths!
So what became of my foray into cloth diapering? Well quite unspectacularly in a humble ‘Eureka!’ moment it all fell into place and the fold was suddenly easy, simple and fit perfectly. How? Well quite simply, baby had put on a few kilos, I had begun to feel more confident in handling her tiny body, and I was very persistent in my attempts. The prefold now fit snugly on her and I entered the wonderful world of cloth diapering!
But how do I know what to choose? One nappy advisor parent’s experience
Upon the arrival of our first baby, we started with Ella's House hemp nappies with Motherease wraps. I was gung-ho and keen to begin from day one when we left the hospital. This was tricky because newborns are so small, and if we didn’t fit the nappy well, we had a lot of washing to do (pjs, bedding, the baby...) due to leaks. But after a lot of “mistakes”, we finally mastered their use and set up our changing area to handle the particular needs of using cloth and because we were using a two-part system. This meant we wanted a place to air the wrap not in use (we put up a small clothes line on the wall over the changing table).
We eventually got a handle on how to use the nappies without “accidents”, plus our son grew so they began to fit him better. We used Ella’s House nappies with Motherease wraps for overnight use until my son became potty-trained. These are nice nappies, and are very absorbent. I also used a couple of Tots Bots and Swaddlebees I had, and both are also good for overnight use.
However, when using a system that has an “inner” nappy and an “outer” wrap, I found it tricky when needing to do a nappy change while away from home, especially in a place with less then great changing facilities. I discovered that I needed to have an extra pair of hands, 2 waterproof nappy bags, one for soiled nappies to be washed and one for used wraps to be aired and used later, in addition to carting along the clean nappies. This led us to trying another system for daytime use.
But, because I was so keen in the beginning, I’d ordered both the small and medium sizes of Ella’s House nappies and Motherease wraps, and ended up having to return most of the Ella’s House medium nappies (we kept several for overnight use and 3 wraps). This was handled surprisingly easily and without stress, so that was a great relief.
For daytime use, we selected Fuzzibunz pocket nappies but not happily initially – I didn’t like all the poppers – but now I swear by them and they are hard for dextrous little hands to open unlike the aplix of the system we were using. Fuzzibunz have been around a long time and I have come to believe they are one of the easiest styles of cloth nappy to use (as in being closest to being like a disposable). This type has an outer and inner sewn together, and you stuff an absorbent pad into it. Pre-stuff them, and they snap on and off as easily as disposables. They are fast to dry, but are made with man-made fibres, so I was initially reluctant because I really wanted to be “green” and go for all cotton or all hemp. But now I am a convert. Pocket nappies are fantastic...
Until baby #2 came, and she could pee the Atlantic into her nappy! With only one “inner” in her Fuzzibunz, she would leak if left in one for more than an hour. So, most of the time, we double-stuff her nappies, which works for us. Overnight was a huge challenge because even the Ella’s House and Motherease 2-part system with booster (that worked for our son) would mean leaks when used on our daughter.
So, we found a great solution – soakers. We got 4 wonderful hand-knitted merino wool soakers from Tucana’s Dream and use these wonderful, luxurious naturally water resistant and breathable wraps over the top of the Fuzzibunz for night time use. No more leaks at night time! And the soakers are simply lovely and easy to care for (and we can use them as shorts when she gets older).
What did we learn?
- Don’t take on too much at once. In the hospital, and in the very beginning, it is easier to start with disposables... Unless you are a die-hard like me. But if you aren’t, and you don’t want to scare off your partner, then I would wait a few weeks or a month before beginning with cloth. Newborns are so tiny, it’s hard to get a good fit with cloth. Starting early may not be for everyone, so don’t push it and be turned off for good.
- If you are going to be stressed using cloth nappies while out and about, I suggest you don’t do it! It’s not against the law to use the occasional disposable.
- You must have a 60 °C wash cycle on your machine (or access to one), otherwise you are limited to nappy services, boiling the nappies yourself (charming thought, not!), going to a laundry mat, investing in a new machine, or disposables.
- Just when you think you have a system that suits you, something (or a new baby!) changes things and you need to adapt accordingly.
- Cloth is worth it, not only financially, but the effort isn’t much more than disposables. And we feel good knowing we aren’t contributing to even more waste, and our babies have a healthy start in life. The initial investment was a bit ghastly to swallow at first, but over the long term and 2 babies, we are well ahead.
- Don’t think you need to buy a complete set all at once – you can stagger your purchases and build up your stock over time.
- If, despite everything, you have ended up with a nappy system that is fine in principle but just not suited to you, be aware that there is a very good secondhand market for most nappies on the internet or in the BCT.
Cloth Nappy Support and Information