Goodbye Nappies

We’ve had the row of nappies (diapers for you Americans) on the banner at the top of this website for a while now, but it’s time to move on. Drying nappies on the clothesline has been a big part of our lives over the last several months, but Owen is now nearly ten months old, and it’s high time for a new banner. I thought I’d mark the changing of the banner (it’s garlic now) by writing a bit about our nappy/ diaper experiences over the past ten months.

Owen in a Motherease cloth nappy

Kevin and I had always assumed we’d use cloth nappies in order to avoid the environmental and financial costs of disposables. A while before Owen was born, I started to hear about people who were managing to go “diaper free” with their babies. I was fascinated, and wanted to know more about this. (I’d wondered before about how people managed without nappies in other times and cultures.) When a Farmlet reader emailed me and offered me some books on the subject, I was very excited. Reading these books was a life-altering experience for me, and I feel very fortunate to have had the chance to read them before Owen was born. Of the two books, my favourite is Laurie Boucke’s “Infant Potty Training”, because of the special focus it offers on infant hygiene practices in different cultures. Both books offered practical advice on how to tune in to your baby’s hygiene needs, and how modern Western parents can “potty train” a child from infancy. The idea is that a baby need never learn to ignore his bodily functions; he need never become accustomed to wearing a wet or soiled nappy. I write “potty train” in quote marks, since natural infant hygiene doesn’t aim to train a child so much as to teach parents to stay in tune with their baby’s needs. Both books focus on the parent-child bond rather than the material results of the process. This is another way of understanding and bonding with your child.

After reading these books, I became determined to use natural infant hygiene when our baby was born. We also decided to invest in a good set of nappies. Why? Because many parents prefer to wait until the baby is 6 weeks (or even several months) old to start natural infant hygiene practices. I read that some parents preferred to use nappies at night, or when out and about, or for part of the day– all depending on what felt right for them and their baby. Kevin and I wanted no pressure on ourselves or our baby, so we bought 36 good quality Motherease one-size nappies.

So, what has our experience with natural infant hygiene been like so far?

I will never forget my excitement the first time we caught a poop!! –when Owen was less than a week old, and I was still kinda shaky from losing a lot of blood when he was born. From that day on, we’ve caught most of his poops. [Kevin here: In fairness, Becky catches 98% of them!] Basically, going in the potty feels normal to Owen because he’s always done it. It took a lot longer (and more ups and downs) to sort out the pee situation. For a good while, it was a bonus to catch any pee at all. After that, our attitude was (and still is) “well, we catch some and we miss some,” but, sure enough, baby and parents can do this! By six months, it was a real surprise to miss a poop. Pee? On an average day we might miss three, say, but there are still “off days” where we miss far more than that. . .and good days where we only miss one. To a large extent this is all a matter of timing in relation to Owen’s sleeping and feeding. It’s also a matter of asking Owen how he feels and watching his reactions and body language. We have been teaching Owen some baby sign language also, and he has just recently started to use a hand sign to tell us when he needs the potty.

I’d originally assumed that we probably wouldn’t bother too much about nights. Two factors conspired to make things work out differently to how I thought they would!

1)Owen got nappy rash when he was about 2 months old. I attributed this (in large part) to the fact that he was spending too long in wet and very warm nappies during the hot summer nights. So I started keeping a close eye on Owen’s nappy during the night, and changing it as soon as it was wet. (Yes, this seemed like a real pain at first, but I was determined to get rid of the nappy rash. . . without resorting to yucky ointments and treatments. Of course, this was only possible because Owen sleeps right next to me.) From doing this, I learned that he pretty much only peed upon waking (or stirring) from sleep. Once I knew this, it seemed better to take him to the potty rather than wait while he peed himself.

2)Owen’s nappy rash went away pretty quickly once we started taking him to the potty during the night. After it was gone, we continued with nighttime potty trips, at least some of the time, since we were all used to the routine. Of course, the primary goal is sleep and comfort for all three of us, so if a wet nappy isn’t bothering Owen at 4 in the morning, Kevin and I don’t let it bother us either.

I would never have thought that we’d have dry nights before dry days, but that’s actually how it worked out. On a few occasions, Owen has woken up in the morning wearing the same nappy that he went to bed in. Of course, it usually doesn’t work out this way, but it’s neat when it does.

Mummy, dance with me

As it turns out, we still keep Owen in a nappy most of the time. We use a Motherease nappy without a cover. In a lot of ways, this is more like training pants than a nappy. It’s not waterproof, but it’s absorbent enough to soak up any spills. It’s easy to whip off and on (just a couple of snaps on each side) to go to the potty. Because there is no waterproof cover, we can quickly tell if Owen needs changing. Because the nappies are made of cotton terry (unbleached cotton), they allow Owen to feel the sensation of wetness and stay aware of what is going on. (Disposables and some modern cloth nappies wick the moisture away from the baby, with the result that children do not always learn to associate the sensation of wetness with the act of peeing.) We use the same solution (nappy with no cover) at night. It’s no fun fiddling with nappy covers when we are all sleepy and groggy, and wearing no nappy cover kept Owen a bit cooler in the summer, as well. We avoid the problem of pee soaking onto the sheets or mattress by laying down a couple of layers of wool soaker (squares cut from an old wool blanket) for Owen to lie on. We also cover or wrap him in a light woolen baby blanket. Wool is a great natural waterproof that is breathable and resists sogginess and smelliness.

So, in the event, “diaper free” does not describe us very well, and, while the nappies are set to disappear from the Farmlet website banner, they probably will not disappear from our lives for a good while yet. This is no problem with us. Our goal is not “early toilet training” by “normal” standards, though we’re certainly not complaining about having fewer nappies to wash! For me, the feeling of closeness and teamwork between parents and baby is probably the best thing about natural infant hygiene. This is just one part of being in tune with Owen and his needs. It’s also a natural and common-sense solution to nappy rash, and a neat way of caring for the environment and doing less laundry.

We are lucky to be at home with Owen most of the time: a very easy environment for natural infant hygiene. It’s also wonderful that Kevin has joined in with taking Owen to the potty since early days. I’ve been especially glad of this at night. Like I said before, it’s great to feel like the three of us are a team in all this!

Natural Infant Hygiene is so strange in our society, and it’s hard to know how people will react. I’ve mostly been very private about what we are doing, in order to keep things as low-key as possible, and to protect Owen from becoming a spectacle or an “example.” Having said that, the few relatives and close friends whom we’ve been open with have been wonderfully interested and supportive.

I first became interested in Natural Infant Hygiene after reading about it on the Lichenology blog. Thanks, Zane, Zena and Asher for showing me that, yes, real people actually do this! I hope that by sharing these thoughts about natural infant hygiene on Farmlet, we might in turn do our part in spreading the word to others who may be interested. For reasons of nurture and ecology, we think it would be a wonderful thing if these practices could become more widely used and accepted in modern, Western society.

9 Responses to “Goodbye Nappies”

  1. AnneMarie says:

    Once again I’m so thankful for your posts. Coincidentally this topic is one that I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading on as of late, and your candor and excitement are both encouraging and positively refreshing. As we won’t have the luxury of being stay-at-home parents, save for the breaks when my husband is not teaching, I worry that, despite our desire to avoid disposable diapers (for pretty much the same reasons you cite – from the environment to, more importantly, the health and wellbeing of our child), the logistics of it all will overwhelm us. That said I’ll add the books you mention to my reading list and we’ll see what we can incorporate from them into our scenario.

    And OH MY GRACIOUS Owen is positively adorable!!!! I trust you scooped him up and proceeded to waltz around the farmlet? I’m interested to learn how this journey progresses for you all. Thanks again for sharing.

  2. Rebecca says:

    Hi Anne Marie,
    The book does discuss how working parents might use this method. Whether it would be a good idea seems to depend very much on the situation. Thanks for your interest, and your kind comments about Owen. Yes, his parents do a lot of scooping up and cuddling and dancing around. How could we resist!

  3. Sarah Walsh says:

    Yay! We use ‘nappy free’ techniques with our son too, although we started rather late. We have a support group here in Hamilton and I’d just like to say that there is a working mother in our group who has succeeded in finding a day care who was willing to continue her efforts while she was at work, which I think is just awesome. Her daughter is now 18mths and takes herself to the potty 🙂

  4. Johanna says:

    Hi Rebecca – Oh, good *on* you! I have a couple of homeschooling friends who have done EC with their youngest, and hearing their and your stories really makes me wish I had have had the courage to try it with one or both of my children.

  5. Rebecca says:

    Hi Johanna and Sarah,
    Thanks for your interest and support!
    @Sarah: The support group sounds great. So far, I only know one other mum around here who is using “nappy free” techniques, and we find we end up supporting one another a lot!
    Wishing you both lots of good times with your children.

  6. kim says:

    hi rebecca — thank you thank you for sharing your nappy free techniques. i recently asked my parents about the difference between my babyhood (wearing cloth diapers) and my sister’s (in disposables). They surprised themselves by noting how quickly I was out of those nappies and potty trained, and how long it took my sis. It’s great to know your experience — I love how often I read your site and find out something wonderful and new (to me)!

    Thank you!

  7. Rebecca says:

    Hi Kim,
    Thanks for your feedback. Interesting about the cloth vs. disposables!

  8. Megan says:

    Hey ya,
    Long time no visit sorry…your little boy looks wonderful!
    I’ve been thinking about this topic for a while now and have talked to a friend who has worked with her son too who is the same age as your little boy (she should be having her next one any day now).
    Dave and I would really like to give it a go with our next one as it just seems so logical.
    We have used cloth in the day and one disposable (an eco one) at night but now we are down to ‘knicker’ and one cloth square at night just in case.

    Love heaps

  9. Rebecca says:

    Hi Megan,
    Nice to hear from you again. Thanks for your kind words about Owen, and your enthusiasm about the infant potty training.
    Best wishes to you, Dave and Ara.