Tuesday, 2 November 2010

An Inconvenient Nappy

Many convenience products turn out to have a cost – we now know too many ready meals can cause strokes and heart attacks.  And as Jamie Oliver says, cooking is fun and fresh home-made food tastes better.  Not only that, if your children see you do it that’s what they learn and before long you will be coming home and finding healthy home-made dinners waiting for you. 

Disposable nappies also have hidden costs; time and money. Thirty years ago, when Terry towelling and muslin nappies were the norm rather than disposables, toddlers stopped wearing nappies around the age of two.  Nowadays it’s usually three.

The benefit of disposable nappies – they lock away moisture so you can change your baby less often – has turned out to be the curse.  Modern disposables don’t give the child any sense of the difference between a wet and dry nappy and therefore no stimulation to experiment with controlling their bladder and develop the specific muscles needed to get them out of nappies.

Disposable nappy pants are a clever product.  They give us the illusion that we are potty training our toddlers because our child can pull them up and down. However because they stay dry they don’t teach the child the skill they really need to develop - bladder control.

Cotton nappies by contrast, do get wet.  Your baby feels the difference between a wet and dry nappy at every change.  It’s not that the wet nappy is uncomfortable it’s just that the difference stimulates your baby’s curiosity to experiment with bladder control.  Before you even get round to thinking about potty training, your child has been working those bladder muscles – and you didn’t even notice.

If your toddler has up to now been wearing disposables and you are thinking about potty training please don’t endure the ‘boot camp’ method of potty training everyone talks about on Twitter. Your child can wear cotton nappies as a precursor to pants.  It’s better than buying 20 pairs of cotton pants, changing clothes several times a day and mopping up puddles.

At some point in the future you will go to change a nappy and find it bone dry. The next one will probably be absolutely soaking within 30 minutes.  Then it will happen again – for a few days in a row. This means your child is experimenting with bladder control. 

This is the time to help your child to start using the toilet or potty. Some people are shocked to find out this can be as early as 18 months.  However, if you miss it your child will pass out of this developmental phase – and move on to some other developmental phase – and you must wait for it to happen again.  Remember the pincer phase? Picking tiny things off the floor didn’t just go on and on.  Stopping suddenly to attend to the sound of a bird or plane?  How that came and went?  This is what I’m talking about.

Poo is a different thing all together.  To be honest cloth nappies don’t really help.  However if the parent is washing the nappy s/he is more motivated to get the child to use a potty.  In countries where cloth nappies are the norm most children tend to be clean by about one year.

Changing your baby’s nappy can be a fun for you and your baby; a time to coo, babble, sing, laugh and blow raspberries on your baby’s bottom.  But when the struggle to catch your toddler and heave them on to the changing mat becomes more of a chore than a pleasure – a strain on your back as well as your wallet - it’s a great relief when your child decides to take him/herself to the toilet.  
You may find this interesting too: The true cost of disposables


  1. I have potty trained all my five children around 2 to 2 and a half by simply waiting until the summer and having several potties strategically placed around the house. Ideally they run around with nothing on their bottom half or (if there are visitors) ordinary cotton pants which are actually much easier to remove than pull ups or hugely padded (and expensive) reusable trainer pants. Without any fuss they just go off and sit on the potty when they need to. I am not saying there have not been a few accidents but really it has only taken a couple of weeks in each case. And it is surprising how much less stressed you get if there is an accident when you don't have to remove wet tights, socks, trousers, shoes etc.

  2. I have used cloth nappies with my (nearly) 2yr old boy since a few weeks after he was born. I am so glad that I have, I think its a travesty to think of how many disposables people throw away daily. It is a tiny bit more work but not much, I just do a huge load of nappies every 3 days-easy.
    Our mums all did it, whats the big deal.
    If we are really concerned about climate change we need to take small local steps to reduce our wastefulness. Not complain about everyone else being the problem!
    20 cloth nappies versus 4500 disposables in 2-3years, I know which one Im choosing...

  3. Hooray for cloth nappies! I've got two babies in washables now and I still love them (the nappies, I meant - and the babies, of course!). Thanks for contributing to the Great Nappy Debate over at mine. I hadn't thought much about the potty training aspect of cloth nappies but you're right. I'm sure the little ones must feel the wet and understand better what is happening.