cloth nappies in a drawer
Guest post

#68: The case for cloth diapers

Alberta mother of two, Tori, is the kind of mum who leans towards choices that are often viewed as unconventional. She gave birth at home, encapsulated her placenta, co-sleeps and, of course, uses cloth diapers. After constantly being told her choices are either brave or crazy, she decided to do something about it. And that is to write a book. Through Ready to Unpop: A modern mama’s guide to unpopular practices in maternity, Tori aims to normalise some of the unpopular practices in maternity, present them as viable alternatives and remove the fear from the unfamiliar so you can identify what actually works for you as a new mother.
Tori says, that in order to exercise choice, you need to know what your options are. And I couldn’t agree more. There’s certainly a large cohort of parents out there who don’t make the choice to use reusable nappies because they don’t understand the options available to them. I invited Tori to join us to make the case for cloth diapers, and here she shares with us a chapter from her new book.
Welcome, Tori @ready_to_unpop
An Alternative Choice 

I don’t know what it is about cloth diapers exactly that terrifies people but does it ever! I’ve had people call me “brave” and “crazy” because I use cloth diapers. I had many people try to talk me out of it when I was pregnant. Interestingly, it was always the ones who never used cloth diapers telling me it was a bad idea. The friends I knew who cloth diapered their kids had nothing but good things to say about it. Parents who use cloth diapers are neither brave nor crazy. They are simply making an alternative choice. This is another instance where managing your expectations is very important, so I will be completely forthcoming as I make the case for cloth diapers.  

Laundry Happens 

There will be more laundry involved and a specified wash routine to follow. The number of days you can go between washes varies from once a day to once a week, depending on the size of your diaper collection. We washed daily for the first six weeks, because we had a smaller collection of newborn-size diapers. After that, we were able to wash every three to four days. You should know that even babies who are diapered with disposables come with an increased laundry load – whether it’s spit up, snot, drool, breastmilk, pee leaks or poop blowouts, no item of clothing is safe and laundry will become a way of life one way or the other. If anything, I find the regular wash requirements of the diapers help to keep my other baby laundry from piling up. Sometimes I’m pulling diapers straight out of the dryer as needed instead of folding them and putting them away before the next wash day rolls around, but the laundry gets done so that’s still a plus in my book. For those who can afford it, there are laundry services for cloth diapers as well. 

baby in a cloth diaper
Leaks Happen 

There will likely be leaks – this will largely depend on the brand and style of your cloth diapers as well as the rate and volume at which your child excretes. Disposable diapers can leak as well, although they tend to leak less often (depending on brand and fit). There are a few things that can be done about this. With patience and diligence, you can try different kinds of cloth diapers. If you go this route, I highly suggest buying only a few to begin with so that you can experiment and buy more once you land on something reliable. You can also try different layer combinations of inserts to increase absorption. Different fabrics have different absorption capabilities; whereas some absorb a higher volume more slowly, others are quick absorbers but reach capacity more quickly. You need to do your research ahead of time. Get recommendations to find what has worked well for others. Expect a period of time of possible leaking and don’t get discouraged or give up too quickly if it’s not working perfectly. You may also decide that the incidence of leaks is manageable for you and that having to change an extra outfit or two each day is not so bad after all – especially when you’ve got to put the laundry through anyway.  

Smells Happen 

There may be smell issues in your house, although this can be mitigated by proper storage and a proper cleaning routine. It might come as a surprise that an open, airy container can squash the smell better than a sealed one. A proper cleaning routine is critical, and it will depend on the type of diapers you have as well as the type of washing machine, water hardness and detergent. You can find out the requirements through supplier and manufacturer instructions as well as online resources. There are many experts and fellow parents who can help with all kinds of questions and troubleshooting until you feel confident with your specific routine.  

Poop Happens 

And then, of course, there’s the issue of coming in contact with poop when disposing of it. I think this is the thing that scares people the most. Not to burst anyone’s bubble, but there’s no way to keep your distance from poop when it comes to changing a poopy diaper, disposable or otherwise. You will encounter some doozies that no amount of words or wipes can prepare you for. There is one extra step with a poopy diaper and that is disposing the poop into the toilet after changing the diaper. Some people use a utensil of some kind, such as a spatula, to scrape any solids into the toilet. Others attach a spray hose directly onto the toilet and there are various contraptions for holding the diapers in place and guarding you from the spray that make it a little less up-close-and-personal. Some parents also use disposable liners to make that step as painless as possible. You have to weigh out the options for yourself. For me, it was never enjoyable, but it was such a quick additional step that I really didn’t mind doing it. The fantastic news is that poop disposal only becomes necessary when your child starts solid food or formula. That means, if your baby is exclusively breastfed, those poopy diapers can go straight into the dirty diaper pail (or bin, basket or bucket) and directly into the washing machine as is. For many, that means for the first six months, prior to the introduction of food, it’s not much different than using disposables. For that reason alone, I would recommend starting out with cloth for the first six months. 

Happy Bums, Happy Wallets 

One of the great benefits of cloth diapers is that it is more gentle on babies’ skin. In general, parents who cloth diaper report fewer diaper rashes and skin reactions than those who use disposables. You can also buy or make cloth wipes and use nothing but water to moisten them, keeping irritating material, scents and substances at a minimum. In my own experience, I can count on my fingers the number of times I have applied diaper cream. I know of other parents using it on a regular basis and I credit the cloth diapers and wipes for keeping my baby bums happy. Another huge perk with cloth diapers is that you can reuse and resell them. Not only do you save yourself a significant cost throughout the duration that your child is in diapers, but those same diapers can be used with a second child and beyond, as long as the material lasts. They can be sold when you’re finished with them, if the condition allows for it, lowering your overall costs greatly. Secondhand diapers can be easily sanitized and ready for the next lucky little bum. I bought our entire stash secondhand for under five hundred dollars, and that kept two kids diapered through from birth until potty training. For comparison, go ahead and ask a friend with kids how much they spend on disposable diapers per kid, per year. 

Pushback and Hurdles 

You may encounter partners, caregivers or care providers who will refuse to use cloth diapers, which can be a deterrent for some parents. I would suggest trying to have conversations with these people if it’s comfortable to do so. Perhaps you can address some of their concerns or present some information that they might not be aware of. I think it’s best to make your wishes known since you are the spokesperson for your child(ren). Hopefully it is negotiable, though sometimes it can’t be avoided. I would still say, using some cloth diapers is better than none. If you can only use them in the evenings, it will still save you some money. If you can only use them for the first year, you’re still keeping hundreds of diapers out of the landfill. If you want to use disposables for bedtime because the leaks are getting out of hand, then go ahead and do that too – there’s no need to feel guilty about it. You have to do what works best for you and your family. 

Difficult Compared to What? 

When I hear people talk about the difficulty or inconvenience of using cloth diapers, I look to my grandparents for a healthy dose of perspective. My maternal grandfather’s mother had eleven children. They did not have a washing machine, let alone an automatic dryer. One day a week was dedicated to laundry. They even had to make their own laundry soap. Their cloth diapers did not have snaps, buttons or Velcro on them, with a selection of styles and cute little patterns, the way they do now. They were literally pieces of cloth that had to be secured with pins. By a modest estimate, my great grandmother probably changed and handwashed over fifty thousand diapers. I can only imagine what she would have given to have the conveniences that we have with modern cloth diapers and the option of disposables.

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