In celebration of Real Nappy Week this April, we asked our BabyNatal teacher Sara to share what choices she and her husband made for each of their 3 children when it comes to using cloth or disposable nappies. Read on to find out how Sara first came across real nappies and how they worked for her in different ways for each of her children.
The nappy lady at the antenatal class with all her good reasons…
I first came across cloth nappies what feels like a long time ago. It was the end of 2008, and I was attending a free NHS antenatal class at my local hospital. After talking about epidurals and all the other forms of pain relief, the midwife handed over to a lovely lady who came to talk to us about cloth nappies.
At that point I literally thought to myself: “Aah, now I can relax and switch off for a bit, as I don’t really want to bother with any of this”. But I was still in the room and probably not doing a very good job at daydreaming, as I could still hear what she was saying, and this is a snapshot of what I’ll always remember from that talk that I thought had nothing to do with me…
- Of course she first talked about the environmental impact of disposables.
If you consider that disposables take 500+ years to biodegrade in landfills, it goes without saying that cloth nappies are better for our planet! “500 years?!? Generations and generations down the line our great great great (etc) grandchildren will still have to deal with the disposable nappies I used for MY children?! Wow – that is a LONG time! I remember starting to picture in my head massive bags of dirty nappies sitting there for ages, like in one those cool time-elapse videos. Apparently UK families alone send over 350 thousand tons of dirty nappies to landfill each year. That’s A LOT of bags in my mental video!
- Then she started talking about saving money. Not just about the over £30 million a year that all that rubbish is costing Local Authorities (and therefore us, the tax payers), but also savings to our own pockets. She mentioned savings of anything between £100 and £1,000 per child from using real nappies (depending on how many you use and which brands you buy) compared to disposable nappies (again, depending on what brands you use). At the time, I was already doing lots of research to try not to spend a fortune on all the baby items we thought we absolutely needed (what we thought we needed vs what we actually used is perhaps a story for another day), and of course that was a lot of money to be saved for one child. We also hoped that our first child wouldn’t be our only child, as we always talked about having 3, so… well if you do the maths, clearly I had to give this lady a bit more attention.
- And she had more tricks up her sleeve… She then started talking about baby’s comfort – “Would you rather be wearing a pair of plastic, disposable underpants or soft cotton underpants?”, she asked. Yes, they are ultra-absorbent and keep moist away from the baby’s skin, but what makes them do that? What do we really know about all the chemicals that are used in disposable nappies? What if these chemicals are responsible for some of the frequent nappy rashes that babies develop? WHAT IF they have an impact on our children’s health, like their fertility for example? The disposable nappy was only invented in the 1950’s, and the first babies to really use them were the ones born in the 60s and 70s, so really, we haven’t had that many generations using them. Is there a possibility that we don’t fully understand the implication of using disposable nappies on the skin and genitalia of our babies? I had to give this lady the benefit of the doubt…
- And last but not least, after mentioning that cloth nappies help some babies achieve a better fit and less leaks, she also mentioned an increased awareness (by the baby) of the fact that their nappies are wet / dirty, and therefore a potential for earlier potty training for some babies, compared to others who used disposables (although this perhaps harder to prove, as we know that every child is different).
And then she took some nappies out of a bag to show us, and they were all so colourful and so cute! Yep, I was sold.
The start of our journey with boy #1
The next job on my to-do list for that day was to go home and convince my husband that using cloth nappies was the way to go. Surprisingly, that wasn’t at all difficult, and after a bit of research, we bought our first 20 all-in-one nappies, with the view that we’d use them full time, and that these 20 nappies would see us through to potty training and then potentially see us through any further children we might have.
We started using them when our little boy was about 3 weeks old and continued happily (day and night), until he was about 1 year old. Admittedly, when I was out, I didn’t always pack the cloth nappies for the day, as I didn’t really want to be carrying the dirty ones back (on top of everything else I was carrying for him!) AND, we didn’t take cloth nappies on holidays with us either, to avoid having to carry them, store them and wash them while we were away.
So we mixed and matched, but we were mainly cloth users. I tried to carry on using them when my son went to nursery at 11 months, but after one of my nappies was accidentally thrown away by nursery stuff (highly upsetting!) I decided not to bring them in again.
On and off, with a bit of mixing and matching, my boy was in cloth until he was nearly 2. I used disposable liners with my nappies, so judging from the amount of rolls I bought, I know I used roughly 1,700 cloth nappies with my first son. And in my mental time-elapse video I could see a few bags full of dirty disposables disappearing from the landfills because of this decision. So it’s time I thank the nappy lady at that antenatal class, as this is a decision that still makes me happy today!
Boy #2 and the advent of the double nappy system
Baby #2 arrived in this world approximately 3 years later. He arrived screaming… and carrying large amounts of wee at any one time! Boy #2 soon was to be labelled (as much as I hate labels!) a ‘heavy wetter’, and because of that, a rescue call to my local nappy guru became in order.
This is when I found out that the all-in-one nappies I had aren’t really meant for night time use anyway (funny that I didn’t even know that at all with my first son and we were ok using them overnight), and I soon started venturing into the world of fitted nappies and waterproof covers. That felt like a lot of work for me – the more I wanted it to work, the more I was ready to pass out from the strong fumes every morning when I opened the nappy up. So I made the decision to have my darling heavy wetter in disposable overnight (and on trips and holidays, and of course, at nursery, when he started around the age of 11 months). That meant that I used more disposables with my #2 than I did with my #1, but still, that’s another approximate 1,600 real nappies used, and more bags of dirty disposables disappearing from the landfill.
Boy #3 and the start of the addiction that makes you spend the money you had saved before
When boy #3 came along in 2014, I was tired of my tired-looking nappies. They were all in plain colours, and they looked a bit old and boring in my eyes. At a time when my fellow Natal teachers (yes, I’m blatantly blaming you, my friends) were posting photos of fancy custom-made cloth nappies with the most beautiful personalised embroideries and cartoon characters, I NEEDED new nappies. But I couldn’t justify buying new nappies. That’s when I discovered the world of pocket ‘cheapies’ (yes, we’re still talking about nappies!). I decided to replace the outside pockets of my all-in-one nappies but continue to use my then 6-year-old inserts. That allowed me to add some (well, A LOT) of colour to my collection at a minimal cost. Happy days!
I was determined to make the night nappy thing work for me this time, so I invested in some more super thirsty bamboo fitted nappies and wraps and even tried custom-made hybrid fitted nappies with fleece wraps, but the morning smell still killed me, and the leaks in the middle of the night meant that I had to get up and change him when I wouldn’t have otherwise had to, so, sadly, I reverted to my usual pattern of disposables for nights (and trips and holidays). My third boy is 19+ months and doesn’t attend nursery, so he’s still using cloth nappies. We’re getting closer and closer to the 2,000 real nappies mark (in terms of how many cloth nappies I used for him). More bags disappearing from the landfill on my account!
It’s not all-or-nothing!
What I hope you take away from my journey is that using real nappies it’s not an all-or-nothing kind of scenario. A lot of parents-to-be that I meet in my classes worry about whether they will be able to keep it up with using cloth nappies or whether they would find it too big a commitment, and not one they are ready about making before the birth of their baby. But the good news is that they don’t have to – most councils now run schemes to introduce parents to cloth nappies and will either provide you with a free test kit or a voucher for you to source one. Pre-loved cloth nappies are also available to buy at good conditions and affordable prices, and nappy libraries across the country can lend you nappies to try out before you buy. So trying them without committing is always a choice, and if you do decide to commit, it doesn’t mean that you can’t use a disposable ever again!
I don’t get to talk about my choices around nappies when I run classes, but I hope that my story demonstrates that every baby really is different and that you can decide to use cloth or disposables in a way that suits YOU, YOUR family and YOUR baby! This is YOUR journey, with YOUR children, so make it truly your own!