I’m not going to lie, today’s interview is long. But Christabel – who describes her house of two adults and two children as ‘loud and messy and fun and vibrant’ – tells so many relatable tales of motherhood with so much wit and charm, I know you are going to love reading her words as much as I did. Christabel lives in Greater Manchester, UK, and describes herself as a fun/ loving/ lazy/ working/ creative/ tired/ ‘anything for an easy life’/ funny/ ‘trying my best but not always getting it right’ mum who is still learning to be kind to herself.
Christabel’s cloth nappy journey started with a desire to do better by the planet and an Aldi sale. She freely admits she isn’t great at making her stash look Instaworthy (if by the end of the day we have all the nappies washed, stuffed and shoved in the drawer any old way, then I’m pretty pleased), but she’s doing her bit to normalise reusable nappies by ‘banging on about cloth nappies’ on social media. I didn’t realise how proud I would be to be a cloth mama, she says.
Welcome, Christabel @mamafoxup
Tell us a little about yourself, your family and where you live?
I’m 30 years old, I’ve been with my husband, Mark, for 10 years and we have a two-year-old whirlwind of a son, Bruno, and a lively (code for non-sleeping) and smiley daughter, Leela, who will be one in a few days. We also have a dog called Rita and a cat called Hoggleton. We live in Salford (Greater Manchester) in a lovely little village called Roe Green right next to the woods where we love walking the dog, exploring and feeding the ducks. I’m currently on maternity leave but ordinarily I’m self-employed and run a Colour The Clouds Theatre Company – we make original, imaginative and exciting work for children and their grown-ups. Mark works for The University of Salford as the Theatre Venue Manager and is also works alongside me as one of the directors of Colour The Clouds. There are five of us who run the company and, between us, we have 8 kids, as well as other work commitments, so the theatre company has to fit around our schedules which is a challenge. We have been Associate Artists at The Lowry Theatre in Salford for the last three years and have lots of exciting plans coming up. I’m very close to my family (Mum, Dad and two older sisters) and am lucky to see them often; they are a big part of mine and my children’s lives and a big support to us all.
Can you share your favourite part about living where you do?
We live right next to the woods and, especially now Bruno is getting older and more adventurous, we are having great fun exploring and splashing in the stream. I love that the village has an old fashioned feel and a real sense of community with various family oriented events throughout the year. We are only 20 minutes from Manchester City Centre but it feels like we are in the middle of the countryside.
What’s the best part of being a part of your family?
Part of our marriage vows were ‘let’s be silly together forever’; we have kept it up so far and are raising our kids to be silly, confident and caring. Our house is loud and messy and fun and vibrant.
What’s your life motto?
When things are hard we always chant and repeat ‘everything is a phase’ to get us through.
How do you make the most of everyday?
I try not to put pressure on myself to achieve anything … that way absolutely everything is a bonus.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
Endless energy … imagine never feeling tired! I would get so much more done and I would be less grumpy.
What’s something you wish you had more time for?
I wish I had more time to spend with Mark where we actually had the energy to do something exciting.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Stop worrying! I worry about the future, about money, about the way I look, about what people think of me, about whether I’m a good enough mum, about the state of the planet … I wish I could just stop worrying about things I either can’t control or that just aren’t important.
How do you ensure you look after yourself?
Since having Leela, our second baby, I’ve gotten much better at recognising when I need a break, usually in the form of a nap. Having two kids is hard work, there is a lot of ‘divide and conquer’ parenting going on so we both need to be well rested. We take it in turns to have a lie in as Leela is still up lots in the night so we are often exhausted. Our marriage/ parenting is very equal, for example, I feed Leela so Mark changes her and rocks her to sleep … we are a good team.
What kinds of activities help you feel like you?
Mark knows that when I’m having a rough day there are three things that he can do to make me feel better – pour me a glass, run me a bath and make me laugh.
Aside from that, I love laughing with my friends, I love eating good food (LOTS of it) and I love being silly with my family.
Another thing that has really helped me recently is starting an Instagram account to share my experiences as a mum … having to put a funny spin on things forces me to look on the bright side of mum life and not take myself too seriously. My passion is performance and being a mum can be lonely sometimes so I miss that platform to perform and make people laugh. It’s good to feel connected with the outside world and when someone messages or comments to say they know how you feel it is a real boost. It has been bloomin’ lovely to have people get in touch to let me know that my posts brighten their day.
What is your response to the attitude that as one person you cannot make a difference to the world?
Rubbish! Take cloth nappies – my little family will have stopped over TEN THOUSAND single use nappies going to landfill. If that’s not making a difference, then I don’t know what is. Plus every time someone catches a glimpse of our gorgeous nappies, it normalises them; even if they don’t end up using them, they now know someone who does and can maybe pass that knowledge on. Don’t underestimate the ripple effect. I bang on about cloth nappies on my social media and have had many friends get in touch and ask for more information; some of them now use cloth nappies, hooray!
My metaphor for counteracting the attitude of ‘one person can’t make a difference’ is the bee. One bee pollinates a few flowers, which grows into a tree and the tree grows fruit to feed animals and humans … if one bee can do all that imagine what one person with access to modern technology and social media etc can do.
What is your best tip for making the world a better place?
One step at a time. It can be overwhelming when you first look at changing your lifestyle to improve the planet so, instead of trying to do it all at once, make small changes one at a time. For example, if you don’t want to take the plunge into full-time cloth nappies then try using one a day. This small step can save around 900 nappies from going to landfill. Other small steps could be next time you do a food shop buy as much loose veg as possible, try a bamboo toothbrush, switch to bars of soap rather than single use plastic pump hand soap. There are loads of easy swaps you can do; little and often is the key.
What is the most important lesson you want your children to learn?
Kindness … for yourself, for others, for animals and for the planet.
What does an average day look like for you?
(NB: This conversation with Christabel occurred back in May; though, in speaking with her recently, she noted that few things have changed.)
Leela is up around four or five times a night so, by the time she wakes up for the day at 05:15, we are exhausted and spend the first couple of minutes saying the token “no, I’ll get up” to each other but staying very still hoping the other one will make the first move. The winner stays in bed and the other gets up and takes her downstairs with Bruno’s monitor waiting for him to join the party at 06:00 (I breed early risers).
Let’s say for the sake of this that today it’s my turn. Until Bruno wakes up, I can still get away with watching a bit of grown up TV, which is the silver lining to the early shift. So, I’ll stick on Grey’s Anatomy whilst I change Leela. Bruno is a very sensitive little boy so when he wakes it’s all very delicate; lots of cuddles and some warm milk while he comes round, then it’s breakfast time. I set the kids up with their food and Bruno has a video call with my mum; she does this every single morning while he gobbles his porridge; I love this tradition. Whilst she keeps him busy, I hang up the nappies on the heated airer and wait for Mark to come down and take over so I can go and catch up on a bit of sleep.
Ordinarily, we will walk Mark to the bus stop then he goes off to work. Tuesday and Wednesday Bruno hops on the bus with him and Mark drops him at nursery but, on other days, we carry on walking with the dog for a bit and then head home. Every day is different but, once a week, we will go to the local playgroup, once a week my parents will come and visit and the rest of the time I just try to come up with as many activities as possible to entertain Bruno whilst I keep Leela happy. My best purchase so far is a yearly Sealife pass … we live 10 minutes away from one and, when I’m at the end of my rope, we go and calm down staring at the turtles.
Being a parent to two young kids is a real juggling act and some days are good but some days are really hard so I stick the TV on for Bruno all day just so I can have a break. There are days when I just count the hours until Mark gets home but the older Leela gets the easier it is; now she can sit up, she is a little more independent. It took us a really long time to sort out Bruno’s sleeping but now he has a consistent 2.5 hour nap which I am so grateful for because I can reset the house (which usually looks like a hurricane has hit by lunchtime), make myself some lunch and chill out a bit … or as much as you can with a 7 month old in the mix. I know I am absolutely winning at life if I can get both kids down at the same time; if I can achieve this even just for 20 minutes, it’s absolute bliss.
After nap time Bruno is very emotional and needs a lot of attention/ distraction/ snacks until he calms down. Then we walk to the bus stop to meet Mark after work. Nursery days are great as they are less exhausting … I never thought that I would consider looking after a 7 month old a day off but it’s so much easier once we have sent hurricane Bruno off to nursery.
We try to eat dinner together if we can but evenings are so much of a rush to get everyone fed and into bed, especially as Leela goes down as 7 and Bruno goes down at 8. Want to know a secret … we don’t bath our kids every night … shock horror! I feel like we are really against the clock in the evenings so, once I’ve fed Leela and got her to bed (which takes a lot of rocking!), I usually pass the boys on the way up the stairs. I tidy up and put the washing on, then Mark comes down and we collapse in front of the TV and stuff nappies … it’s our nightly ritual.
Life can sometimes feel a bit like Groundhog Day but there are such lovely moments that make it all worthwhile, like a sleepy cuddle, a sparkling smile just for me or a new exciting skill or achievement to make me feel like a proud mama. Entertaining two young kids is really hard work especially as it seems to have rained constantly for the entirety of Leela’s little life so far, so we were really looking forward to warmer weather and getting outside more to set Bruno free to be feral in the woods.
Then, of course, COVID-19 hit and we are in lockdown, so life looks very different now. No more nursery days, eeek! Mark is working from home as is my sister who has come to live with us for the lockdown. Keeping Bruno from interrupting high level Zoom meetings by announcing “I done a poo poo” is a full-time job, plus he is as sensitive soul at the best of times; we call him a sunshine and showers boy as he really does have ALL the feels, so the big changes recently have affected him. We are finally getting into the swing of things and, thank goodness, the weather has been glorious so we can play in the garden. Lockdown life is very different but we are trying to appreciate the slower pace of our family life.
What is your favourite thing to do together as a family?
We love exploring the woods near our house on a sunny day. Watching Bruno running around, collecting sticks and paddling in the stream, makes me really happy; I can’t wait until Leela is old enough to join him.
What do you like to do on rainy days?
We love a good Disney film; although, Bruno has quite a short attention span, so usually we set up lots of different activities for him to do when he gets bored of sitting still. We also love setting up an obstacle course in the house; it’s great fun and a good way to burn off some toddler energy. Our other go-to rainy day activity is The Sealife Centre … the annual pass is the best £20 I’ve ever spent.
What kind of mum are you?
I’m lots of different kinds of mum every day; actually, every hour, I’m a different mum. I never thought I would be a shouty mum but my little tornado definitely brings out that side of me. I’m also a fun mum, a loving mum, a lazy mum, a working mum, a creative mum, a tired mum, an ‘anything for an easy life’ mum, a funny mum, a ‘trying my best but not always getting it right’ mum … and I’m sure there are many other sides to myself as a mum I’ve yet to discover.
What has motherhood taught you about yourself?
It’s not really something that I have learnt about myself but the main thing I have come to realise is that my mum is an actual superhero. She ran two successful businesses whilst raising three kids. We were all competitive ice skaters and our mum took us training five times a week, and drove us all over the country to compete. Oh, and she was head of the school governors … so when I get in a flap with two kids and no other commitments, I just think of what my mum achieved and it gives me a reality check. She is my inspiration and became most successful/ proactive after she had kids, so it gives me hope that one day I will see personal achievements other than managing to wash my hair once a week.
What’s the best part about having children?
The fun and laughter. Over the last year, Bruno has developed his personality; he is genuinely funny and brings everyone he meets joy. He’s cheeky and quirky … a lovable weirdo! One of my proudest parenting achievements is that he can throw shade on demand; it’s his party trick. I’m excited to see what my children become.
What has been the most challenging, and the most rewarding stage of motherhood for you?
I found becoming a mum for the first time a huge shock. There is nothing that can prepare you for what is to come. I felt an overwhelming mix of emotions – love, panic, exhaustion, loneliness, inadequacy, disappointment, despair, uncertainty, sadness and, of course, LOVE, which makes it all worthwhile. I remember thinking that I didn’t feel how a new mum ‘should’ feel. When Bruno was born, I didn’t love him immediately; I didn’t know him yet and I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I have always wanted to be a mum and we waited so long for him that I thought I would be like Mother Earth and it would be easy and enjoyable and I would be a natural. The reality could not be further from the truth; mostly, I muddle through and hope for the best.
Which moments of motherhood make your heart the happiest?
I am incredibly proud of how much joy my children bring others, especially Bruno. I’m not just biased; he is so funny and charismatic; he makes a lasting impression on everyone he meets. There is no greater joy for me than watching my kids have a positive impact on others. I’m excited to see Leela’s personality develop and give Bruno a run for his money.
How have you found the transition from one to two children?
Going from one to two children has been a whirlwind. We had just about cracked life with a toddler and were almost starting to feel like ourselves again and then ‘BOOM’ baby number two dropped in and shook everything up. Bruno, our sunshine and showers boy, really struggled with the shift in family life and he still hasn’t settled fully. Leela, as a newborn, was so easy; she lulled us into a false sense of security and then it turned out she was a worse sleeper than Bruno ever was (didn’t think this was possible). Trying to rock an overtired baby with a screaming toddler hanging off your leg is a real challenge but, luckily, this hasn’t happened too many times.
On the whole, the hard times have been worse than I imagined but they are much more brief and infrequent than I thought they would be. In the last 8 months, there has only been a few times where I have stood staring into space as my little world crumbles around me not knowing how I will get through the next hour. On the whole, although life is much more busy and hectic than it was before, it’s much easier second time round. I am more confident in my abilities as a mother; I don’t check whether Leela is breathing every five minutes. I also don’t expect too much of myself; for example, I have given in to the magic of putting Bruno in front of the TV to give myself a break or to calm him down. I’m all for an easy life at the moment – happy Mum = happy babies.
I am enjoying the new baby stage more second time round because I am more relaxed and I’m not wishing away the time just waiting for her to hit the next milestone. Luckily, Leela isn’t in half as much of a rush as Bruno was to get moving so I have time to appreciate her just being a little smiley, gurgling baby.
Do you feel mother guilt? If so, how do you manage it?
I have always struggled with mum guilt but the more mums I meet or the more honest mums like me I follow on social media, the better I feel. Everyone is doing their best and, some days, if my best is Hey Duggee on repeat and chips for dinner, then that is enough. I am learning to be kind to myself.
Parenting is full of contradictions. What are some of the contradictions with which you often grapple?
Never wake a sleeping baby … but also make sure your baby doesn’t nap too long or too late or too often and make sure they sleep the ‘right’ way and sleep through the night (still convinced this is a myth) and make sure they don’t have any sleep props … blah blah blah. I hate when people ask ‘are they a good baby’ always referring to sleep – no, my kids have never slept late, they need comfort. Bruno still has a dummy at night, Leela is still on the boob every 2-3 hours in the night … but they are happy. My job as a mum is to keep my children safe and happy so, yes, I think both my kids are good; no, they are great.
What’s the right age to become a parent?
There is no right age, or stage, in life to have a baby; it will be a rollercoaster whenever you embark on the SMS Parenthood. All I have ever wanted is to be a mum. When I was little, I wanted to be married at 18 and have children at 20 … I’m REALLY glad I didn’t do that. It works for some people, but for me, I am glad I waited. I developed so much in my twenties – I discovered who I was, I travelled, I had fun, I made mistakes, I found my career. I was 28 when Bruno was born and I still didn’t have a flipping clue what I was doing so any earlier for me would have been really, really tough.
Best advice you’ve ever been given about motherhood.
No one really knows what they are doing.
Can you talk us through what led you to using cloth with your children?
In the years leading up to becoming pregnant, I started to think about the environmental impact of having a child. I wrestled with guilt at wanting my own baby when the world is already overpopulated or over polluted but I knew that I wanted a baby. So I started to look at what ways I could raise a baby with as little negative impact to the planet as possible. I mentioned cloth nappies and people would laugh; this was back when I still thought they were big fluffy towel things with a giant safety pin, so I discounted the idea. However, when I realised how far cloth nappies had come and saw how easy they were and how pretty they looked I knew it’s something I wanted to do.
I didn’t know anyone else from my generation who was using cloth nappies and I had tried to look into them but found the amount of information available overwhelming. Then one day Aldi, of all places, was selling Miosolo all-in-one nappies really cheap in their baby event whilst I was pregnant, so we bought a load. I still wasn’t sure how they worked but I was excited to try them. The more research I did, the more I realised these were unlikely to fit a newborn, so I bought a set of Close Pop In newborn nappies and that is where our cloth journey began.
We started cloth full time when Bruno was around 2 weeks old and we struggled with the Pop Ins; they were never a very good fit for us and we constantly had leaks. I tried again to look into different options but got overwhelmed by the whole process. I kept reading that you need to buy lots of different types and see what works for you but I’m impatient. I didn’t want to wait and keep getting it wrong and keep getting leaks. Bruno was constantly sick and it was hard enough changing his clothes five time a day and, for that reason, getting leaks just wasn’t an option. I found Baba+Boo by chance. I went round to help a fellow actor, Julia, film her showreel and I noticed cloth nappies in her basket. It was a real ‘Hallalujah moment’ as I could actually talk to someone and get advice rather than trawling through forums and reviews online. Julia told me how easy they were and that she used Baba+Boo who were a Manchester company run by a mum who is actually really bloody lovely and has created a supportive online community where you can get a wealth of advice. Eve, who owns Baba+Boo is revolutionising the industry by making it easy, accessible and affordable.
I went online and ordered my first few Baba+Boo nappies. They were dropped off in person the next day as it turns out that Eve and her family lived just down the road from me. I immediately fell in love with the nappies – it didn’t take us long to find the right fit, the prints were so gorgeous and they just worked really well for us. I was so glad that we didn’t have to go through the trial and error phase with lots of different brands. It all seemed to slot into place – I had found nappies that worked for us and I was supporting a local business run by an inspirational mum.
How has your experience been using cloth with more than one child?
We have to wash every day but other than that it hasn’t changed our routine. We decided we didn’t want to buy too many more nappies so we have enough plus a few spare if we do a daily wash. We bought a set of newborn Baba+Boo nappies for Leela which worked so much better for us than the Close Pop Ins we had for Bruno and they are bigger so lasted her for nearly six months. Now they use the same nappies but the brilliant thing about Baba+Boo BTP (birth to potty) is that they really do seem to fit any baby with a bit of adjustment on the poppers. My children are very different shapes but we haven’t had many issues with pee leaks and we have never had a poop explode out of the nappy; they really are bomb proof. We put Leela in her first cloth nappy when she was about 1 hour old at the hospital and although it was big on her we didn’t have any leaks. We had to switch to two inserts with Leela at only one week old as she was a heavy wetter; she was basically mostly nappy with a piddly little body sticking out!
Can you explain your philosophy behind using cloth nappies and how they fit into your life?
Cloth nappies just make sense. I think if more people knew the benefits they would give cloth a try. Here are our top 3 reasons for using cloth:
- They are so much better for the environment – not only does it stop 1000s of nappies going to landfill, the manufacturing process for cloth nappies is also much greener.
- Cloth nappies are kinder to skin – they are softer, don’t contain chemicals and keep baby cooler and dryer.
- We have made a huge saving by using cloth – I would estimate a saving of around £3,000. On average, a child would go through around 5,000 single use nappies and cost around £2,000 per child. We have probably spent around £500 on all of our cloth nappies (including all accessories such as cloth wipes and wet bags) and not only will that last us both of our children but we can then sell the nappies on. There is a big market for pre-loved cloth nappies especially for such high quality and long lasting brands like Baba+Boo so we will make some money back once our journey with cloth is over.
Can you share an example of how cloth has made your life easier?
Single use nappies tend to leak much more than cloth so we rarely have to change clothes due to leaks. We have also never experienced the dreaded ‘poonami’ as the nappies are so good at containing poop. We will never run out of nappies and have the last minute panic trip to the shop; it’s nice being self-sufficient in that way. We are currently in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and I know many shops sold out of single use nappies and wipes which must have been so stressful for parents. It was reassuring to know that during lockdown we could stay in our happy little cloth bubble. Starting out on our journey with cloth nappies has also introduced us to other eco parenting/ lifestyle products that have made our lives better and helped us to live more sustainably and affordably.
Can you share how you stay organised with using cloth nappies?
After Leela grew out of the newborn nappies and joined Bruno in the BTP nappies, we didn’t want to fork out for extra nappies (especially with Bruno being potentially close to potty training) so we decided to switch to washing every day. We flush any poop in the toilet and then stick the poopy nappy in the machine so that it’s locked away until we are ready to wash. All other nappies go in a laundry bin in the living room and then, when the kids are in bed, we stick all nappies in the machine, do a cold rinse and then stick some supermarket brand non bio powder in and put it on a long wash at 40 degrees. Our baby clothes setting works well and includes an extra rinse at the end. We put the wash on before we go to bed and then hang the nappies up to dry the next morning on our heated airer. The nappies will be dry by the evening so we stuff them whilst we watch TV; it’s part of our wind-down time so it doesn’t seem like a chore.
If we are out and about, we just bundle the wet/ dirty nappies into a wet bag and sort them out when we get home. We wash our cloth wipes in the same load and, if there is room, we will put clothes in there too … some people get funny about poop in the washing machine but it really doesn’t matter; the machine will clean everything in there. We store out nappies in a drawer in the living room. I enjoy seeing other people’s fancy stash shots and creative storage solutions but I can’t be bothered … ours just get shoved in a drawer.
Can you share the research process you undertook in choosing to use cloth nappies?
I got completely overwhelmed when I first looked into cloth nappies. I had no idea which style or brand to go for; there seemed to be a hundred options. Then the overcomplicated washing routines baffled me and nearly put me off trying cloth altogether which is such a shame as there is absolutely no need for it to be complicated … cloth nappies should fit into your life and washing routine NOT the other way round. I got a few Miosolo all-in-one nappies from Aldi of all places very early on in my pregnancy but it became obvious that these weren’t going to be quite right for us (although we still use them for nursery). We decided to dive in and ordered a kit of Close Pop In newborn nappies as I had seen them mentioned lots online. We followed a complicated washing routine and it was stressful alongside learning how to be new parents; we also couldn’t get the fit quite right and got a lot of leaks. Bruno was growing out of them quicker than we thought and I started worrying about which nappies to go for next but then a friend introduced me to Baba+Boo. Once I found Baba+Boo, everything slotted into place and we haven’t looked back since.
Are there any resources that have really helped you on your cloth nappy journey?
Facebook is a great place to get honest advice and reviews; there are plenty of groups dedicated to helping parents on their reusable nappy journey. I am now a mentor on a group called ‘Simple Reusable Nappies: Mentoring and advice for parents new to cloth’ which was set up to try to cut through all the complicated advice. It has some great getting started guides and then plenty of experienced cloth nappy users to give straightforward advice. I am by no means an expert, I haven’t tried many brands and I’m still learning, but I was added to the list of mentors because of my interaction on the Baba+Boo Hangout group on Facebook. Anytime I post on there, it’s about keeping it simple, and I have the approach of you really can’t go far wrong with washing … I’ve done lots of typical cloth “no nos” – accidentally put my nappies on at 90 degrees, run out of powder and used liquitabs, put the whole lot in the tumble dryer … you name it, I’ve done it and, guess what, my nappies are still going strong.
The Baba+Boo Hangout on Facebook is a great place to go to get supportive advice from parents with a wealth of knowledge and experience. I also cannot recommend the Baba+Boo website enough; it is full of brilliant blog posts and videos all about keeping things simple. Eve, the creator, is an absolute inspiration; she is so passionate about cloth nappies and about helping people on their journey. She cares about every single nappy she sends out and her company has the best customer service I have ever encountered.
Can you compare how using cloth differs to what you thought it would be like?
It’s easier than I thought! Before I started looking into reusables, I assumed they hadn’t come far from the towel and safety pin days but I was so wrong. Not only are the nappy prints gorgeous, making you proud to flash the fluff in summer, but they are so easy to use. I love that our nappies ‘grow’ with our kids and we don’t have to keep changing size … BTP really is one fits all. I didn’t realise how proud I would be to be a cloth mama; I love talking about them especially to people who have never seen them or are skeptical. It makes my heart sing when someone I have spoken to dives in to the world of reusables.
What do you think has led to a successful cloth journey for you?
Finding the right style and brand that suits you, your children and your lifestyle is the key. I know I have mentioned Baba+Boo so much but, honestly, I don’t think we would have persevered with cloth if it weren’t for Eve and her incredible company. Making our nappy washing routine fit in with our life has been really important to us; we are all about an easy life and that’s what we have got.
What has been your biggest challenge as a cloth family and how have you overcome it?
Travelling with cloth nappies used to stress me out and I was never sure how many nappies and wipes to take and how to deal with dirty nappy storage etc but we quickly got into the swing of things. I don’t try to cram everything into a nappy bag anymore. When I go away for a few nights, to my parents for example, we put as many nappies as we can into big shopping bags, along with a few wet bags and a big box of cloth wipes. It makes it easy for us and my parents to see where everything is and have easy access for quick nappy changes. My tip is take as many nappies as you have room for, take plenty of wet bags and if you are going for more than three days, then try to travel to places with washing facilities.
Which aspect of using cloth nappies are you worst at?
Making it look Instaworthy! I love looking at other people’s neat, colour-coordinated stash shots and their stacks for the day with a print theme running through, but that just isn’t us … if by the end of the day we have all the nappies washed, stuffed and shoved in the drawer any old way then I’m pretty pleased.
Have you ever thought there was a time you might give up on using cloth? Explain.
When Bruno started growing out of the Pop In newborn nappies early and we were getting leaks and having to change clothes a lot I really lost enthusiasm. I kept waiting for it to click and I kept waiting to fall in love with cloth and, whilst many people love those nappies, they obviously just weren’t right for us. I assumed that either all cloth nappies were the same or that it was our fault for not following complicated wash routines … I knew that we would never be the type of people to wash at exactly 45.7 degrees under the light of a full moon using unicorn tears (I jest but, honestly, that’s about as ridiculous as some of the crazy advice sounds to me) so we almost gave up.
Would you consider getting started with cloth necessarily expensive?
Not necessarily. You could start out using one nappy a day and build your stash up. I would always recommend buying pre-loved as that is a cheaper option and the more a nappy is washed the more absorbent it is so you’ll have a head start. As long as you can see photos of the condition of the nappies and get some information about amount of use etc, then secondhand cloth is the way to go. Selling pages on Facebook are great and people often sell bundles of nappies which works out even cheaper. If you would prefer to buy new, then most brands will do bundles on their websites which makes it slightly cheaper. You can buy start kits which include extra bits you might need such as bags or a bucket but we have always just used a plastic washing hamper with a loose lid for our nappies so you don’t necessarily need the ‘proper’ accessories which is a way of saving money.
What has the response to using cloth been like from your family and friends?
My mum was not on board at all when I first mentioned it; she couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t opt for single use nappies. She was concerned about the extra work involved with washing and thought the idea of washing poop was gross. I don’t think she realised just how far cloth nappies have developed in recent years and, once she saw how good and easy they were, she came round to the idea, especially when she saw the gorgeous prints. I think as soon as she saw the Baba+Boo puffin nappy she was sold. My mum is now a cloth nappy convert and gushes to anyone who will listen about how her daughter uses reusable nappies. The world has changed dramatically in the last couple of years – when we bought our first cloth nappy in 2017 most people we would mention reusables to would scrunch up their nose at the thought of them but now they are slowly becoming more mainstream. Now the reaction we get it much more positive and encouraging. Since the ban on single use straws and the push for the reduction of all single use plastics, suddenly, many more people are interested in alternatives and want to know more about cloth; it’s fantastic.
What is the best thing others can do to support your cloth efforts?
I think the best way to support people on their cloth journey is to be encouraging; it does involve more effort than using single use nappies so it’s great every now and then to get a little pat on the back for doing your bit for the planet. If you don’t like the idea of washable nappies then, instead of being negative, ask questions about why they chose cloth and what do they like about them; you never know, you might be converted.
Best advice you’ve ever been given about cloth.
Ignore the complicated washing routines – as long as you don’t use fabric softener or harsh chemicals then you can’t go far wrong.
What’s the one piece of advice you would pass on to all cloth families/ mothers?
Keep things simple, do what works for you and your family. Cloth can and should fit into your life rather than the other way round. Bonus advice is: embrace the bulk and never buy clothes that don’t stretch. Stretchy rompers are your friend … there are so many amazing people on Etsy etc who hand-make gorgeous clothes that will complement your baby’s big fluffy cloth bum.
How do you manage cloth while out and about? Any tips?
We take a waterproof bag with a handful of cloth wipes which we wet at home so they are ready to go. We take a few nappies and a wetbag … that’s it really. The only difference to using cloth out and about rather than single use nappies is you take the nappies home with you. It isn’t daunting like you might think. If one of our kids poop while we are out, I would flush as much of it as possible (I hold the liner in the loo and flush) and then wrap everything up in the nappy and use the poppers to secure it in a tight bundle, pop it in a wet bag and deal with it when I get home … easy peasy.
What is the largest misconception about cloth you have come across and how have you responded to it?
Some people seem to be really hung up on the fact that they think poop in your washing machine is gross, but a washing machine’s job is to clean any dirt out of clothes and wash it away. In actual fact, minimal poop actually goes in the machine, most of it goes down the toilet. I always say, ‘I hate to break it to you but there are poop particles on your clothes’ or ‘would you expect a nurse or a famer to throw away their clothes after every working day?’ It’s all about perception. To be honest, I find the idea of putting poop in the bin much more disgusting than washing it away and the thought of it all sitting in landfill leaking toxic waste into the environment makes me really sad.
How has using cloth nappies changed your thinking on making eco-friendly choices?
Once you start down the cloth nappy rabbit hole, you’ll never look back. First, it’s cloth nappies and wipes, then wetbags (which have so many uses) and CSP (cloth sanitary pads), then eco toys, bamboo tableware and handmade clothes … the list goes on. Using reusable nappies makes us consider everything a lot more carefully. We have reduced the amount we buy, we only buy what we need and we have so much less stuff cluttering up our lives. When we do buy anything we always try to buy second hand if possible; it’s cheaper and better for the environment … Facebook marketplace has been a game changer. We also eat a better diet now and have dramatically reduced the amount of meat and processed foods we eat. Using cloth nappies has made us think about what other simple steps we can take in all aspects of our lives; I love the eco rabbit hole that reusable nappies has sent us down.
Describe the difference you hope to make for future generations by using cloth and other eco-friendly options?
I hope that cloth becomes more mainstream and it would be fantastic if it eventually became the norm. The more we flash our fluff the more people will become used to it. I hope that my kids grow up with compassion for the planet and an inbuilt sense of considering eco-friendly options. I’ve given them the best start I can by wrapping their little bums in fluffy cloth and will continue to encourage positive choices.
What do you think needs to happen to make cloth mainstream?
We need more celebrities to endorse reusables. Joe Wicks (The Bodycoach) uses Baba+Boo and talks about them on his social media and that is such a good start. If Kate Middleton, for example, decided to use and endorse cloth nappies, it would be a complete game changer. Another positive step is to use them on mainstream television. Anytime you see a nappy, whether it’s cartoon or ‘real life’, it should be a cloth nappy. Local councils could do more to shout about the benefits of cloth; some councils offer incentives and money back schemes but they are difficult to find. You can buy cloth online and many zero waste shops stock them but, in the future, it would be great if we saw them on the shelves in supermarkets as an option next to the single use nappies. They need to be more visible and many cloth nappy companies are small independent businesses so they need a boost from the government, local councils, the media and people in the public eye.
If you could remove all barriers and constraints, what would the future of handling babies’ outputs look like?
Single use nappies have their place but I want them to be the exception and cloth to be the norm. All baby changing facilities would be centered around dealing with cloth, for example, a bidet style hose to clean poop off liners whilst out and about would be fantastic. All parents would be given vouchers to spend on cloth nappies or have the ability to apply for free cloth nappy starter kits. Washing machines would have a cloth nappy setting. Adverts for single use nappies would be banned and replaced with reusables. I’ve never sat and thought about this until now but I’m sure my list of ‘demands’ would go on and on.
And, lastly, do you have any funny stories you can share about using cloth?
I had a recent poop related disaster in the middle of a busy department store. I was out for lunch with the kids and, before we got in the car to go home, I thought I better check if Bruno needed changing. I usually pull back the outer shell of the nappy to have a peek inside and check for poop but for some reason that day I stuck my hand right inside the back of the nappy and knew immediately it was a huge mistake. I panicked and, rather than just pulling my hand out, I accidentally made it into a claw and scooped out a handful of not particularly solid poop.
We were stood in the middle of Selfridges, I had Leela in one arm and now a handful of poop in the other. When I had removed my hand from the nappy, I had smeared poop onto Bruno’s t-shirt and I had no free clean hand to grab him with before he went running off through the store weaving in and out all of the posh clothes. I was mortified but trying to not draw attention to us. Luckily, I managed to catch up with him before he made a mess. I kept my poop hand low and tried to hide it as best I could whilst shepherding my toddler towards the toilets.
The baby change was occupied and I couldn’t go in the normal toilets; I needed a room big enough for us all and I needed privacy to scrub my hand so we ducked into the disabled toilet. I would never usually go in a disabled toilet but I panicked and, of course, the one time I use it someone turned up who needs it. I was only halfway through washing my hand and hadn’t even begun to deal with Bruno yet. I was planning on quickly washing my hand then getting out and waiting for baby change to be free but Bruno helpfully opened the door whilst I was still washing my hand. I was so embarrassed and ran out apologising profusely to the person waiting. I now had a dripping poop hand and the baby change was still occupied.
I decided we would just have to go into the main toilets and at least get my hand clean before we could reassess the situation. At the end of the room, there was another hidden baby change room, huzzah! Sweating profusely and wanting the world to swallow me up, we waddled into the room and a sense of relief washed over me that we were now in our own safe space to sort out this horrendous mess. Would you believe it, there was no soap dispenser in the baby change room. I don’t mean they had run out of soap, there was never any there, disgraceful! I washed my hands as best I could and used some hand sanitiser I had in the nappy bag and at last I was clean and could begin operation toddler clean up.
I had to strip Bruno completely, as by this point with all the toing and froing and shoving and shuffling, the poop I had pulled out of his nappy was on his trousers now too. I didn’t dare lie him down so made him stand up on the changing table – dangerous parenting, I know – but at this point I didn’t care. When I took the nappy off, it was as if he was still wearing a nappy but made entirely of poop. It was a bad explosion so it’s a testament to the nappy that it contained it all. I then realised with dread that I had used most of the cloth wipes at lunch cleaning Bruno’s hands and face so I only had one left. I did the best I could with one wipe, using every inch of it and quickly realised there was little point washing my hand so thoroughly before. There was still so much poop so I left Bruno standing on the table naked except for his socks whilst I proceeded to wash the wipes in the sink so I could reuse them. I cleaned him up and got him dressed into fresh clothes, cleaned the sink, wiped everything down and cleaned my own hands then we all sat for a minute whilst I had a ‘moment’.
Okay, one more. What is something I should know about you I haven’t thought to ask?
It has no relevance to this at all but I used to be a competitive ice dancer and was champion in my category in Wales, Scotland and 2nd in Britain … it always irks me that I never reached that top spot, especially as my sister did!
Do you have any final words of advice or tips to share?
I don’t think I’m being over dramatic when I say it will change your life! Go on, give it a go, what’s the worst that can happen?
Number of bums in cloth. 1 (2 year old is now potty trained).
Time in cloth. 2.5 years.
Number of nappies. Around 30.
Full or part time. Full Time.
Nappy style. Our stash is all Baba+Boo pocket nappies. We also have a handful of all in one Miosolos that we send to nursery because they have velcro fastening so fit more like a single use nappy. This makes it easier for the staff to use them. It also means I’m not worried about my favourite prints getting ruined with paint … my son always comes home covered.
Stuff or snap. I don’t know what this means, haha! We use pocket nappies so stuff them with inserts /boosters?
Pre-stuff or lay as you go. We pre-stuff them; it’s part of our nightly routine. With 2 in cloth, it works best for us to wash every day, then we hang them to dry during the day and then sit on the sofa in front of the TV once the kids are in bed and stuff the nappies.
Line or tumble dry. We dry using a heated airer which is an absolute lifesaver as we hang our nappies up in the morning and they are dry by the evening. If we are in a rush, we have tumbled on the odd occasion. Nappies always dry quickest hanging out in the sun and it’s also a great way to get rid of any stains. Living in Manchester, this doesn’t happen all that often so it’s a real treat when it does … as sad as it sounds, seeing a line full of nappies in the sun makes me really happy!
Favourite cloth related product. Our DrySoon heated airer – it was a gift from my mum. It’s expensive but has saved us lots of money as it’s much cheaper to run than a tumble dryer … it’s also kinder to nappies and much more eco friendly too.
Describe your journey with cloth in one word. Easy.