Mother Ease. I scribbled down the words on a scrap of paper and stuffed it into my purse. In the casual and inevitable conversations that arose when well-wishing strangers caught a glimpse of my huge, protruding belly, this was the second time I had been recommended cloth nappies.
Terries, prefolds, all-in-ones, wraps – plain and printed – Velcro or snaps, hemp, cotton, wool. It was all too much. Another month passed before I fished out that scrap of paper, went online and, after a couple of definitive clicks of the mouse, had a Motherease One Size set coming my way by post.
I had all the right reasons for wanting to use cloth nappies – minimise landfill waste, reduce toxic exposure on the newborn, save money. And after writing a piece extolling the virtues of cloth nappies for this magazine, I considered myself an authority on the subject. So yes, I could recite statistics on how using cloth nappies protects old-growth forests, but could I actually put one on my own baby?
With very little in the way of support (most of my friends still lead carefree, childless lives and nappies are nothing near what they were in my mum’s and grandmum’s time) and with hubby threatening to boycott nappy changing completely, would I be up to the task? Was I resigning myself to a lifetime spent hunched over a nappy changing table just to take a stand against the disposable nappy industry?
Then my son Mitja was born. Physically and emotionally exhausted, at that point I couldn’t have cared less what his nappies were made of. All I wanted was to snatch a couple hours of uninterrupted sleep. After two weeks, when we came to the end of our ‘emergency’ eco disposables, I was forced to confront the pile of freshly washed, unused cloth nappies.
My first attempt was laughable. Brilliantly, One Size cloth nappies are adjustable and, depending on how you fold and button them, will fit a baby from birth through his entire nappy life. But I conveniently misplaced the instructions – so after spending thirty minutes or so fiddling with different configurations of buttoning, I had successfully put on a cloth nappy that reached my son’s armpits. Whoops. My little tot was practically swimming in his nappy. No need to mention how effective that was at catching poo.
At my second attempt, I managed to figure out how to fold the front flap so at least it went round his waist, but was still coming up with very bulky nappies that leaked. Around my fourth try, I had not only learned how to fold it right, but also had the buttoning down to fit snugly round him. It didn’t leak and even looked cute on him. There’s been no looking back.
Changing is a cinch. Inside the cloth nappy, I put a paper-thin cotton nappy liner (similar to kitchen paper), which catches most of the poo. While there are some nappy liners that can be washed and reused, mine can be flushed or thrown away. Outside the cloth nappy, I button over a plastic waterproof wrap.
Washing them is equally painless. I have a net bag that I put into the pedal bin I bought specifically to store dirty nappies. The bin has a tight-fitting lid (just like a bin you would buy to store disposables), so there are no bad smells. When the bin is full, I pull the whole bag out and put it straight into the washing machine. I do two loads of nappy wash (60C) a week, which are then hung out on a wire rack, where they usually take about a day to dry.
The one, and for me only drawback to cloth nappies was the initial expense. I chose to buy a complete set upfront, which cost me a painful £300. Having now spoken to a bunch of other mums using cloth nappies I now know there’s no need to do this. But there is a silver lining. Over my son’s nappy life, I expect to save roughly £600 (based on spending £31 a week on disposables, equating to £900 over his nappy life).
Admittedly, I took a few tries before I really got the hang of using cloth nappies, but given the significant money saved and that over the next couple of years I’m preventing, literally, one tonne of nappy waste going to landfill, it seems a very small price to pay. My next challenge is to get my husband to change Mitja’s nappies more often. Any advice?
Do you have a baby in your life that isn't using cloth nappies yet? Sign up to the Ecologist No Excuse! Cloth Nappy Campaign and get a cloth nappy starter pack.
This article first appeared in the Ecologist February 2006