Disposable nappies have become the norm, and it is rare to find families using cloth nappies. In fact, some people view them as unsanitary. It is somewhat startling to realise that disposable nappies were not invented until the 1940’s.
Before then every baby wore cloth nappies. In those days the nappies were large, thin pieces of terry that mothers folded like origami magic. They were pinned on the sides with pins and often covered with some kind of rubber or plastic pants to reduce leaks.
Once soiled, the plastic was rinsed, and the faeces disposed of. The cloth was then washed by hand and hung to dry. So when disposables came along, they were quite popular with anyone who could afford them. The appeal of just tossing it in the trash was quite powerful.
Nearly 80 years later many people are beginning to have serious concerns about the ecological implications of disposable nappies. No one really knows how long they take to biodegrade because the first ones ever made have yet to decompose. Some estimates are as high as 500 years. It is quite something to consider that every disposable ever made is still sitting somewhere on this planet.
Some families are considering cloth nappies out of concern for their babies’ health. Standard nappies contain super absorbent polymers. This is the stuff that absorbs urine and turns to gel. It used to be found in tampons until it was linked to toxic shock syndrome.
Most nappies also contain phthalates, a known hormone disruptor. There is also some concern about how hot it can get inside the nappy and how that may affect, particularly male, genitals. Finally some babies are simply allergic to one or more of the chemicals in disposable nappies.
Modern cloth nappies
Those concerned about ecological or health implications of disposables will be delighted to discover that modern cloth nappies are much easier to use. There is a wide array of choices in both style and materials, and it may help to find an experienced parent or local cloth nappy group to learn the pros and cons of each.
Here we will just list a few of the important changes that make cloth nappies easier to use than they once were.
- No more folding. Some people do still prefer folding, but there are now prefolds, inserts, all-in-ones, and more.
- No more pins. Again, unless you really want to, pins are unnecessary due to the styling of both nappies and covers.
- No more rubber or plastic pants. Anyone who remembers these knows how awful they were. Modern nappy covers are made from a variety of materials and now achieve the ultimate goal of minimum leaks and maximum breathability. As a bonus, they come in a lot of cute prints.
- Longevity. Many parents report using their cloth nappies for two or even three children.
- Savings. While the initial investment may be steep, the cost savings are enormous over the nappy years. Numbers vary depending on the style you choose as well as the brand of disposables you would otherwise use.
The downside of choosing cloth nappies
Cloth nappies do have some drawbacks. One of the biggest is the wetness next to baby’s skin. While it does often lead to earlier toilet learning, it can be uncomfortable for your baby if it gets too full. Cloth nappies require more frequent changing, and some babies’ skin simply cannot tolerate even a short period of time with urine on it.
Of course, the biggest obstacle is washing. Like nearly every other aspect of parenting, it takes a while to get into a routine, but a few tricks can make the process easier. Another solution is to use a cloth nappy service. You simply toss the nappies in a diaper pail, and they are picked up each week and replaced with clean, folded nappies.
A few tips for success
Parenting is tough, and it is important to be gentle with yourself. If cloth nappies do not work for you or your baby, there is no reason to feel bad, and there are a lot of disposable options that are less harmful to your baby and the earth.
Remember to check packages and websites. Not all disposables that look green are actually eco-friendly. They are just more expensive.
For those willing to give cloth nappies a go, here are a few tips for success.
- The first month or two of parenting is a huge adjustment. A nappy service or disposables can make that transition easier.
- While you are travelling is another time to consider disposable use. In particular, if you are flying, it is not fun to put a bag of dirty nappies in your luggage.
- Try a few different styles before investing a large amount of money. Some people love all-in-ones. Others swear by prefolds. You may even decide cloth nappies are not right for you.
- Hot water kills bacteria better than bleach. While different people have different routines, the general idea is to dump faeces in the toilet as much as possible then cold rinse, hot or warm wash with natural detergent, cold rinse, cold rinse. Check with your diaper cover manufacturer, but most covers should not be washed in hot water or placed in the dryer.
- Change your baby frequently to avoid rashes.
- Beware of certain rash creams. Some of them ruin cloth diapers’ absorbency.
Considering cloth nappies is a great way to do your part to leave the world a little better for our children. You may find it a lot easier than you thought. Let us know if you have tried cloth nappies and what your experience has been.
Please contact Jodie for more tips on all things baby, including breastfeeding, nutrition, safety, sleep, and more.
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