This is one of those topics I’m asked about often on social media, and I’m so glad to finally have the time and calm to put pen to paper at the end of what has been a tough and tiring year. Writing is one of my favourite things but it seems to be the thing I find hardest to find the time to do. As I write this we’re in the tranquil Little Karoo, miles from anyone with limited connectivity and I couldn’t be happier. I wanted to preface this blog post with a note that this piece is not intended to alienate nor make anyone feel bad about the decisions they’ve made regarding nappies; instead I wanted to educate, inform and shed some light on an alternative that exists. I think there’s a lot of stigma surrounding cloth nappies (or cloth diapers as some of you may call them), largely due to misinformation and the 80s imagery that’s conjured up. But, as with everything in parenting, you need to do what’s right for you and your family, Boo.
I was interested in pursuing the cloth nappy route before Carter was even born. I left Baba Indaba in 2017 with a thousand brochures, anxiety and a cloth nappy sample that I somehow forgot about. I think in the chaos and blur that is becoming a new parent we started using disposable nappies and trying anything new just seemed too daunting. It was, however, in the first few weeks of new motherhood that I decided it was a move I wanted to make eventually. I remember viscerally standing in my bathroom, a few days after Carter was born, and being completely overwhelmed by the volume of pads and nappies I was adding to landfill. This was something no one had prepared me for and I’d not been able to comprehend it until I was in it. It felt like I was throwing something away hourly; a maternity pad, breast pads, a nappy or wipe. It was in that moment that I decided I wanted to learn more about cloth nappies and to make the switch eventually. I figured it was one little thing that I could personally do to put less strain on our planet.
I must also add that I only made the switch to cloth nappies when my second kiddo was 1. With two in nappies at the same time, I realized just how long the nappy journey is and even though Carter was day-trained, toddlers are in nappies at night for a long while. Based on that trajectory I decided there was still enough time to make the switch and even benefit financially from the saving, environment aside. So remember as I write this that my experience pertains to slightly bigger babes and I can’t personally vouch for the cloth nappy journey on a newborn.
I’m going to do my best to put this into sections to make navigation a little easier. If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to leave them at the end of this post…
What are modern cloth nappies and how to they differ from their 80s counterparts?
Modern cloth is completely different to what our parents used, due mainly to the evolution of fabric and the way it behaves. Modern cloth nappies comprise various components (I’ll embellish a little below) that all work together to wick water away from your babe’s bum to keep them dry and to retain liquid and poop without any leaks or oopsies. These components are always surrounded by a water-proof cover that keeps everything together and neatly contained. When doing a nappy change, the bits are rinsed and popped into a nappy bin until laundry day. There are loads of different options when choosing the modern cloth system that’s right for you. I tried a mix in order to get a feel for the route I preferred, but in the end I’ve enjoyed both flats and fitted nappies and I continue to use both.
Which brand of cloth nappy to choose?
I think this comes down to preference and can be influenced by aesthetics, as I guess I was. A couple of my friends had started using Pokkelokkie and as someone who loves simple and understated things, I was drawn instantly to the way the brand looked. Having made a few comparisons and done some online research, I was drawn to the quality, fabric and ethos of Pokkelokkie. The Pokkelokkie website covers every topic and trouble-shooting subject imaginable and it made the decision an easy one for me. Kerryn who owns the brand also provides ongoing support to parents on their cloth journey and it has made the transition an impeccable one for us.
What are the individual components comprising the modern cloth nappy system?
I’m going to do my best to explain these as succinctly as possible to help you better understand what you’ll need on your journey. Different brands use different lingo to describe the various elements, which can be confusing, so I hope this helps in its simplicity:
- A flat nappy: this is a flat square of fabric that is folded into the shape of a nappy using a folding technique like the origami fold. This is similar to the method of the cloth nappy of eras passed, however fabric has evolved enormously over the decades and the ones I use are made from super soft and absorbent hemp cotton. Flats, although intimidating at first, are actually super effective because they mold perfectly to baby’s little body which helps prevent leaks. A flat nappy is fastened by what’s called a Snappy, a little plastic T-shaped fastener that keeps the nappy snug and tied together.
- A fitted nappy: this is sewn together to closely resemble a disposable nappy and closes using soft Velcro tabs. I think this is the route a lot of parents prefer choosing because it looks a little less scary than the flat. I’ll admit I was in this camp too when I started my journey and I also wanted some of these in my stash to make nappy changes easier for dad and grandparents. These are obviously more expensive because of the work that goes into creating them and they’re definitely handy, but I wouldn’t say they’re any better than a good old flat.
- A pre-fold nappy: This is a combination of the above two and I guess functions as a partially-folded option that still requires a little bit of folding and fastening, but not as much as the flat. This option also still needs to be fastened with a Snappy.
- Inserts: because all three of the above require inserts and padding to do the job of wicking liquid away and soaking it up without leaking. Here are the inserts I use with my Pokkelokkie stash:
- Fleece liner – this is layer that sits closest to baby’s bum. It’s super soft and really absorbent; I had no idea fleece was so effective. This is also essentially the layer that poop would sit on and the nature of the fabric allows it to be flicked into the loo and then and the residue rinsed off.
- Boosters – these are super absorbent hemp and cotton pads that one lines the above nappies with to create padding and to soak up liquid. What I love about cloth is how adaptable the system is and depending on your requirements you can add multiple boosters and layers to ensure a full 12-hour hold at night or to lengthen the wear in the daytime etc.
- Waterproof cover: When you’ve put the above nappy, fleece liner and booster layers onto babe, this combo is then contained by a waterproof cover that keeps baby/toddler dry.
What about leaks?
I’ll admit this has been a far less leaky experience than I was anticipating. Sure, it takes a little while to fully get the hang of it and to figure out the hacks, but when you’ve got it down it really is a slick, dry operation. Jackson, my youngest, does a full 12 hour stretch at night with no leaks, ever. Adding extra boosters and making sure no gaps occur where babe’s legs are when you’re putting the nappy on are a couple of ways to minimize leaks.
What about nappy rash?
My kiddos have only experienced rashes while teething, which is normal and passes quickly. We’ve had no additional redness or rashes caused by cloth and in fact, I’m happier about the reduction in chemicals on their skin.
What about stinky laundry?
Cloth nappies need to be rinsed and wrung out immediately after changing. This removes any ammonia and residue that can cause smells. If you’re rinsing your nappies, you wont have any bad smells. I have a small nondescript nappy bucket in our scullery that I pop the rinsed and wrung nappies into until it’s time to do a load of laundry. Our bucket is open to ensure air-flow. It’s nothing fancy, just a regular old bucket from Checkers.
What about the extra laundry?
In order to avoid constantly having to do laundry I made sure my stash was big enough to keep us going for a few days without having to do a load. My advice is to give it a go and then to add to your stash if you feel like you don’t have enough or are needing to do laundry more frequently. I placed a second order with Pokkelokkie and I’ve now got the perfect volume for our family’s needs. As is life with kiddos, we’re doing a lot more laundry anyway so I haven’t found this to be a massive setback. The nappies dry quickly in the sun and I fold my flats into the origami shape straight from the line so that they’re ready to go in our nappy caddy.
What about the extra water?
I’ve heard this used as a retort in the debate regarding the environmental impact of cloth vs. disposables, and the problem lies in the embedded water (unseen) needed to manufacture disposables. While the end-user of a disposable nappy views the water usage as nil, the fact is that 12 times as much water was used in manufacturing a month’s worth of disposable nappies vs. the amount of water needed to wash that stash at home over the period of a month. A great way to keep at-home water usage down is to collect grey water from shower or bath-time and then to use this when rinsing soiled cloth nappies.
What about the cash outlay?
One of the scariest exercises for me was doing the calculation of how much disposable nappies would cost us per child over the period they’re in nappies. If you assume using 8-10 nappies per day for 2-3 years at R3 per nappy, that’s an average cost of R30 000 per child. Add another child or two into the mix and that’s a pretty hefty sum. A child’s lifetime cloth nappy stash is around the R6000 mark, and of course this stash can be reused by siblings. For me the investment was a no-brainer, because I like money.
I can drone on about this subject because it’s become one that I’m passionate about but I’m aware that you’re probably a time-starved parent or about to become one and ain’t nobody got time for droning on. What I can say for certain is two things: it’s been far easier and less intimidating than I was expecting, and I wish I’d switched sooner.