Cloth nappy myths – busted! (Part 2: looks & comfort)

Welcome back for another instalment of cloth nappy myth busting for Reusable Nappy Week. If you missed my last post, which was all about laundry, you can find it here. Today I’m concentrating on what modern cloth nappies look like and how comfortable they are for babies and toddlers to wear. So, like last time, here are some statements that I think are myths….

Nappy rainbow on sky blue

They look boring


Cloth nappies have come on a loooong way since the days of terry squares and plastic pants. Even since we started out with cloth nappies over 3 years ago there have been new designs coming onto the market giving even more choice. The photos I’ve included in this post are testament to the fact that cloth nappies come in a rainbow of colours and patterns. All the big brands as well as independent work at home mums offer funky and pretty prints as well as bright colours, many different designs to suit various tastes. Even if you stick with terry squares/pre-folds/or fitted nappies, there are some lovely wraps out there that can jazz up even the oldest of functional nappies underneath. In fact our staple nappies for Joel are ‘boring’ pre-folds with various wraps, most of which I have made from fabrics that are bright, funky and suit him.

In some ways though, when I first started using cloth nappies on Andrew, I didn’t mind what they looked like because they were always under his babygro or trousers anyway. But once it got to summer, it was lovely to let him run around at home or in the garden with just a nappy and a t-shirt on, so we could all see the cute nappy. It’s easier to include the nappy as part of a cute outfit for girls, because a lovely little pinafore dress is what you might dress her in anyway, and whatever kind of nappy she’s wearing inevitably gets flashed when she bends over when playing.

Red nappies

Fairly recently I came across baby leg warmers and bought some for Joel to try. These are a great way to see a lovely cloth nappy on a boy, and they are very practical too – no faffing to get trousers back on after a wriggly nappy change, and they’re easy for him to move about in, especially when he was crawling and learning to walk.

They’re too bulky

One of the great things about the variety of modern cloth nappies is that there are all sorts of shapes, sizes, styles and fabrics that suit different children. Some nappies are bulkier and some are trimmer. Bulkier ones may also be more absorbent than trimmer styles or have other attributes. All in one nappies tend to be less bulky than a fitted nappy plus wrap, and pocket nappies are as bulky as the amount of inserts that you stuff into them.

Orange nappies

So my first point here is that not all cloth nappies are bulky. But even with the bulkier styles, I don’t believe they are ‘too’ bulky. Some parents worry that cloth nappies are too bulky and so put their baby’s legs in a funny position. Quite on the contrary – cloth nappies are actually better for hip development because they support the legs in a better position – babies legs are supposed to be ‘froggy’, it’s not a bad thing, they’re not supposed to look like straight adult legs for quite a few years (this also applies to optimum baby wearing positions).

Another worry is that the nappies are so bulky that they make the baby slow to crawl/walk. As far as I know there is no national-scale evidence for this, and my own boys both walked before they were 1 year old, one crawled from 6 months, the other 9 months, so I know that cloth nappies didn’t hinder them in their movement. And when they did pull themselves up to standing and take their first steps, having a nice, soft, fluffy (some may call it bulky) bottom to fall back down on was much more appealing than a thin disposable nappy.

They’re uncomfortable for baby to wear

Yellow nappies

Following on from the bulkiness, I’ve heard it said that cloth nappies are uncomfortable. Now I’ve never actually asked a baby and got a comprehensible answer as to whether they are uncomfortable, but I guess if my boys had been really uncomfy in their nappies they would have screamed and screamed until I did something about it. I think it is possible to get a bad fit with certain styles of nappy, which may lead to discomfort, but this can be easily fixed by asking someone with a bit more experience. This is where finding a local nappy meet with other parents whose children wear them is great, or even asking in one of the many cloth nappy sales and advice groups on Facebook. A key area where many people slip up is putting nappies too far down the thigh – tucking it into the knicker line is best, to avoid any rubbing on the thigh. With some styles of nappy this isn’t an issue anyway.

As babies come in various shapes and sizes, different nappies suit different babies. For example, babies with very chubby thighs would probably find nappies with popper fastenings at the side more comfortable than nappies that fasten at the front. Short babies would probably find nappies with a low rise more comfortable than those with a high rise. It’s just a case of finding what works best for your baby, and a good way of doing this is borrowing various kinds from a nappy library, or buying a few different styles cheaply second hand, until you find the best ones and buy more of those. Many nappies are adjustable in size, both in width (like a disposable, where you do up the wings) and in height (unlike a disposable), so you can adjust to get a good fit as your baby grows and changes shape.

Green nappies

Some clothes brands aren’t cut very generously around the bottom area, so cloth nappies appear ‘too bulky’ for the clothes, but we generally haven’t found this to be a big issue and most of the boys’ clothes have fitted perfectly fine over their nappies, even if we needed to go up a size a bit sooner than we would if they were wearing disposables.

Baby gets more nappy rash with cloth nappies

One particular area of discomfort that I’ve heard said about cloth nappies is nappy rash. According to Go Real, the reusable nappy information service, an independent study showed that whether babies wear disposable or cloth nappies made no difference to the incidence of nappy rash. In my own experience, we have had very little nappy rash with both my boys in cloth nappies. Andrew I don’t remember ever suffering with it, and Joel has had a few small bouts which I put down to a combination of strong teething wee and ammonia build up in the nappies because I was washing with too little detergent for the hard water of Cambridge (see my previous post for details) – once I figured this out he hasn’t had any rash. He is also a much lighter wetter than Andrew so I sometimes forget to change him as often because there is less urgency, and he’s a second child after all 😉

Blue nappies

The great thing about cloth nappies is that you decide what goes next to your baby’s skin. Disposables are full of chemicals, and I personally prefer to have cloth nappy fabrics (which don’t have chemicals) next to my boys’ skin as much as possible. Some babies are actually highly sensitive to the chemicals in disposable nappies and come out in a rash when they are in disposables (this hasn’t happened to my boys, but I know of other children who have had this issue).

If you do come across rash in cloth nappies, there are some things you can check for. It’s important to not have the skin wet for prolonged periods of time, so changing cloth nappies every 3-4 hours at most is a good idea (though I have sometimes left Joel for longer as he’s a lighter wetter than Andrew was in nappies), and having a ‘stay-dry’ fabric such as fleece, minky or suedecloth next to the skin helps to wick the moisture away from the skin into the absorbent fabric of the nappy. Apart from prolonged exposure to moisture, nappy rash is also caused by irritants next to the skin (for example the ammonia build up that I mentioned above in our case) – this could be a sensitivity to a particular detergent, which some babies in disposables show with respect to their washed clothing, or to a particular fabric, for example some babies are sensitive to synthetic fibres so are best with natural ones such as cotton. Or it could be down to a change in diet, a food sensitivity or even teething.

Purple nappies

That’s it on myth busting for today. I’ll be back with one more of these posts at the end of Reusable Nappy Week.  Hope they are proving useful, and hope you’ll join me for the final instalment.