Washable nappies – five things I wish I’d known

I had a fairly open mind about most parenting issues before having Bub. But one thing I definitely wanted to do was use washable nappies. I was pretty uncompromising in my views about disposables and didn’t think there’d be any question about my use of washables. But it’s proved quite a bit more difficult than I thought and there are definitely some things I’d do differently. I guess this just shows that there are no definites when it comes to babies.

So here are five things I wish I’d known about using washable nappies:

1) Don’t set yourself impossibly high standards

I was really excited about the prospect of using washable nappies. It definitely formed part of my vision of myself as a future-mum. I couldn’t imagine myself using disposables and didn’t even like the idea of Bub wearing a disposable straight after birth. I got a couple of free packs via Bounty but hoped I wouldn’t need to buy any more.

Well, what can I say. The realities of new parenthood then hit me slap bang in the face as I went through 17 hours of labour followed by days of sleep deprivation. The last thing on my mind was to fish out the washables and so Bub stayed in disposables. I’d also made some dodgy washable purchases which didn’t help. It took us about four months old to get into regular use of cloth nappies and I felt really bad about it. If I hadn’t had such strong views before having my baby I’d probably not have beaten myself up so much. I was looking for a photo of Bub in a nappy to illustrate this post and realised I didn’t have one. That’s really sad as I let my disappointment about not meeting my impossibly high standards get in the way of enjoying my baby.

2) Don’t buy anything before trying it on your baby

There are so many different nappy choices and it is really hard to make informed choices prior to the birth of your baby. Before Bub was born I wasted a fair bit of money on second-hand nappies that didn’t meet our needs and probably delayed me getting sorted with a workable system. At most I’d suggest getting a few muslins and small waterproof wraps which make good serviceable washable nappies for a newborn. After the first month of chaos settles down you are then in a much better position to get advice, try some out, and ultimately decide what nappies will meet your needs.

Before Bub was born I did lots of reading about washables (the Nappy Lady was my favourite). Rather than commit to one sort of nappy system I picked up a wide variety of two part nappies (cloth nappy plus waterproof wrap) at second hand sales. My plan was to try out a few and then purchase more when I knew which I liked best. Great idea in theory, pretty rubbish in practice. There were a few times when I fished them out and set about using them. Each time I soon discovered the error of my just-buy-a-random-selection-of-nappies-and-try-them approach. I had no idea what size they all were or even in some cases if they were one or two part nappies. My wraps were all of awful quality and of various random sizes.  I soon realised that I was unlikely to use the majority of my second hand nappy stash. They were either too big, too small, too odd, too ragged, too bulky or too thin. The wraps were almost without exception leaky.

When Bub was about three months old I decided to bite the bullet and buy a full two part nappy set. I needed good quality new wraps and a set of absorbent nappies that would fit beneath them. I had a few Motherease one size birth to potty nappies in my stash and liked them so this is what I bought. I was lucky enough to find a second-hand-but-new set on eBay. These worked pretty well and meant that I could finally begin to use washable nappies on a regular basis. However whilst I have a workable nappy collection that does the job it’s probably not the best set I could have found for my needs. Having just discovered the delights of Bumgenius I feel I could have made better choices if I’d had the chance to try these out. I wish I’d invested my cash renting a trial set of various nappies rather than buying a limited set of poor quality second-hand ones.

3) Aesthestics are important

It wasn’t just the leaks that put me off using washables in the early days. I also found the two part nappies incredibly big and bulky. My little Bub seemed so small in comparison. Whilst Motherease nappies have lots of positives they are definitely not trim fitting. As a birth-to-potty nappy they are very bulky on younger babes. And whilst the wraps are soft to touch they are not very aesthetically pleasing. I think this probably contributed to me not taking a picture of Bub in his nappies for the first eight months of his life.

Another annoyance is that many baby clothes don’t seem to account for the size of washable nappies. Especially in the early days I had to limit Bub’s clothing choices on the days he was wearing washables. This seems totally trivial but these things did make a difference to my willingness to restart using washables again. Even now when we are regular cloth users there are times we opt for a disposable so Bub can wear a certain pair of trousers.

In the last month I’ve discovered Bumgenius nappies. These are a birth to potty nappy with separate absorbent insert. They are much trimmer and come in a variety of colours. I only have a couple but I must admit I just enjoy them more. They look attractive and fit under his clothes. I think if I’d had these nappies from the start I’d have used them much more for the simple reason that they look nicer. Shallow but true.

4) Washing isn’t a big deal

Before beginning on cloth nappies I thought that the laundry would be the real downside of this approach. But this hasn’t been a problem at all. I never soak the nappies. They just go into a lidded bucket in a mesh bag.  Now Bub is on solids I use a disposable or flushable liner to catch any poo. When I have a day or two of nappies I sling them in the washing machine with the rest of our laundry at 60 degrees.We have crap heating but they dry on a frame in about 48 hours. Personally I’ve found adapting to the challenge of the increased washing from Bub’s transition to solid foods much more of a trial than anything to do with nappies. So some good news there at least.

5) Don’t disregard disposables

I hated the idea of using disposable nappies before Bub was born. As it was we ended up using predominately disposables for the first three months. And I must admit I was pretty impressed by them. I had distant memories of disposable nappies from when my sisters were young. Horrible plasticky and scratchy. I actually tore two disposables looking for the sticky tab, not realising that they are now more like soft velcro. I’m still horrified by the environmental impact but from a daily use point of view I was pleasantly surprised.

We still use disposables on a regular basis. Bub wears a disposable nappy to bed each night. I know that washables can be ultra absorbent but we have enough problems with night wakings without worrying about this too. We use cloth nappies during the day and I think Bub actually benefits from switching between the two systems. He has never had any rashing or discomfort from his nappies and I think using both has helped with this.

I am not a fan of disposables, given their environmental impact, and am committed to decreasing our use. When Bub stops regular night feeds I will experiment with using cloth at night and hopefully phase out our use of disposables completely. But for now I’ve come to terms with not living up to my original high standards and am happy with our balanced approach.

What are your experiences of washable nappies? How have you made them work for you? What advice would you give to a new mum?

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2 Responses to “Washable nappies – five things I wish I’d known”

  1. Tweets that mention Washable nappies – five things I wish I’d known « Jenmum's adventures in parenting -- Topsy.com Says:

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  2. Jane Manning Says:

    Great blog post. One of the most useless pieces of advice I followed was from a book on mothering which I read while pregnant. It recommended keeping the newborn in the clothes it comes home from hospital in for the first few days to allow the mother to recover from childbirth and not have to worry about washing. I did just that and by the third day my daughter’s jumpsuit was covered in vomit. I gave into washing at that stage.

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