Warning: Before you start to read this post you should be aware of two things: 1. I talk about poo and wee, so if you’re reading this while you’re eating breakfast, you may want to put down your toast (although if you’re a mother, you’ve seen it and done it and it’s not going to bother you). 2. I use the word “nappy” even though I’m American. For those Americans who really can’t cope with this, copy this post into Word and do FIND “nappy” and REPLACE WITH “diaper”. I’ve had both my children in countries where they call them nappies, so it’s just part of my vocabulary now…
Sometimes I can’t help but wonder if I enjoy making a rod for my own back. Or maybe I just like taking on things to show that I can do them. Run 5km for 50 days? Sure, sign me up. Go to a remote area of PNG for work, I’m in. Spend an entire day house-hunting in 30C heat with two children – how bad can it be? (bad, is your answer, really, really bad).
So, when I decided I wanted to do a trial of cloth nappies for Lil Z, I did have a moment of self-doubt. I’ve got a lot on my plate at the moment. Work is busy, we are looking to buy a house, the lease on our current house is ending, Lil Z has started having seizure clusters, we need to make some big decisions about education for both girls, and we are thinking of changing the type of childcare we use. But hey, there’s no time like the present, right? And besides, if they’re too difficult to use when I’m busy, then they’re not really going to work anyway.
Wait, wait, wait, I hear you say – did you say cloth nappies for Lil Z? You want to start using cloth nappies on a 2 1/2 year old?
Yes, that’s the plan.
I’ve always had a secret hankering for cloth nappies – not for any noble environmental reasons but because they are so darn cute. But the individual nappies are also darn expensive and I was never quite sure how to use them or if they would leak like crazy. I remember (very vaguely) my mom using cloth nappies on my brother and the thought of having to pin a cloth to a wiggly child just seemed like more work than it was worth considering there were perfectly good and easy disposables to use. Yes, I know they’re supposed to stay in a landfill for a million years or whatever after you use them, but I’d only be using them for a relatively short period of time…
Well, I’m no longer expecting to use nappies for a short period of time with Lil Z. When you start thinking about it, potty training is a big ask for her. Being able to know when she needs to go and then signal that need to us and hold it until she’s on the toilet. That process – which most kids conquer at 2 or 3 years old – seems like Mount Everest for Lil Z, who still doesn’t fully understand where her body is in space and whose brain fails to process sensory messages in a way that gives her the information she needs about herself and the world around her. Add to that her communication challenges and her difficulty in controlling even gross motor movements, and you can begin to understand why I expect her to be in nappies for a long time to come. By that time, we could have our own personal landfill.
Add to that the fact that disposable nappies are designed mainly for babies. The bigger the nappy, the more expensive they get. There is some funding available once Lil Z is 5 or 6 years old to help cover the cost of “continence aids”, but doesn’t cover the full cost of having a child in nappies. Although cloth nappies are more expensive at the outset, they are generally quite long-lasting and durable, so you end up saving money compared to disposables. And to be honest, even standard baby disposables are quite expensive in Australia (although what isn’t expensive in Australia?), so even the cloth “set up cost” isn’t that much more.
QB raised the question of washing – would washing the nappies in fact negate the environmental and cost benefits? However, Lil Z is a chucker – she regularly vomits everywhere – so we already run a couple extra loads of laundry during the week. So, it will simply be a case of adding the nappies to those washes.
Another consideration is that as Lil Z grows, big nappies are harder to find. At the moment I bulk order disposables, but there always seems to be a few days gap when we run out before the order arrives. At the moment, it just involves a dash to the grocery store, but most shops don’t carry larger sizes. If they do, they tend to be “potty training” type nappies, that make the child feel wet and are designed for the occasional accident instead of regular use. To be honest, I don’t even know where to get larger sized nappies – although I’m sure I will find out.
Then, of course, is the cute factor. Cloth nappies are beautiful. Disposables, even when they’re decorated with cartoon characters like Winnie the Pooh or the Wiggles, still strike me as more advertising that cute.
Still, starting cloth nappies at 2 1/2 for a special needs child isn’t common. And many of the cloth nappies I admired in shops seemed to be on the verge of being too small for Lil Z (who is close to 15kg now). It probably would have remained one of those things that I’d like to do but don’t actually get round to doing if I hadn’t run across Apikali. This is an online business set up by Tennille, a Brisbane mother of a daughter with special needs (as well as 3 other children). She has used cloth nappies on all of her children and knows everything there is to know about cloth nappies – not just for babies, but for children with special needs, too.
Best of all, she offers what she calls a “Cloth Nappy Library” where you can do a trial run of different kinds of cloth nappies to find which ones work best for you. I had a few conversations with Tennille by email and she chose a range of different cloth nappies for Lil Z and me to try.
I was ridiculously excited when the library pack arrived in the post. I ripped the package open and Lil Z’s nanny and I went through the contents. I was immediately grateful that I’d decided to do a cloth nappy trial because the nappy I thought was a “sure thing” wasn’t that at all – it was too big and bulky.
Tennille also included some “pre-folds” – more of the classic cloth nappy that you fold and Lil Z wears with a nappy cover to prevent leaks. I have to admit I was really skeptical about these at first. They seemed like a big hassle, messy and prone to leaks. In fact, I had no idea how to use them and had to email Tennille for advice! Now, however, I’m using them like a pro and find them quite easy.
I’m going to save the announcement of exactly what nappies I’ve decided to use for another post, but here are the initial findings of my great cloth nappy trial:
* Cloth nappies are NOT harder to use than disposables. I was really surprised by this, but its true. Here’s what I do with disposables: take off the wet/dirty nappy, roll it up and put it in a nappy bag, and either throw it in the bin or take it directly outside to the wheelie bin (depending on the state of the nappy). Here’s what I do with cloth nappies: take it off, rinse the wet/dirty liner, throw it in the bucket in the laundry room. It takes about one extra minute of my time. And I could probably reduce that if I had a nappy pail or wet bag in the upstairs bathroom.
* Cloth nappies don’t leak. Well, everything leaks at some point, but they certainly don’t leak more than disposables. I was worried that cloth nappies might not work for Lil Z because she wiggles constantly. She is very skilled at wiggling her disposables into odd positions and then doing a wee straight out of the nappy and onto the unsuspecting person who picks her up. She’s done this enough that I am convinced she does it on purpose – just to watch the reaction of the person she is weeing on… We haven’t had a leak in cloth nappies yet, seriously hampering Lil Z’s wee-on-you game.
* Cloth nappies aren’t horrible and disgusting when Lil Z does a poo. OK, they are, but all nappies are horrible and disgusting when she’s just done a poo. However, I’m using flushable liners in her cloth nappies, so the worst of it gets lifted out and flushed down the loo. Anything else is pretty easily rinsed off. And Lil Z has an all liquid diet, thanks to her mickey button, so her poos are pretty awful and gooey. The only short-coming about this that I’ve found is that when I’m changing a pooey disposable nappy, I can use the nappy to give her bottom an initial wipe – whereas I can’t do this with a cloth one (well, I could do it, but I’d then have more to clean up).
* Cloth nappies are cute! Sadly, the larger cloth nappies don’t seem to come in the different patterns and designs that exist for babies, but there is still a nice range of colours. It’s getting hot in Brisbane, so I’ve started dressing Lil Z in sundresses (usually sewed by her grandmother) and a matching cloth nappy. There is nothing cuter – except perhaps Lil Z in her denim dungaree shorts! And although I was a bit worried that cloth nappies might get hot in the summer, the fact they’re natural fibers means they breathe better than plastic disposables.
* Men fear cloth nappies. QB has declared he’s sticking with disposables and won’t even try changing a cloth nappy. No reason why, he’s just going to stick to what he knows. However, Lil Z’s nanny has embraced cloth with gusto and has her in them all the time now.
I don’t think that I will use cloth nappies exclusively – I suspect disposables will always be a feature in our lives. However, I’ve been surprised by how easy they are to use and now suspect that once I’ve got a stash of cloth nappies, I’ll end up using cloth more than disposable. So, I haven’t made a rod for my back at all – I’ve just made a positive discovery.