Yep, this month we’re talking nappies! Well you couldn’t expect me to let Real Nappy Week go by without comment now could you?! Obviously I’m all for real nappies, also known as cloth nappies, but I’ve found that a lot of people are very critical of my decision, telling me I should just stick with disposables – no, those people have never read this blog. What I’ve noticed is that people under the age of about 50 seem to be largely supportive (to varying degrees) and will often already know someone who uses cloth nappies and raves about them. People over that age seem to be the ones trying to persuade me to use disposables because they’re still remembering the old terry squares that you would have to fold and carefully pin in place – you can still get those but most cloth nappies today are shaped just like disposables and have velcro tabs at the top so there’s no need for the dreaded safety pin.
I can see how disposables became popular in the first place: from having to fold up a piece of cloth and gently pin it in place while contending with a very wriggly baby can’t have been much fun. Then there’s the cleaning side… before disposable nappies came onto the market it was quite rare for people to have their own washing machine in the home. Instead they were likely to have to go to a laundrette everyday with a bag full of nappies and loose change (not very practical) or, more likely, they would have to wash all the nappies by hand. Given those circumstances I think even I might have opted for disposables back then too. Thankfully, things aren’t like that any more – most people do have a washing machine at home and cloth nappies are just as easy to put on as a disposable now.
There are loads of different terms that get thrown around when it comes to cloth nappies. I have purchased 2 types – some all-in-ones (AIOs) and some fitted nappies, so I’ll mostly be talking about these types. The others you can get include pocket, prefold and all-in-two. If you want to give real nappies a go then it’s worth doing a little research as to which type would be most suitable for you – just because your best friend raves about prefolds doesn’t mean they’re going to be the best fit for your lifestyle. A good place to start is your local nappy library (you should be able to find details through your local council’s website). The nappy library will explain all the different options to you and allow you to try each type out – you can then continue using the library or you can purchase your own set. You can also try out a local laundry service where they’ll take away the dirty nappies and leave you with a fresh set. Obviously I can’t try out any kind of nappy just yet so I had to make an educated guess as to what would be best for our family. Actually, another point to note on your local council’s website is what kind of incentive they offer for using real nappies. Here in Central Bedfordshire we’re able to apply for £25 cashback upon spending £50 or more. I know residents of some London boroughs though can apply for vouchers to spend on real nappies, so it’s worth seeing what is on offer before spending any money.
Ahhh money… so a lot of people are put off cloth nappies because of the up-front cost. I’m not going to lie, it is expensive, especially as my local council will only offer up to £25 towards the cost. Just to give you an idea, I bought a set of 40 nappies plus 12 wraps (from the Cloth Nappy Shop) for £225. I also got a few AIO nappies while they were on introductory offer at the supermarket for £10, although the price has now gone up to £16 each. The set of 40 that I got (20 in size 1 and 20 in size 2) will last from birth to potty and in theory I shouldn’t need any more than that. I did however get the AIOs as well because the size can be adjusted and it meant I’d have a few back-ups in case of an especially upset tummy.
I’ve probably confused a few of you there. So the 40 nappies I got from Cloth Nappy Shop are fitted nappies. They are shaped just like disposables but are made from bamboo fibres (you can also get cotton and microfibre ones as well, however bamboo is SUPER absorbent) and have velcro tabs at the top, like the sticky tabs you get on disposables. The nappy itself is highly absorbent (whatever fibre type you choose) but not waterproof, therefore an additional waterproof layer (a wrap) is required on top of the nappy. Most of the time the urine doesn’t soak all the way through to the wrap so the same wrap can be reused when a nappy is changed, unless of course there was a bit of a ‘leaky’ episode – although I’m told that’s quite rare for cloth nappies. Fitted nappies (and their wraps) tend to come in 2 or 3 sizes, although most children are fully toilet trained whilst in size 2, so its unlikely most parents would ever need to purchase size 3, unless they have a large toddler or it is taking little one a bit longer to get the hang of things. The AIO nappies tend to be covered in press studs and may have press stud fixings on the tabs or they may also have velcro. The press studs going down the front are so the size of the nappy can be adjusted to fit from birth up to potty without having to purchase a different set of nappies in the next size up. These nappies are absorbent and have an outer waterproof layer attached. AIOs may not last as long as the fitted nappies as the waterproof layer can start to delaminate over time. The fitted wraps may also delaminate but they don’t require washing as often as an AIO and therefore will probably last a bit longer.
Anyway, back to the financial side of things. So yes, there is a larger up-front cost, but in the long-term real nappies work out to be substantially cheaper. If purchasing cloth nappies for a first child, you’ll have forked out say £300, but then you’ll already have your nappy stash to hand ready for any subsequent children. You may even be able to recoup some of the cost by then selling them on to other parents-to-be once you decide to not have any more children, providing they’re in a decent enough condition, otherwise you can use them as cleaning rags around the house. Disposables on the other hand will only cost you a few £s at a time but from birth to potty you will likely get through around £900 worth of nappies… per child!
And what happens to those nappies once they’re thrown away? They sit in landfill of course. Estimates of how long it takes for a disposable nappy to decompose vary from 400 to 500 years. There are some disposable nappies that claim to be eco-friendly though. Beaming Baby nappies spring to mind here. Their nappies are 50% more bio-degradable than their nearest competitor but that still only makes them 75% bio-degradable. That means that 75% of the nappy will decompose within 5 years whereas the remaining 25% will still be sitting in landfill for up to 500 years. Just to give you a little more perspective, the average baby will get through around 5000 nappies before they’re potty trained.
Another thing that puts some people off using real nappies is having to deal with the poo. Whilst a baby is breastfed the poo laden nappies can go in the wash as normal. Once they start on solids you need to dispose of the poo down the toilet – just like you’re supposed to do with disposables! However, I’m not sure I know anyone who uses disposables that actually does bother to dispose of the poo in the toilet before throwing the nappy away, and I guess that’s why they’re considered so convenient these days. But councils and other authorities will encourage you to dispose of all human waste (that includes baby poo) via the sewage system. Please NEVER flush the nappy down the toilet though!! I used to work at a company that builds new homes and we would often get complaints that the sewers were backing up into people’s homes. We’d send the sewage guys in to investigate and every time (whilst I was working there at least) the blockage was being caused by people flushing either nappies or, more commonly, wipes down the toilet. Yep, even the wipes that are advertised as being flushable (you know the ones from that advert where they’re asking kids and adults how clean they feel?!) still take several years to break down, and so they snag on a nail or something inside the pipe, then more and more wipes get caught and before you know it the poor family at the end of the drain run are getting raw sewage backing up into their house.
While we’re on the subject, let’s quickly discuss baby wipes. They may be gentle on baby’s skin but they’re certainly not gentle on the environment. The zero-waste option is to use fleece wipes that you simply wet, use and then toss in the wash with the nappy. The changing bag I have even came with a wipes dispenser which I can fill with pre-moistened cloth wipes (I can fit about 8 in at a time). The general rule of thumb is you need to use 1 cloth wipe for every 2-3 disposable wipes. If true then 8 wipes is likely to be more than sufficient while out and about, although I’ll probably still pack a bunch of dry ones in the bag as well.
Back to the poo disposal. The easiest way of getting it into the toilet is to give the nappy a gentle shake – providing its a solid one. If it’s quite runny then you can either grab some toilet paper and wipe the worst of it off into the toilet or if you’re like me and don’t want to be getting that close to the stuff then you can very easily install a handheld bidet to your toilet and simply spray the poo off with water. My father-in-law will be installing our one and he says it’ll be a quick 5 minute job – can’t remember how much the bidet cost me, about £20 I think.
You can also get liners to go within your cloth nappy. There are fleece ones that add extra absorbency and mean that you don’t have to hold the entire nappy over the toilet, just the liner. You can also get paper liners which you can shake off into the toilet and then dispose of into the bin. Personally I’m not a fan of the paper liners as it’s still creating waste. Some liners will advertise themselves as being flushable but, as with wipes, they should always be discarded in your household waste instead.
Disposables do have an advantage over cloth in that you can discard of them straight away. With cloth you will have to put a soiled nappy into a wet/dry bag (which tend to be great at containing smells in case you’re wondering) until you get home. I do think there’s a time and a place for disposables and for me that’s in my hospital bag. Some of you already know that I’d prefer to birth at home, but circumstances may crop that mean I have to birth at hospital instead, in which case I’ll have a bag packed and ready to go long before my due date. Now if I’m only birthing at the hospital then we’re fine to stick with cloth nappies. If there’s something a little more serious going on and we have to stay in for a few nights then sending a very stressed Paul to and from the hospital each day with a load of nappies just isn’t going to be practical. So I’ll be packing some disposables (probably just the free sample packs companies keep throwing at me at the moment) into my bag just in case, but all the while I’ll be praying I don’t need to use them and can instead pass them all on to the next person I know who is expecting.
I know some other real nappy advocates (not naming anyone in particular here) would also be pointing out all the different chemicals that are used in disposable nappies, but I don’t think it’s fair to be pointing out that a particular chemical was banned from it’s use in tampons – tampons are worn internally whereas nappies remain external to the body. So yes, it was right to ban the chemical from being used in tampons but to my knowledge it has not been linked with any form of illness when used in a nappy.
The only other thing to mention is that you should never use fabric conditioner when using cloth nappies, or cloth menstrual pads for that matter, as it inhibits the absorbency.
There are always special offers popping up online for real nappies and as I said before, most areas will have a nappy library service, so I strongly urge everyone with a little one to give them a go. You may love them or you may still prefer disposables, there’s only one way to find out.
Next month I’ll be starting to prepare for my postpartum bleed by making some cloth menstrual pads, and will be showing you how to make some too. Get those sewing machines ready everyone, you can always make some for charity if you don’t need any for yourself!