Thursday, April 16, 2009

Cloth nappy review

This is a serious, earnest post, just in case anyone gets here by googling 'which cloth nappies are best'. I've googled this myself a few times and now I've used a few I thought I'd pass on my experienced mother wisdom.

First,why use cloth nappies anyway?
  • Primarily, it's about aesthetics. I love cloth nappies. Babies who aren't in cloth nappies look like bogan babies to me now. Particularly the hot weather white-singlet-and-paper-nappy look so prevalent here in Brisbane. Bad. A bright cloth nappy and a tie dyed singlet, now, is seriously cute. I love the way their bums look all chubby. I love the funky patterns on the nappies. I love how comfy they look. I love how they look like teletubbies or tomblyboos when they are dressed.
  • Oh my god the savings! Especially with twins. Even factoring in three extra loads of washing a week (we have enough nappies that we wash every second day), I reckon we are saving about $80 a week.
  • Of course there's the environmental advantage. All that landfill! I know that there was some study commissioned by the disposable nappy companies that said that cloth and disposables worked out about the same - but that included tumble-drying every load of nappies (we only do this if it's raining so much that even nappies hung under the carport stay damp - maybe four times since we've had them), and ironing your nappies. Who on earth irons their nappies?
  • Cloth nappies are a little subculture. Who sits around talking about their paper nappies? Us cloth nappy mums, we love comparing. It's a little parenting decision that feels good, looks good and is fun. It's also a marker for a lot of other parenting traits - probably into organic food; possibly doing some attachment parenting; most likely environmentally aware and politically okay in other ways; and probably reasonably well educated & feel like they have some power in the world (as opposed to, 'Oh well, it doesn't make a difference what I do - I'm nobody').
  • Seriously, putting on a load of nappies at night and hanging them out in the morning takes maybe five minutes. A few people thought I was mad planning to use cloth nappies with twins. I want to do another post one day on the tyranny of time - this myth that we should be 'saving time' at all costs. Actually I think spending time on something you value is an enormously powerful message to my children. I value the planet, I value our finances, I value how cute they look (!) and I value their health (I don't want those icky water-absorbing gels in paper nappies next to their skin. Or the chlorine-bleached paper).
Things to remember when planning what nappies to use:
  • What can everyone cope with? Some nappies are easier to use than others. All-in-ones and pocket nappies you use just like paper nappies - they are shaped like paper nappies and you have them all set up under the change table and pop them on. Good for grandmas and babysitters, and partners who are not convinced.
  • What are you going to use when you go away? We take cloth nappies if we are driving, and staying somewhere with a washing machine and line. If we are flying, or staying in a hotel, we use biodegradable disposables - although the local supermarket has just stopped stocking them so I'm going to have to track them down online.
Okay, about the nappies:
  • Bumgenius: we bought & were given about two dozen of these. Lots of people swear by them. Really easy to use, and they adjust in size so you can use them from newborn to toddler (although our babies were too small as newborns to use them). Cute gelati colours, and I believe there's a bright range out now too. They are a pocket nappy (the inner absorbent cotton pad comes out of the waterproof outer layer) so they dry quickly. We wrecked ours. We washed them in hot (95 degree) water and used Napisan initially. Then we found out you're meant to wash them warm and never use any bleaches. So the elastic in the legs went, the velcro doesn't stick and the waterproof lining peeled away! A friend of mine with twin boys the same age as Louis & Pearl also uses them, and hers are in perfect condition. So I'm pretty sure it's our fault. We use them with wraps (waterproof covers) now, and they work fine.
  • Bonnibuns pockets: These are great - we'd figured out how to wash by the time we got these, so we haven't wrecked them. Same principle as the Bumgenius, however they use snaps (press studs) at the waistband not velcro. So 1. the babies find the snaps harder to undo and 2. the snaps don't deteriorate in the wash like velcro does. They don't cover as wide a size range as the Bumgenius - the babies will grow out of them soon, but they've been wearing them about a year.
  • Bonnibuns all-in-ones: All in ones (AIO) have the absorbent pad sewn into the nappy. These also work well and are easy to put on, just like a disposable, but I find the all-in-ones a hassle as they take so long to dry - about two days. In comparison, the pocket nappies are dry by evening if you hang them out in the morning, because the inner pad and the outer layer dry separately.
  • Totbots bamboo: these look very cute - kind of like a traditional terry nappy cut into the shape of a disposable. You use them with a wrap over the top. I'm not so fond of these because they feel very wet against the baby's skin very quickly. I use them as fill in nappies - like if I do a change and I know it's only an hour before bathtime or something. I wouldn't use them when they were going to be on for a few hours. I've just cut some liners out of fleece (see below) which solves the problem of wetness but it adds another layer to fiddle with - you lay the liner over the nappy and put them on, then put the wrap on over the top. Tricky now they are getting to the wriggly stage.
  • Weenees: I've had problems with these. Other people swear by them but I can't get the wee to stay where it is supposed to, and poo is just a disaster! Basically they are a pair of undies with a plastic holder for a specially sized cloth or disposable pad. They say you can use terry nappies as the cloth. Doesn't work for me. I got them as hand me downs. I'm going to get the special biodegradable disposable pads and try them - they could be a good alternative when we go away, if they work as an alternative to paper nappies.
  • Terry towelling squares: I finally summoned up the courage to experiment with this and they work fine as an emergency nappy. Like the Totbots, they seem to feel wet very quickly, so I use my home made fleece liners and change them frequently. There's also a trick to folding them so the leg holes aren't gaping - we had a few escaped poos during my early attempts. I'm very proud of myself for mastering the square nappy - I feel like you could leave me on a desert island and I'd be able to fashion a nappy out of a palm frond (although I wouldn't of course, they'd be naked)
  • Totbots PUL: very cute, star or polka dot patterns, do the job.
  • Baby beehinds PUL - plain bright colours, good for coordinating with outfits! There's not even the option of buying tacky baby blue or baby pink, which I really like. Their velcro seems particularly good quality.
  • Plastic pants from chain store - I bought these in an emergency - STEER CLEAR! Bogan baby alert! Also fell apart very quickly. Also puffy and unattractive. Onlny come in pastel pink or blue. Yuk. Also sweaty and nappy rashy. Yuk.
  • Wool Baby Beehinds: I bought these for nights. It's taken a while to get into the swing of night nappies. Strangely enough, L isn't as enthralled by the whole cloth nappy thing and just wants the simplest solution. Unfortunately, paper nappies are very simple. Meanwhile I have been experimenting with two layers of terry towelling squares, double boosted pocket nappies, and all sorts of things. Wool and fleece are meant to be good for nights as they breathe - apparently the liquid evaporates off, so they are drier and help prevent nappy rash. Kind of an icky concept, all that evaporating wee in our bed. Presumably it's just the water content and the urea is concentrating in the nappy. Anyway they work well either over 2 square nappies or a shaped insert (like the totbots bamboo I mentioned) plus a booster pad. You have to re-lanolinise wool covers about once a month, which for me is fun (more fiddling about with my beloved nappies) but I can imagine would really annoy some people (L for example).
  • Hand knitted wool pants from Cutie Booty: I got these off eBay. They are completely gorgeous - handknitted wool undie- style nappy covers. At the moment they are too big for our babies. We need tight fitting wraps to hold the bumgeniuses together since we wrecked the velcro.
  • Fleece wraps - Also for nights. Feel gorgeous, very cute colours. Fleece works by 'wicking' the moisture out. Seems to work for us. Ours are by Squeeky Cheeks, also off ebay. We bought the large and they are quite small sizings - our not-very-big babies will have grown out of them soon. eBay is cheap - about half the price of commercial brands - but the nappies are all home made. I like that look but you might prefer the tailored brand effect. Apparently eBay is no longer allowed to sell second hand nappies.
  • Liners are quite simple, just cut thin fleece. Someone gave us a roll of paper liner in the early days - the idea being that you lay it over the inside of the cloth nappy and just toss it in the toilet. So convenient! Only, the paper liner got really wet and stuck to the babies' legs and bum - which kind of defeats the purpose of having a nice cloth nappy! Fleece is fabulous because it magically wicks the moisture away from the baby's skin. my first set of liners I cut rectangles, using the paper liners as a template, but now I cut pyramids withthe points cut off (what is the name of that shape?) so it covers the whole of the surface of the nappy - round the hips as well- not just the centre strip.
And of course, if you are going to use cloth nappies, you must have a Little Squirt - a kind of high pressure hose you attach to your toilet.

So there you have it. I'll strike up a chat with you in the playground when I'm admiring your stylish cloth nappies.


JahTeh said...

I'm totally gobsmacked. In my day (old mother memories) there were only two, flannelette or terry towelling with plastic overpants, cheap, or good overpants with soft padding about the legs. I did have nappy liners which looked like Chux wipes and didn't dissolve in nappisan for quite a few uses before being flushed. That was it.
I had trouble if I babysat a girl since nappy folding for boys was quite different, almost an artform.
And there was nothing like the fresh smell of cloth straight from the line.

E, SS and the Little Man said...

I liked this post because it was very informative. We also used cloth nappies with Teo. However, I do think you were a bit condescending toward people who use disposables.

We did attachment parenting, try to be environmentally conscious etc. Even though you have twins, which I assume is very time-demanding, you are a stay-at-home-mom. If both parents work, it's a bit harder to keep up with cloth nappies. We used a service since we both worked, so they would take the liners every week, and bring us back fresh, clean ones. Also, it's hard to find a daycare that will deal with cloth nappies. Your post came across a bit as if people who use disposables are all uneducated, politically and environmentally unaware, and never use organic food or do attachment parenting.

One of the best things about being a feminist is probably appreciating other women, and especially moms, for doing the best they can. The mommy wars and feeling superior about using cloth nappies or breastfeeding exclusively for 12 months or longer must stop if we are going to make this world a better place.

kristen said...

"It's also a marker for a lot of other parenting traits" - this is interesting because sometimes i think cloth nappies could be a marker to certain other parenting traits like being overly judgemental, not particularly supportive of other parents' decisions and frankly a bit up yourself and superior about things that are really, when it's all said and done, of very small to no actual consequence for the child's well-being. but perhaps i am putting too much symbolism on a very small aspect of parenting one's baby.

Mikhela said...

Great comments! Whoever thought a post about cloth nappies could be controversial? I think pretty much everything is a social marker for something else, and we all make assumptions about the bearers of certain markers, whether or not they turn out to be true (eg tattoos, mullet haircuts. I saw a comedian who said, 'Just because I've got dreadlocks, people think I give a shit about the envirnoment!' which struck me as funny and true). I'm going to have to do a much longer post about the role of judgmentalism (ie decision making through short cuts), which I think is an important survival tool. If I meet a mother in a playground with a baby in cloth nappies, I'm going to judge that I have more in common with her than with the one who's smoking, drinking a red bull and yelling 'Kaylah! Come here, you little slag!' (I kid you not). We all find our tribes and we all use external markers to do it. What are yours?

Anonymous said...

I'm into organic food, consider myself environmentally aware and politically okay in other ways, and am reasonably well educated & feel like I have some power in the world. And my kids wore disposable nappies every day of their nappy-wearing lives. And I don't consider myself a bogan.

Mikhela said...

There are two things.
1. It's a logic exercise. If I said 'all black dogs have nice natures' I would not be implying that white dogs don't have nice natures, just that I make assumptions about black dogs. In the same way, I make assumptions about cloth nappy wearing. It's a 'marker'. There may be other 'markers' instead of cloth nappies (and only about 2% of parents choose cloth nappies)but this article is about cloth nappies so I highlighted their particular role as a marker of certain values. Not saying that if you don't use cloth nappies you don't have those values, but if I would expect a higher percentage of cloth nappy users to share those values than the mainstream, disposable nappy users. Just my unscientific impression from chatting with cloth nappy choosers.

2. You may notice my main reason for using cloth nappies is because they look good. That's not terribly high minded of me! But it keeps me going through the necessary effort. So, as a person entitled to her own sense of aesthetics, I think paper nappies look bogan. There it is. I also prefer rivers to oceans, and think white chocolate is a complete waste of eating time. It's not about you.

Anonymous said...

Gosh Mikhela I think some of the comments people have left sound a tad defensive! I didn't think you sounded 'superior', more like 'enthusiastic'. I have used a combination of cloth and paper nappies with my twins and this has worked well for us. In an ideal world I would use cloth all the time because it is better for the environment as well as less exposure to the advertising that is incorporated into the more commercial brands of disposable nappies.

I also wanted to comment on the idea that 'feminists' should not criticise one another or other women. I think this is naive and I know that I do judge other parents for either doing a great job or for what I consider to be a less than great job. I do think that parents who for example hit their children or use shaming language are causing their children harm and I do judge these parents. I'm not saying I would think globally about single events and consider that an incident of coercive and critical parenting meant that person was a 'bad' parent. I would probably judge the incident though.

Sometimes the 'best' that people do is not good enough. Before anyone reacts I am talking about the continuum of behaviour that might exist along someone's 'best effort' at parenting. I have worked with enough abused and neglected and just simply hurt children and adults to know that some parents are not doing a good job, some mothers don't need appreciation for doing the best they can they (& their kids) need comprehensive intervention and support. Some parents, for many reasons, do do a bad job at parenting. I think it's important to admit that.

Overall though I think that cloth nappies and organic food and attachment parenting are all quality problems and storms in middle class tea cups. So cheers and good on you Mikhela for holding the banner for cloth nappies and for such a great review!

E, SS and the Little Man said...

Anonymous, when I said that some "Parents are doing the best they can" I was referring to using cloth or paper nappies. Never would I condone child abuse, or make the excuse that neglecting or abusing your children is "Doing the best a parent can."

I realize I was judging Mikhela for, what I consider, being a bit superior about cloth nappy usage. So, yes, we judge all the time. However, I don't think I'm being naive in thinking that there is a Mommy War going on, between people who use cloth or paper, people who breastfeed or bottlefeed, people who stay home with their children, or work full-time, people who feed their children organic food, or conventional. I think this war has its pitfalls. I feel as feminists we should support each other more. If a child is growing up in a warm, loving environment, where he/she is getting nourished physically, mentally and perhaps spiritually, I think that whatever that parent chooses (FROM THE LIST ABOVE) is doing the best they can.

Arwyn said...

For those of us ignorant (and from other hemispheres): what exactly is bogan?

Re: mommy wars, I feel like link-spaming a couple of my posts on the subject here, but fortunately for y'all, I can't copy/paste from an iPhone. To sum up, we need to try to avoid both giving /and/ taking offense, and remember that attacking someone for taking a position or stating an opinion fuels the wars just as much as stating an opinion that makes one feel attacked does.

Environmentally and health-wise, anyway, both cloth and paper both fail; it's all about elimination communication, peeps. :p