Reusable cloth nappies
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 wringer.
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 routine.
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 mini-break.
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 nappies.