We have a plea to make. Please, can we keep cloth nappies simple?
Cloth nappies have become the parenting trend of 2018 thanks to the 'Blue Planet effect' - and it’s not a secret that the popularity of Baba+Boo has exploded recently. Which means that we are seeing A LOT of enquiries from new users.
The one thing we are noticing right now - far more than at any point in the last nine years - is just how bewildering nappies are for parents who are going online to research reusable nappies for the first time.
And it’s putting them off using reusables. For those who do get over the mountains of conflicting advice, they have so little confidence in their ability to get the right booster combo/wash routine/fit that not only are we setting them up to fail, we’re providing yet another platform for parents who are already feeling shaky in their ability to do this parenting thing.
The amount of web searches for cloth nappies has sky-rocketed this year. But as retailers, parents, libraries and influencers, we need to think about what those parents see in their search results.
They see a question about something they had never considered - say, for instance, using a particular brand of washing powder. Who would have thought that a nappy is so special that it needs its own washing powder - and that there could be over 100 replies to the original post, full of conflicting ‘facts’.
If you are among those parents who have gone online this year before making the switch, I salute you. When I first used nappies nearly 11 years ago, the only advice I got was on an A5 piece of paper that arrived with my nappies. Anyone who is brave enough or committed enough to wade through the realms of online advice has my admiration and respect. (For the record, those original nappies are still going strong, despite the best efforts of four children and my lack of wash 'routines'.)
Let’s be realistic. We’re talking about nappies. They are a bit of cloth that absorbs wee and contains poo. Nappies should be fitting in with you, not the other way round. A PhD in laundering techniques should not be a pre-requisite for adequately parenting your child.
They’re nappies. They’re not difficult.
As a gardener, my gardening books make growing roses look like a minefield. They should be planted in the winter. An annual treatment with a well-rotted manure is a must and should be added after feeding. The shallow roots make weeding tricky. Pruning is essential - but what to do, and when to do it, depends on whether it’s rambling, climbing or shrubby.
Here’s the thing. In five years I have never fed my rose. I have never mulched it. When the wall it is tied to was rebuilt, the rose got hacked away to nothing at completely the wrong time of year. The debris from the wall means the soil is full of mortar, dust and brick. And guess what? It’s still going strong.
If I followed the list of dos and don’ts, my rose would probably grow bigger and produce more of its beautiful flowers. But I don’t follow the ‘rules’, and it’s good enough.
Whether it’s roses or nappies; if it ain’t broke, you don’t need to fix it. If what you’re doing is working for you, then you’re doing it right. Good enough is...good.
A nappy isn’t delicate, it isn’t precious and it isn’t special (OK, maybe my tree frogs print is precious, but that’s different.) It’s fine to want to care for your nappies in a way that optimises their performance or prolongs their lifespan.
But it’s like being a ‘good enough’ parent. Despite my best intentions to buy organic cotton, last week I prioritised playing with my toddler over going online and ended up with a school t-shirt from Asda guiltily slung in my shopping basket. And that’s OK.
Biological detergent can cause certain clothing and fabrics to wear more quickly. So providing you understand this (for all your laundry, not just your nappies), and providing you’re not going against the manufacturer’s instructions, then if you already use bio powder then there is no reason to buy a special powder just for your nappies.
If I was one of the incredible volunteers running a nappy library on a shoestring, then I would do everything I could to prolong the life of my nappies. But I’m not. My nappies need to last long enough to get my toddler through to potty training and ideally still have enough life in them to pass on to a friend, charity or library. So using my normal bio powder and hanging them on the line in a way that is quick - but may, allegedly, damage the elastics - is what I choose to do. It’s good enough, and it’s right for me.
Advice and experience are being presented as facts, as absolutes. So the list of dos and don’ts is getting longer, the advice is getting more contradictory and there are a lot of ‘musts’, ‘always’ and ‘nevers’ floating around. Yet we rarely stop and think if these things actually are so terrible, about the impact of not doing it perfectly.
Gels, liquids and Ecover are often presented as nappy no-nos. Yet many, many people use them, and their nappies are still here to tell the tale. It’s clear that some people have a problem with absorbency when they use Ecover - but many don’t. So if Ecover is your existing powder there is no reason to change. The worst that will happen is that your nappies will stop being as absorbent as they were, so you’ll give your nappies a few extra rinses and swap powder.
People online will add comments like “Cute nappy, but you should change the fit so that it sits in the knicker line”. Yet we have seen so many people with the nappy outside the knicker line who never get leaks. If someone is being guided for the first time then it is useful for them to know that sitting in the knicker line works best for most people. Not such a big deal for someone who has been doing it ‘wrong’ for months, with no problems.
So what’s the solution to this plethora of off-putting helpfulness? Perhaps, as contributors, we all need to think about the language we use and the questions we answer. Perhaps we need to reconsider that when we try to be helpful, we are actually being the polar opposite. Perhaps we need to remind ourselves of these simple little nudges before we reply.
Let’s quit with the absolutes
Let’s get rid of the musts, the nevers, the always’. Let’s replace them with “In my experience, or “Some people find”. Because there is no right booster, there is no right fit or fold, there is no right nappy.
Let’s reply when we know the answer
Perhaps, if ‘we’ve heard that...’, then we really shouldn’t be answering. Because if you’re passing on something that you’ve heard - but it actually came to you fourth hand via a piece of information from five years’ ago that was discredited four years’ ago - then you’re not really helping.
Let’s keep it simple
When someone asks “What powder do you use for your nappies?”, there’s no need to be part of the mind-boggling array of 100 plus answers. It is irrelevant whether you use Fairy, or Bold, or Violets. What is relevant is why the poster feels the need to know. Are they having a problem? Yes - then tell them what you know about some people having issues with liquids. No - then that person needs to know that nappies are simple, that they don’t need a special powder.
Nappies aren’t hard. But anyone looking online right now would be a fool to believe that. So let’s remember that we are change-makers, we are influencers - and let’s think about what we can do to really support those who look for our help.