Here are five things that parents should know before making the decision whether to buy reusable nappies…

When my second daughter was born, my fiancé and I started using cloth nappies for the most trivial of reasons: A couple we knew handed down to us a 10-piece kit of washable organic cotton nappies that, they told us, was “almost new” because they gave up on using them early on.

Almost seven months later, I am a happy, part-time cloth-nappy mom, with an established daily routine alternating three or four changes of washable nappies and three or four changes of biodegradable single uses.

The hand-me-down nappies are of the “fitted” variety (basically thick underpants of towel-like material around which is a waterproof outer layer that lasts several changes). We also bought an all-in-one nappy (the whole nappy needs to be washed at each change) and a pocket nappy system consisting of one nappy and three inserts (you change the inserts and, depending on how much of a mess the baby makes, the actual nappy may stay clean). So far it has been a good experience, but we’ve had our challenges.

Here are five things parents should know before making the decision whether to buy reusable nappies:

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1. Start small, because cloth nappies aren’t for everyone

I know quite a few people who tried it and gave it up. The couple who handed us the kit found it exhausting. They are environmentally conscious people who couldn’t handle the workload and so ended up paying over one thousand rands for something they didn’t use. I talked to a father who had to give up cloth nappies because of a drought. I know a mom who abandoned washable nappies after using them for five months; when winter came, they just took too much time to dry.

So, wait, before buying an expensive kit. Start with two or three nappies to see whether it’s something you can handle, and only then buy in bulk. If it’s not, don’t feel bad about it.

We’re all human.

2. It’s not always eco-friendly

A peer-reviewed study published in 2008 by the U.K. Environmental Agency found that “the environmental impacts of using shaped reusable nappies can be higher or lower than using disposables, depending on how they are laundered.”

Just remember, start gradually. And if it’s not for you, don’t feel guilty

Using cloth nappies in an environmentally optimal way – washing them in full loads, without using a dryer, and reusing them on a second child – can reduce their carbon footprint by almost 40% compared with disposable nappies. But washing them in half-loads with a tumble dryer might, in fact, defeat the purpose. (It should be noted that the study, which is a decade old, is based on data about nappies made of cotton, a notoriously water-hungry crop, while now nappies made from the more sustainable bamboo are easily available.)

So, if your primary motivation is environmental, using a dryer is out of the question. This means you’ll have to take into account the time nappies need to dry, which can be days. Also, you’ll need to wash them in full loads, which means you’ll have to wait for at least eight to 10 dirty nappies to pile up before cleaning them, assuming that you plan to wash them separately because poop is involved.

Most people I know wash them separately, but we wash them with whites, adding laundry sanitiser.

3. You’re going to need a lot of them

Because, to fulfil their environmental purpose, cloth nappies need to be washed in full loads and line-dried, you’re going to need a lot of them. An unscientific survey among my cloth-nappy-using friends showed that you’ll need about 20 to use them full time or mostly full time. This, of course, has financial implications. The number of nappies you’ll need depends on the model you choose; with pocket nappies, you’ll need fewer, because you can change just the insert (though that might not be true in the first months when infants tend to poop often and less solidly).

Using cloth will most likely save you money in the long run, but it requires an initial investment that could be a burden.

4. They’re good for the baby’s skin – but only if you change them often

Cloth nappies are often praised for being good for the environment and good for the baby’s skin. However, they tend to be less absorbent than disposables, so you need to change them more often. We had some nappy-rash issues before I realised this.

5. They are cumbersome

This is something I wish someone had told me before I had bought newborn clothes. Washable nappies are cumbersome. They vary depending on the type, with “fitted” nappies tending to be more voluminous than all-in-one and pocket nappies. But they’re all considerably bigger than regular disposables. This means that you might need to add an extra size to your baby’s outfits, especially in the first months. For us, cloth nappies and newborn-size clothes proved mutually exclusive, despite the fact that our daughter could wear newborn clothes with regular nappies.

Now I realise that this can look quite discouraging. But the good news is that using cloth nappies isn’t as terrible as it sounds once you’ve established a routine. Most reassuringly, it gets better after the first months when the baby starts eating solid food and her stools become more solid.

Just remember, start gradually. And if it’s not for you, don’t feel guilty: There are plenty of other things you can do for the environment. Buying used clothes and avoiding plastic toys are just two of them.

Article by: Anna Momigliano first published on ‘Washington Post’

Author: ANA Newswire