Bums the word
By the time your child is toilet-trained, you may have
worked your way through about 6,000 nappies. While disposables are
considered a convenience of modern parenting, cloth nappies are
making a comeback, with new designs and technology tempting parents
to re-consider their options when changing their child's nappies.
Ellie Gwilliam explains.
At some point in your parenting career, you may have
considered cloth nappies, if only for a fleeting moment! Perhaps
the pending birth of your firstborn prompted someone's well-meaning
suggestion that you go against the "disposable flow" and wash cloth
instead. More than likely this someone was a mum from an older
generation, who washed her way through piles of nappies before the
convenience of quality disposables was a viable option. Someone
like my own mother, for example, who washed nappies for four
children without an automatic washing machine, which meant
individually putting each nappy, quite literally, through the
But cloth nappies are not just a form of torture for environmental
martyrs. Modern cloth nappies, or MCNs, are a vast improvement on
their predecessors. Fabric innovation and design ingenuity mean
MCNs are more comfortable, more absorbent, more breathable, easier
to wash, and easier to outfit. Days of soaking and a degree in
origami are no longer requirements for those choosing cloth.
Dangerous nappy pins are also history, with velcro and dome
fastenings removing the stress from your change-table
Why choose reusable?
Environmental awareness is a major influence on the
recent upsurge in cloth nappy usage. Our increasingly
consumer-driven society encourages us to generate more and more
household waste, but lingo like "reducing your
carbon footprint" has made green the new black. Each time you
use a cloth nappy, you will be making an environmental saving -
reducing the waste, consumption, and energy usage. How you wash
your cloth nappies (bearing in mind that paying close attention to
each product's laundry instructions is recommended) determines the
extent of their environmental impact, factors such as water
temperature, load size, type of laundry powder, and drying methods
all affecting the ultimate size of your carbon footprint.
Cost is the other main motivator. With parents estimating each
child will need their nappy changed between 4,000 and 6,000
times between birth and toilet training, it doesn't take a genius
to work out that nappies are a considerable expense. Some still
argue that purchasing, washing, and drying cloth nappies can work
out to be just as expensive as disposables, but the New
Zealand Nappy Alliance (www.nzna.org.nz
) calculate that outfitting one child in modern reusable
nappies, including all the laundering expenses, will cost a total
of $1,068 (priced using premium cloth nappies), compared to a
staggering $6,095 for disposables. And the savings continue when
you use your cloth nappies for your second child, instead of
purchasing more disposables.
Other benefits of reusable nappies include the materials used in
manufacturing. Cloth nappies are free from chemical absorbers and
fragrances, and can be made from organic, unbleached fibres such as
cotton, hemp, or bamboo. They are also good-looking! Modern designs
include funky patterns and colours, creating nappies you don't have
to cover up.
But what about the mess, you ask? Isn't washing nappies and coming
in close contact with their contents a huge ordeal? As with most
things unknown, the anticipation is worse than the reality. Solids
can usually be quickly and easily tipped into the toilet and
flushed away, and wet nappies are generally quite inoffensive. You
soon establish a laundry routine, and the whole process becomes
almost incidental. Besides, here's a little-known fact: Even with
disposable nappies, solid waste is best flushed down the toilet,
rather than thrown away with household rubbish.
Choosing your nappies
Cost is a major consideration when choosing a reusable nappy
system. Although you will save money by using cloth, the old adage
of "You get what you pay for!" is true in your purchasing of all
nappies. Generally, the more expensive the system, the longer it
will last. The economy of reusable nappies really comes into play
when your system serves more than one child. It is important to
note that while there is a range of prices between reusable nappy
systems, there is also a price variance when it comes to designs
within each system. There are the top-dollar brands, and then there
are plenty of cheaper, similar products or "knockoffs". Cheaper
versions may not be as well designed, properly tested, and may not
wash well, possibly leaking and falling apart before they have
given you value for money.
Try a few styles and do some research before you invest in an
entire system. Ask people about their experiences with different
nappies, as you will benefit from making an informed and considered
purchase. Some systems require you upsize as your child grows,
whereas others (usually the more expensive products) will serve
your child from birth to potty training. The OHbaby! message boards
(www.ohbaby.co.nz ) are a
good place to start, as there is a dedicated cloth nappy forum for
discussions like these.
Remember, you don't have to use one style exclusively. Feel free to
mix-and-match. Some people use a variety of reusable nappies,
finding different designs better suit different activities -
outings or overnights, for example. And, of course, you don't have
to be an absolute cloth nappy purist and forego disposables
completely. Many parents use disposables for the first few weeks or
months of their baby's life, especially during the meconium stage
when washing cloth would be extra-challenging. Be realistic during
those early days, when you have enough adjustments to make without
giving yourself extra laundry. That said, reusable nappies are
absolutely fine for newborn babies. Disposables are also the
convenient option when it comes to travelling or holidays. Unless
you feel like taking your washing machine along on your camping
trip, disposables mean you can take a nappy-washing
Other issues to consider are your family's lifestyle (if other
people are looking after your child, consider which system would be
easiest for them to use), and also the climate where you live.
Ideally, drying nappies in the tumble dryer should be avoided, thus
maintaining environmental and financial savings. If you get a lot
of rain, look for the faster-drying products.
Personally, I was delighted to discover that the cloth nappies I
chose for my daughter are easy to use, simple to wash, fast to dry,
and tidy to fold and store. Call me old-fashioned, but there is
great satisfaction in bringing in a load of sun-dried nappies and
folding them neatly for the next day. Admittedly, I do feel a
tinge of smugness as I consider my eco-footprint. But more
importantly, the cloth nappies I am using are doing their job quite
well, and keeping my daughter comfortable.
Ellie Gwilliam is OHbaby! Magazine's sub editor, and
is optimistically hoping daughter Johanna is toilet-trained by
March 2009, so baby number two can make use of her cloth
As seen in OHbaby!
magazine Issue 4: 2009
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