How to choose the right natural nappy for your baby

Baby on nappiesAny parent of a child under one will tell you that their three biggest obsessions are pooing, eating and sleeping. Why? Well, if you’re a parent already, you don’t need me to tell you! If you’re a parent-to-be, read and learn; your baby will pretty much be doing one of those three things ALL of the time, and mostly at the wrong time.

Small children sleep when you want to play with them, and play when you’re desperate for them to sleep. They eat nothing for days, until you’re wracked with anxiety, and then suddenly want vats of rice pudding just when you’ve none in the cupboard.

And as for poo, well, imagine the scene; it’s 4am on a cold winter’s night, a work night too, and little Georgie lures you into his nursery with his special neighbourhood-shaking wail, where you find him sitting up to his neck in poo. That’s exactly when you’ll be glad you chose the right nappy, and the right warm dressing gown, and the right husband who will get up with you and get a bath running.

Choosing nappies is easy, right?

Wrong. Get ready for it, and by the way, I guarantee you will have this conversation at an NCT coffee morning / play-date soon. As above, you will talk about nothing else but sleep, food and poo, mostly what your baby poos in to, how many times a day and what colour it is, pretty much until they go to school.

The nappy options, to the uninitiated, can seem bewildering, the range of brands, and the different ways they describe the same features just makes them harder to compare. The age ranges and weight ranges overlap and confuse, and of course, after the first six months, who’s weighing their baby regularly? Particularly not second babies, let’s be honest; I’m struggling to even wash mine regularly! (Only joking.)

Plus, if you want to go as natural as you can in your nappy choice – and because you’re here on Big Green Smile, we will assume that’s you - there are a whole different set of considerations; what hasn’t the nappy got in it, what has it got in it instead, is it recycled, what about the packaging, does it really work, have you got enough radiators to dry natural nappies in mid-Winter?

What’s more, just when you think you’ve nailed it, little Tarquin gets nappy rash / works out how to unfasten the fastenings / only wants Fireman Sam nappies. In yellow. Suddenly, finding the right nappy becomes as tricky as finding the right daddy material was.

Well, do not fear. There are plenty bigger things to stress over, like why Missy Moppet at nursery can speak three languages and whether anyone will notice you haven’t brushed your first child’s teeth since the second child was born last June. Here are the important questions to ask yourself about nappies. If you can answer these, you’ve got it sorted:

Why do you want to go natural?

It’s worth asking yourself what you are trying to achieve by going natural, because it could affect your solution. Is it about the chemicals in nappies and the potential irritation they may cause your baby? Is it about reducing the impact on the planet? Is it because your mum says she brought up 12 kids on only three Terry Towelings between them, and she coped, so you should too? Be honest with yourself. If it’s the latter, let yourself off the hook; she’s lying.

In my case, I didn’t want the chemicals and I didn’t want the landfill. A friend gave us her re-usables kit, and it lay in wait for the baby, alongside the “At Home” birthing pool, the hypnobirthing CDs, and a 1970s copy of Janet Balaskas’s Active Birth. Yes, I was going so natural that I would get this baby out by chanting and paddling.

The reality was I had a hospital-induced birth with as many drugs as they could get between the small bones in my spine, and I never opened those re-usables. Having a baby left me so completely overwhelmed that I sought out easier options wherever I could find them, and for me that was disposable eco nappies and not re-usables. Many mothers find re-usables straightforward, but I was honest about my limits, and they weren’t for me. I also didn’t have the drying room in my tiny house.

Do you understand your natural nappy options?

In a nutshell, it’s natural disposables, or re-usables, often called real nappies. And within those categories there are varying degrees of natural, and different brands / styles of re-usable.

For natural disposables, the factors you should probably care most about are whether they are free of perfumes, bleach, phalates, plastic and latex, all of which can trigger allergies; if they are biodegradable (even the best natural nappies are only up to 80% biodegradable); if they use extraneous inks (crazy cartoon pictures everywhere) and if the packaging is recyclable. A little bit of research, or reading the back of the packet, will show you how each brand fares. Of course you might also care about air miles, and if you do, I salute you because you’re clearly sleeping better than I am.

Amongst other brands, we sell the award-winning Swedish brand Naty by Nature, which is the number one-selling green nappy on the market, and this is how they describe the benefits:

  • Naturally breathable
  • Chlorine and fragrance free
  • GM free corn based film
  • Natural and renewable material
  • No perfume
  • Totally chlorine free pulp
  • Leakage barrier made of natural material. No plastic
  • Distribution layer made of natural material. No plastic.

In summary, the pros and cons of naturals are:

  • They contain fewer or no potentially harmful chemicals, which can irritate baby skin. And all babies have sensitive skin; that’s just the deal of being a baby.
  • They are almost totally biodegradable, which means that you’re adding less to landfill.
  • But, they can be a bit more expensive than standard non-natural brands, you’ll need to make sure you’re happy with their overnight capacity (most are just as good as chemical nappies now), and avoid the cheaper scratchy ones with no movement.

Meanwhile, the pros and cons of re-usables, or real nappies, are:

  • Once you’ve bought the kit, over the long-term your spend on nappies should be less. There are some schemes to help with the initial cost so ask your Local Authority if they run any. Buy flat nappies, rather than pre-shaped if budget is key.
  • You can buy really cute pants to go over the top of the real nappy. Little rabbit bottom, anyone? Awww. You do need to put some thought into appropriate outer garments, though, to accommodate the shape of real nappies.
  • You need to factor in the costs of washing and drying the nappies. And believe me, you will go through a lot. Though it does reduce pretty dramatically in the second year, a newborn baby can get through up to 12 nappies a day.
  • You can use a laundering service, which claim to lessen the collective impact on the environment. Google it.
  • It’s Real Nappy Week from 15-21st April, with events happening around the UK. Find out more at

What is your baby telling you?

You might have ideas of your own, but it’s important that you factor in your baby’s thoughts and feelings. Ok, they won’t be expressed in actual words, but you can be sure their little bodies will find a way of letting you know what’s what.

For example, some babies are more sensitive than others, and will demand more from a nappy. They may settle more happily in softer materials, for example. Some will sit all day in wet nappies, if you let them, which has it’s own issues if a nappy is just too efficient – normally the chemically-drenched varieties. It helps if a baby can help to remind you that a nappy needs changing.

At night-time, some babies will wake up the minute they are even the slightest bit wet, and purely anecdotal evidence does suggest that eco disposables do hold better than real nappies over night.

Some babies are very active, especially once they start crawling or cruising, and need a nappy that moves well with them. I’ve tried some supermarket-branded eco nappies – naming no names – and they are crunchy and papery in feel, and have no stretch, and my more active second baby just couldn’t get on with them.

Your best solution might be a combination of types – re-usables in the daytime, natural disposables at night. Or, even, natural disposables by daytime, and a standard ‘chemically-assisted’ nappy for night. Don’t beat yourself up about it; it’s still more eco overall.

Are you brave enough to go re-usable?

The truth is you don’t have to be brave to go re-usable, you just need a good teacher (a friend who has been there and done that will be invaluable, or an online forum) and the headspace to go through the initial learning.

Oh, and you will need to be organised enough to make sure you have enough clean ones on the go, a process for handling dirty ones, and know how to cope out and about. Mums I know who have gone this route compare it to breastfeeding; it’s a right f’nar at first for most new mums, but once you’ve cracked it, boy is it easier. And cheaper.

What’s your budget?

Let’s be honest, natural nappies can be a tad more expensive, and re-usables mean an initial outlay of something between £100 and £200 for a starter kit, dependent on brand. Plus, you really do have to factor in the costs, both financially and environmentally, of washing and drying.

What will suit your life?

If you have two or more children on the go, especially two wearing nappies at the same time, be realistic about what you can achieve. The average child will go through 4000 nappy changes before they are toilet-trained, so expect it to be a fairly sizeable part of your life for a few years.

If you have a small house, or not much storage space, no garden to dry stuff outside, be realistic about what will work practically day-to-day.

Parenthood is brilliant, of course, and happy thriving children will be your greatest lifetime achievement, but it’s exhausting too. Don’t let nappies make the job any harder!