I guess our family was never going to be the most conventional. We listen to metal, shop second hand, eat plant based: even this in modern day society for many our tastes might still be considered… eclectic! Our parenting style is just the same: between co-sleeping, placenta capsules and extended breastfeeding we’ve raised a few eyebrows during our parenting journey. But I think the biggest parenting-related questions I get are about our choice to use reusable nappies for our daughter. Originally we thought we’d try them and see how we got on, half-expecting them not to be any good - I certainly didn’t expect to become so passionate about them!
When my partner and I found out we were expecting a baby we made the decision to use cloth nappies and washable wipes. There is a lot of debate surrounding the carbon footprint that comes with having a child, but I believe there are actions we can take to reduce the climate impact of starting a family, and switching to reusable nappies is one of them. Already very much aware of the global strain we are putting on our planet and ocean, the decision for us was as much environmental as it was financial - particularly as the nappies can be passed on to other children. Buying our first set of cloth cost us an initial outlay, but we countered this by buying other things second-hand and accepting the generosity of friends and family with hand me downs.
There are so many different types of cloth nappies it can be hard to know where to start. Fortunately, there is a fantastic online community of users who are also passionate about the cause. I filled in an online questionnaire from a nappy retailer which gave us detailed recommendations of options that could suit our family; factoring in budget, drying facilities, and so many other important factors. I’ve also found that on social media there is a huge network of help should you ask for it - as well as a thriving second hand market! As we wanted to use cloth from birth we opted for a two-part system (shaped, fitted nappies with separate covers - one of the more economical options) and were very lucky to get on with them from the get-go.
My passion for cloth has only grown with time. As our daughter has grown we’ve started to experiment with different styles - in fact I like to think of cloth like clothes: there are many options, all with the same purpose to keep us covered, but all with different practical advantages! The freedom within cloth nappies is part of their beauty: there are countless different fabrics and designs - a loose terry cotton nappy does wonders for my little one’s strong teething wee when no nappy time isn’t an option, while our hemp nappies used at night are fantastically absorbent and keep her dry without the chemicals used in disposable nappies.
Easy to Use
It’s been a journey peppered with mistakes: a slightly loose fit here, slightly too much washing powder there, but on the whole we’ve had few leaks and no major explosions - we’ve also managed to avoid our daughter ever having bad nappy rash due to the breathable nature of reusables. Some parents worry about the assumption that cloth can impede movement and slow development (although this certainly isn’t true - babies will get moving when they’re ready to and a nappy won’t stop them!) Still, there are incredibly slim nappies available nowadays, although personally I think there’s not much cuter than big cloth booty! Studies have also shown that children potty train quicker when using washable nappies, possibly due to being able to feel the wetness of the fabric. It’s worth noting too that despite what you may think, modern cloth nappies are incredibly easy to launder and sanitise. In fact, cloth-using families probably have the cleanest washing machines as we always remember to keep that filter clean!
I’d worried a little about judgment from other parents, but I had no reason for concern - some parents have been curious but all have been positive. In the same manner, we don’t judge others for using disposable nappies - they have their place, and even some full-time cloth users will switch to disposables when going on holiday. Our versions of normal may look different, but as parents we are all doing the best we can and that looks different for everybody.
However it is frightening how a marketed product can come into our lives and very quickly become so widely indispensable - once disposable nappies, our generation has seen this effect first-hand with the likes of smartphones and Netflix. Yet when you consider that our parent’s generation (or certainly our grandparents) were raised in cloth, you begin to wonder: how did we go so wrong so fast? Apparently in our county alone around one million disposable nappies are thrown away every single week, and eleven billion wet wipes are thrown away each year in the UK. This is contributing to severe plastic pollution - killing marine life, changing the shapes of our riverbeds, and causing gigantic fatbergs blocking our sewers. It’s simply not sustainable.
Something changes when you become a parent: the world seems more scary, somehow more out of control. For me, choosing cloth allowed me to regain some sense of control over the world we will be leaving for our daughter. Knowing that we’re not contributing to landfill with each and every nappy change gives me a little bit of peace. Knowing that every time I wash a cloth nappy it becomes greener. Even folding and putting away a cloth nappy feels in a way like a metaphor for the love and care we have for our children; the hope we have for their future. Hoping that we can change the dialogue and what’s perceived as normal, one reusable baby wipe at a time is very possibly our family’s biggest positive contribution to treading a little more lightly on our precious planet.
Hannah is a first time parent with a passion for sustainability, cruelty free beauty and vegan baking. She’s worn many hats including illustrator, blogger, beauty consultant, charity shop manager and is currently enjoying her most challenging and rewarding role yet as a mama. She lives in Hampshire with her partner, daughter and cat. Find Hannah on Instagram @littlepackofvegans.
- It’s estimated that you can save approximately £1400 by using cloth nappies: the average cost of a full set of reusable nappies being £400, rather than the £1875 average cost of own brand disposable nappies for one child to reach potty training. Even when factoring in laundry costs (approximately £33 per year on average) this saves a significant amount of money.
- The average child is estimated to use between 4000 and 6000 nappies, so by using reusables we have already saved thousands of nappies going to landfill never to biodegrade fully, or being incinerated, both of which release polluting, toxic chemicals into the environment.
- Seven million trees are cut down in the UK each year to make the pulp for single use nappies, and it takes a cup of crude oil to make a single disposable nappy.
- Using even just one reusable nappy a day will save 365 disposable nappies from landfill!