Not just a pretty bottom

Having reflected on the deep and profound aspects of motherhood, I thought I would share the more light-hearted and entertaining side of it all — the diapers, or nappies. I’m not talking about those boring disposable ones. The reusable nappies. I know how this sounds, a bit mad. Indeed I would have thought so myself not so long ago.

I was vaguely aware of the huge amount of waste created by a baby, before I had Sadie, in particular the nappies that get thrown away. I’ve heard from friends and family that, as new parents, most of your day is consumed by feeding, burping, wiping up vomit, but also the dreaded, bottomless hell of nappy change and poop explosions. A lot of that baby waste goes into landfill, which it seems to be an inevitable part of having a baby. After all, the precise job of a baby is to grow bigger and out of things.

I’ve also heard that cloth nappies are having a come-back, as more people are becoming conscious about the environmental impact of reusables. My friends Jude and Tom used cloth nappies on their first child, and they told me that it wasn’t too complicated, not too much work, and I even witnessed the changing of a reusable nappy, but to be honest I didn’t pay much attention. David and I probably had a casual chat about this at some point, before I was even pregnant, in that, theoretically, if one day we had a baby, would we consider it? Sure, why not. It sounds like a good idea.

When I became pregnant, we half-heartedly entertained the idea again — would we do it? Yeah we could try it when we are at home and use disposables when we are out and about. That should be doable right? Right? Can we really be bothered though? In all honesty, I thought using reusable nappies was quite a noble thing. Something that requires a level of conscientiousness and commitment that I didn’t know if I had in me. My friends Jude and Tom are better people than I am, I thought, let alone David.

In any case, neither of us mentioned a word of it once the baby was here. The demand of a newborn was such a physical and emotional shock that the idea that we could choose to make it harder for ourselves would have been a bit of a joke. But even through that early newborn fog I was astounded by the sheer volume of nappy waste. Every two, three days, we would have to empty the content of the nappy bin (we had the twist and lock type), and pull out an enormous pile of dirty nappies each wrapped in plastic bin liner interlinked into a gigantic nappy chain. I am by no means the most environmentally responsible person. I am the recycle half-heartedly, bring a reusable shopping bag 50% of the time, resist buying unnecessary things occasionally, kind of person. However the sight of a gigantic nappy candy pile a few times a week did depress me. So three months later, when an NCT friend said she had switched to reusables, the idea came back to me. I was still a bit unsure about whether we could actually commit to it, and buying a stack of reusable nappies and end up not using them would surely be a bigger sin. But my NCT friend suggested that I buy a trial pack to give it a go. She said she would never look back. It turns out it’s a phrase people often use when it comes to reusable nappies. Little did I know ‘not looking back’ was such an understatement. I had very much fallen into the rabbit hole of the reusable nappy world — yes there is a world out there.

I would very much like to share my experience here, but for anyone who may one day stumble across this looking for useful information, I would encourage this imaginary person to immediately turn to other resources of which there is about a lifetime’s worth out there. My experience would only be relatable if the said imaginary person is also the kind that tend to fall down any random rabbit hole and consume vast amount of obscure information for entertainment. If you can get obsessed with any random subjects, reusable nappies might just be the right kind of entertainment for you.

Anyway I took my fellow mom’s advice and bought a trial pack, and got semi-excited when choosing the patterns with David. Look there’s one with a fox head, how funny. As is with anything, I love to read reviews, ratings, and research the pros and cons to find the best of the best. That opened up a new world to me. Not only there are many different types of reusable nappies, materials, styles, patterns, there are communities and communities out there dedicated to reusable nappies. There are home videos where people comparing the absorbency of different materials of different brands, before and after washes and how many washes, using different methods of washing matter — oh yes washing up to 10 times is recommended before some materials reach their full potential apparently. This reminds me of my friend Antonin’s obsession with hi-fi headphones. He once told me that the favourite phrase of the headphone geek community is ‘day and night’ — try a different cable, a different connector, sitting in a different position — oh my goodness, the difference is day and night.

So I started to watch video reviews, read about the different materials, obsessively researching all different aspects of this what I assumed was a somewhat obscure topic. Who would have known that this could provide so many hours of entertainment! As I started to buy more of them, I have been exercising self constraint to not go overboard, as I do see the irony in overconsumption of reusable nappies. By the way, collecting cloth nappies is a thing, no joke. I’m pretty sure there are people out there who are having more kids so they can justify buying more nappies.

For me, I just want to know what’s the best. It turns out there isn’t such a thing. You just need to find what works for you — and how do you know? You just have to try it all (you really don’t have to if you aren’t obsessive like me). I want to find something that’s easy enough to put on, so David and mom can change her too; it needs to be absorbent of course, because I really wouldn’t want to change more nappies than needed; turns out the more absorbent they are the bulkier they become — who knew! Baby ends up with a massive bottom which is quite comical but I fear it might not be particularly comfortable. So what’s the slimiest and uber absorbent nappy out there? Did I mention that the more absorbent they are the slower drying they are? I end up checking multiple times a day to see whether any of the washed nappies are dry enough for her to use so I can stop using disposables (what a dirty word!). Now elastics that are too tight make babies uncomfortable, too lose poo just shoots out; longevity is another concern of course; do you want to buy few and wash more, or buy more and wash less? Anyway, days and days of research and gobbling up all the information, all while doing the laundry, the midnight feeds and bottle sterilisation of course. And if you still aren’t sold on the entertainment value of this topic yet, there is nothing else for you here.

Night time is a challenge I have been tackling for a while. Sadie isn’t quite ‘sleeping through the night’ yet, but we don’t change her at night any more to avoid waking her up unnecessarily. That means the nappy does need to hold A LOT. Disposables have failed us several times before, so I wasn’t sure how reusables would work. I started to try different solutions, and every morning was a show and tell: when I found a dry baby underneath the sleeping bag, I gave myself a bit of an invisible high-five; but if I had to peel a wet baby out of the bag, I immediately went into problem solve mode — Was it the fit? Did I put it on correctly? Did her vest get caught under the nappy? Was it the cover that didn’t fit right? Was the nappy not absorbent enough? Sometimes I had to use disposables overnight because none of the reusables were dry. If there was a leak, I would make sure to point out to mom that the disposable had failed. Mom was too nice to say ‘whatever’ to my face. But finally I nailed it. Now I don’t let David or mom put on her nighttime nappy. Nobody has complained.

One day I read that wool covers were the best when it comes to nighttime nappy solutions. Apparently they are self-cleaning, water resistant, breatheable and very comfortable for the baby. But it’s a pain to maintain — you need to use a special kind of detergent, hand wash them can’t stretch, squeeze too hard, and above all you need to lanolise them. Yes that’s right — that means putting lanolin oil back into the wool to make it water resistant. And obviously you have to lanolise them three times before using. Just my kind of thing right?

So I bought a pair, along with specialist wool detergent, and I already have lanolin at home (leftover nipple cream — how else would I use that up?). I watched tutorials on how to lanolise them properly, and did it exactly as in the videos. Baby woke up soaked in the morning. Confused about what I did wrong, I reached out to the shop advisors, and was told to try lanolising three times. But of course! What else did I expect.

In any case, I did do exactly that — credit to David and mom for never saying anything about the bowl with suspicious looking object soaking in it for days — and it never worked, wet baby every time, and I decided to give up in the end. The first defeat in my reusable nappy journey. Oh well. At least they look very cute. I once went over to David’s desk, stopped him working, and demanded that he appreciate just how insanely cute they were. David knew better than to disagree, but he couldn’t help but pointing out, yet again, that when we started going out I made it clear to him that I wasn’t sure if I wanted children. How far I have fallen! Right into the nappy bin in fact. And of course I have researched the perfect nappy bin — a cheap kitchen bin is the best, not air tight.

This does all sound incredibly consumerist. But let me be clear I was very careful not to buy too much. I even rented some to try just to make sure I don’t buy any that we don’t end up using. Speaking of renting, it turns out that there is a market for used reusable nappies. Gross right? Would you wear other people’s used underpants? That’s exactly what I thought. Two days later I created a facebook account so I can look at what people are selling and buying. I then smugly informed David and mom that the resale values of reusable nappies were surprisingly high, so really, I can just resell ours once we are done with them. That would save us even more money! They really didn’t care.

The good thing is I’ve now exhausted all useful information on this topic, and we are now getting into a steady full time reusable nappy routine, so it feels like this hobby is coming to an end. Plus, I’m going back to work in a few weeks thankfully.

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May Li

May Li

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