Ah, the big question. I was wary of even writing this post, as it would be so easy to come across as worthy, sanctimonious and incredibly dull. But deciding to use reusable nappies isn’t the same as deciding which pram to buy, or whether to buy a crib or a Moses basket. It is an active choice to go against the norm, and is a ‘lifestyle’ choice: it comes with more washing, more faff, a different set of kit. So why do it?
The main reason for me was environmental. I found the idea of being able to prevent hundereds and hundereds of nappies from sitting in landfill for years very compelling. I read a statistic recently that a nappy worn by Henry VIII still wouldn’t have degraded, which kind of grossed me out. Now obviously the washing of all the nappies uses energy, so no one can argue that cloth is completely ‘clean’, but I would hazard a guess that the energy used to manufacture all the hundereds of nappies one baby would wear sort of balances that out. Having a baby means so much stuff, so much more pressure on global resources; I like the idea of being able to limit this even a tiny bit.
Leaks. J was a very sicky baby until he was fully weaned. He vomited lots after every feed. We were constantly having to change his outfit, and the washing was endless. Add explosive poo leaks from disposables into the mix, and it felt like he was constantly wearing his bodily fluids. Cloth nappies just don’t leak poo like disposables do. They have elastic at the back which prevents it from escaping up the back – I’ve had runny poo sitting right under the elastic that didn’t escape. I decided I could cope with the extra washing every few days if it meant not having to hold a shitty baby in a public lavatory trying to work out how on earth we would get him clean.
Money. Now let’s be clear – reusables have not saved me money. I think they’re cute and have bought more than I needed. However I have also sold a lot second hand that I no longer needed or didn’t work for us, so it’s not all bad. If you are clever about it, buy a lot preloved and don’t get carried away, you can absolutely save money. Particularly if you intend to use them on more than one baby.
As J has got older, I’ve got another huge incentive – he can’t take them off. Left to it, J would have a disposable off in 10 seconds. But poppers, he can’t undo (Velcro he can…), so mum remains in control for a little longer.
There are plenty of other reasons, that are worth mentioning, though weren’t what made me decide to take the plunge:
- They are better for babies’ hips. We look at tiny babies in huge nappies, their legs wide apart, and think it must be uncomfy or bad for their development. But it is so much healthier for their hips, with physios and doctors often recommending large cloth nappies when a baby’s hips aren’t developing properly.
- Disposables have chemicals in them, to make them absorbent. Some people find cloth nappies help reduce nappy rash as a result. I haven’t seen any difference.
- They are cooler in hot weather. Someone told me – this may be bullshit – that cloth nappies kept babies one degree cooler than disposables, and cloth nappies with wool wraps kept them one degree cooler still.
What a lot of cloth nappy enthusiasts won’t ever admit to, is that there are some downsides to using reusables. I think it’s only fair to be open about these:
- They aren’t as absorbent as disposables. Cloth needs to be changed more often, (though you can get nappies that will last all night these are often big and bulky and you may not want to use them throughout the day) and are more prone to wee leaks in my experience. Not often mind, but marginally more often than when we use disposables.
- You will have more washing. One extra load every two or three days is probably to be expected. For me, this is fine, and I find sitting in front of the tv sorting out clean nappies incredibly relaxing, so I don’t find it too much of a chore.
- They are bulkier than disposables, and while I haven’t found this impacts on the clothes J wears, some do find it limits them. And some people just don’t like the look of a big baby bum – I try and keep it as slim as possible, and as he’s gotten older I haven’t really noticed it.
- You will have to take more stuff out with you. Those little fold up changing mats with space for a nappy and two wipes? Not possible with cloth. They are bulkier to carry around, you need wet bags, and often you’ll end up with reusable wipes too. You can’t travel as light.
I love cloth nappies. I write a blog about them, so that’s probably a given. But I use disposables too. We have night nappies, but J doesn’t sleep as well in them so at the moment, he’s in disposables at night. And though I very very rarely use them in the day, today I just couldn’t be arsed and had him in disposables all day. I was out, wouldn’t have access to changing facilities easily and we’ve recently had a few leaks in cloth as nursery haven’t fitted them very well. So I just couldn’t face it, and took the easy option. And who cares? Do what works for you. One cloth nappy a day is one less disposable in landfill. 24/7 cloth is amazing, but don’t get all superior on my ass. Just do what gets you through the day. For me, that’s pretty nappies, relaxing as I sort through the laundry, and not feeling like I’ve let myself down when I chuck a disposable on the boy.