Using Cloth Nappies at Nursery: A Beginner’s Guide

We started to look for childcare for Tom before he was even born. Competition for the best nurseries can be fierce in London and we knew I’d be going back to work when he was 6 months old, giving us slightly less time to find something than we might otherwise have had. Luckily, we loved the first nursery we saw (don’t worry though: we did visit others for comparison). Now 16 months old, Tom has been happy there for over 10 months and we still love it too.

It’s important to ask questions when visiting nurseries, but one of ours was a slightly unusual one – ‘how do you feel about a baby in cloth nappies?’ We knew we wanted to try using them, so it was important to us to find a childcare setting that would be comfortable with the idea.

As it turned out, the nursery we ended up choosing had never had a baby in cloth before. They said they had people ask before the baby was born, but none of them actually ended up using them. So we presented them with a bit of a learning curve!

10 months on, we (and they) are so experienced with the nappies that no one even thinks twice anymore. We are all just in a routine with them. So for other parents wondering about how to keep using reusables when their baby starts nursery (or other childcare), here is my beginner’s guide to making it work.

Step one: Choosing childcare
Let’s face it, when you are choosing childcare, their attitude to cloth nappies is probably not top priority. Nor should it be. Whether you and your child are comfortable with the setting is the key to making sure that you are both relaxed and happy, so I wouldn’t turn down an otherwise brilliant option just because they aren’t sure about using cloth nappies. However, I would be wary of a nursery or childminder who gives a point-blank “no” on this issue. That kind of lack of flexibility does not bode well for future discussions. And there will be some. What you want from a childcare setting is support in your parenting choices, plus gentle steering on some issues, if you ask for it. A flat no on any issue is not a good start to building that supportive relationship. If they aren’t willing to even consider it, I’d be looking at other options to see if I could find someone who would. My nursery have had to deal with other unusual choices from us, including baby led weaning and turning up with bottles of pumped breast milk, so knowing from the start that they were willing to discuss things with me was important.

If the nursery are willing to give it a go, that is great! If they seem reluctant, but are open to trying, then make it clear you are willing to compromise. That is the situation we found ourselves in with our nursery. The staff were dubious at first, but I made it clear that it was not an all-or-nothing thing. We agreed that I would bring some nappies with me during the settling-in period, so they could see how they worked. If it was too difficult for them to manage, I said we would be open to switching to disposables instead. That way they didn’t have the nappies forced on them and were more open to a trial.

Step two: Starting out
If the setting you choose have used reusable nappies in the past, then you are probably away clear, though they may need a quick demo of the particular brands you use. If, like our nursery, they have never used cloth nappies before, then you are going to need to support them a bit more. Take some nappies in during the settling-in period and demonstrate how they work. If you are using washable wipes too then take those as well so they don’t get a shock later. When your baby starts to go for full days, write a short instruction list and pop it in the change bag. Our nursery have put ours up on the wall by the change mat so that everyone has an easy reference. Expect some hiccups at the start – I used to pack a single disposable as an emergency back-up whilst the staff got used to the system.

A note on nappy styles – for preference, I like the two-part systems which have a separate inner and a waterproof wrap. They are a bit more bomb-proof. However, they are more complicated to use. To make things simple for nursery staff, we use pocket birth-to-potty nappies when Tom goes to nursery. They are much closer to a disposable in use, so were easier for the staff to get comfortable with.

Step three: Packing your change bag
This is a dilemma that parents who use disposables don’t have to face. They just drop a pack of disposables off every couple of weeks. But a cloth nappy user has to pack fresh every day. So how many nappies do you pack? What do you do with the dirties?

The answer is to find out how many times the nursery does nappy changes – most do it on a schedule. Ours does three throughout the day. So I pack three nappies for those changes. I add one spare in case of extra poo, and another spare for emergencies. So that is five in total. I sometimes find they use four, but never all five. The nappies go in fully assembled, with a fleece liner positioned ready on top. I add 10 wipes, pre-soaked, in a waterproof bag (we use one from Cheeky Wipes, but a simple zip-lock would probably do the job). I’d only expect around 6 of those to be used. I also pack a change of clothes, and a waterproof zippered bag for the dirties. It holds three easily and four at a push. I usually put a little bit of cotton wool soaked in tea tree oil in the bottom to help mask smells. Pack the bag the night before, or you are guaranteed to forget something in the morning rush!

A note on change bags: go big. Those cute little roll up kits you sometimes see parents using? Those little backpacks your toddler can carry? Neither of those are going to be able to fit all the kit you need when you use reusables. Ideally, choose something with compartments so that clean clothes, wipes and nappies can be easily located. I can’t recommend any, I’m afraid, as ours came off E-bay and I have no idea what brand it is.

Step four: The big wash
I going to assume that if you are dedicated to using cloth nappies, you will already have gotten in to a washing routine by the time your little one starts going to childcare. We wash every two days. However, going up to four days of work, combined with the winter weather, has meant I have had to add in an extra wash to make sure we have enough nappies clean each day. If you think about it, packing the change bag the night before means you need to have 7 clean nappies ready when you get home in the evening. 5 to go in the change bag, 1 on your baby’s bum to sleep in, and 1 to put on in the morning. Depending on your drying arrangements (we don’t have a tumble drier), that means having at least 14 nappies. More if, like us, you have to rely on radiator heat or sunlight. So factor that in when deciding how often to wash and how many nappies to buy.

I’ll be honest, the washing is the worst part of using cloth nappies whilst working. After a long day, the last thing I want to do is sort through dirty nappies, find the one or two which contain poo, and put that poo down the toilet. Especially as it is likely to be pretty caked on to the fleece liner once it has been stuffed into a change bag all day. If you just can’t face that, disposable liners are definitely the way to go. Even then, you are likely to have to run a wash in the evening, which means getting your tired body off the sofa to hang them up to dry (or sort them if you have a tumbler drier). You could, I suppose, use a laundry service instead, but beware that this may negate much of the eco-credit of using cloth in the first place. As will too much reliance on the tumble drier, for that matter.

The other way round this is to have a large stash of nappies (though see above about eco-friendliness). We’ve compromised by having a back-up stash to our core ones. The core stash, of 14 nappies, is what we use regularly and I aim to keep up with the laundry so we don’t have to go beyond this. Sometimes though, especially if I’ve been away overnight with work, this just doesn’t happen. So we have a second stash of 5 that we bought second-hand. They are a little bit less reliable on leaks as they were heavily used before we got them, but do the job pretty well. We’ve never had a poo explosion anyway! We also have a couple of disposables hanging around from our last weekend away, but I’d expect them still to be there when we next go away, short of the washing machine breaking down.

A note on second-hand nappies: I guess some people might find this gross, though I can’t say it bothers me. Just launder any you get before use to make sure they are clean. I’ve found the best place to buy them is Pre-Loved, rather than auction sites like E-Bay. E-Bay bidding on cloth nappies is ferocious and I have very rarely managed to win one. Prices also often exceed my self-imposed limit of half the price of the item new (including postage). Pre-Loved is gentler and tend to attract people who just want to get rid of their stash quickly, rather than for the best price. I paid 15 quid for 5 on there and trust me that is a bargain. Freecycle is worth a try as well, but I’ve never actually seen any on there – most people who use cloth are assuming they will get some of the initial outlay back by selling them online when they are done. As I plan to. After baby no 2 has had a go with them of course (no not pregnant).

It may seem daunting at first, but using cloth nappies whilst your child is at nursery is actually very doable, for both you and them. Our nursery have even found it makes them more attractive to other parents – they grabbed me the other day to show a prospective mum with a baby in reusables the bag we use for dirties, proving they already know how to use them.

Plus who can resist a squishy cloth bum?


A New Challenge

As I mentioned in my New Year’s post, I am taking on a new challenge this year – a new job. Or, more accurately, an additional job.

When I went back to work, when Tom was 6 months old, I went back to essentially the role I had been doing before he was born. But I had a new job title and a slightly adjusted role profile. This is because my original appointment was actually as a year-long maternity cover and I found out I was pregnant about 7 months in (proof, should you need it, that the rhythm method does not work). So the lady I was covering and I decided to split the role between us when I returned, each doing three days a week.

This has worked well up until now. But back in September, shortly before beginning jury service, I saw an advert for a job doing a very similar role, for a complementary organisation, for just one day a week. I had a chat with Mr Techno and we agreed that I should apply. I was interviewed in October and was actually given the job a few weeks later. Various scheduling difficulties have delayed my start date, but I’m now due to start next week.

To be honest, I have slightly mixed feelings – the role itself is similar to what I do currently, and the organisation is very interesting. I work in the heritage sector, which is not exactly well paid, so the decision to take the role was less about finances and more about career development. But it will mean an extra day at nursery for Tom, taking him up to 3 days a week. He’ll still be at home more than half the week, but only 3 of those will be with me. Don’t get me wrong, I know I’m lucky to have that much time – so many parents have to work full time. And now that Tom is older we hope he will be getting more from the nursery experience than when he first started.

Of course, this will impact on our outdoor time – we’ll continue to walk to and from nursery on the days I work, but it doesn’t leave much time for more imaginative adventures, especially with the dark evenings. Having said that, Tom has now dropped his morning nap, so we have more time on the days we are home to explore new places.

Anyway it will be interesting to see how it all works out. I am excited and nervous in almost equal measures at the moment – waiting for our new routine to start is almost worse than making it work will be.

I just have one question remaining. When the hell am I going to find time to do all the washing?

My Husband Does Not Babysit

I was at the theatre a couple of weeks ago with my mum. As we were saying goodbye, she asked me to give my love to my husband. ‘Oh and thank him for babysitting of course’. It was really just a passing comment, so she was pretty surprised when I turned to her and said ‘he’s not babysitting. If I was the one at home with Tom, would you say I was babysitting?’

Now, my mum wasn’t meaning to be offensive to Mr Techno. And chances are, if he had heard her, he wouldn’t even have thought anything of it. But it drives me a bit nuts when I hear people describe fathers as babysitters when they are in sole charge of their kids.

I currently work three days a week. Tom goes to nursery two days a week, and Mr Techno is able to look after him the other day (he is a restaurant manager, so is more likely to have time off during the week than at weekends). Mr Techno also covers childcare on other days if I have to travel for work, which tends to happen at least once a month. I do more childcare because I work fewer days. But Mr Techno is Tom’s father. He plays a full and active role in bringing him up. The day they have alone together every week is not the equivalent of me leaving Tom with a babysitter.

While it is true that society’s view of fathers is changing, there are still an awful lot of depictions of men as charming, but essentially useless when it comes to childcare. Watch any sitcom or film where a father is left in charge of his kids, and he will be making a hilarious mess of it, whilst his overly competent wife swings by occasionally to be quietly (or loudly) disappointed by his efforts.

It is very definitely still the case that women, overall, do more childcare than men. We are more likely to give up our jobs, or to go part-time. For some families, that is what works. Me being part-time and Mr Techno being full-time is what works best for our family and neither of us is in a hurry to change that. But there is also a theme in a lot of families’ conversations where the women complain about the men not stepping up enough to help with the kids (I have to admit, I am guilty of doing this myself).

If we want our men to help out more when they are home, regardless of who works more or who spends more time with the kids, we need to acknowledge that dads are as much parents as mums are. That means changing our language – talking about parents, rather than mums, for example. And definitely never referring to our partners as babysitters when what they are is fathers.

Is it just me who gets riled up about this? Have you been irritated by people making assumptions about parenting being the mother’s domain? Or do you think I am overreacting to an innocent remark? Let me know in the comment section.

Forest Kindergarten Open Day

I was very excited on Saturday to be going to an open day for Hackney’s new outdoor nursery, Free Range Urban Kids (FRUK). The group was founded by two local mums about a year ago, but has just now got all the right registrations in place to start offering full nursery days, rather than just the two-hour sessions they ran previously. They are accepting children from the age of three, which means Tom is still too young, but are also offering 2 hour ‘stay and play’ sessions twice a week for 0-3 year-olds and their parents. They are opening officially in January, so we were pleased to have a chance to go along to see what will be on offer.

Outdoor nurseries or forest kindergartens are relatively new to the UK and still pretty rare. The name is pretty self-explanatory – they are childcare settings where sessions take place pretty much exclusively outdoors, no matter what the weather (in a year of running their sessions, FRUK say they have never had to resort to their back-up indoor option). It is a movement that started in Scandinavia, but is beginning to spread to other parts of the world, in part due to the growing anxiety about the lack of time children now spend outdoors.

The philosophy of FRUK and forest kindergartens in general is very close to our parenting approach. Sessions are very much child-led and focus on free play  in nature. The staff at the open day talked a lot about the importance of teaching children to assess risk themselves, rather than removing them from it. So while they scour the play area before sessions start to remove any needles, used condoms or other unsanitary items often found in parks first thing in the morning, mushrooms, rose bushes and other plants are left in place. The children are taught not to lick or taste anything, and to identify plants that might be harmful, so they know not to touch them. They are encouraged to climb trees, swing in hammocks, and get muddy. They are taught to use tools, such as small hack saws and peelers for whittling wood. There will be a fire for warmth and cooking, so children will learn to respect both the uses and dangers that fire represents. Principles taken from the Montessori and Reggio approaches are brought into session planning and setting up the space.

I couldn’t get any pictures, as obviously there were lots of other kids wandering around and the nursery have a no phone policy, but the set up was impressive. Sessions are held in an enclosed area of Millfields Park, which has both a wooded area and an open space. A log circle was set up in the woods, with a tarp to keep people dry (thankfully not needed). Various toys, rope swings, and messy play stations were set up amongst the trees. They have a little tented toilet for the kids, and another tent for quiet time, reading and rest. Out in the open area, there was a wormery set up and a mud kitchen. There are various fallen trees and logs that the nursery have asked the park rangers to leave for climbing and imaginative play. It’s worth a visit to the nursery’s Facebook page to see pics of the site.

We had a great time at the open day – we toured the site, looking at the various play options and, in Tom’s case, trying to eat them (he sampled chalk, a lot of leaves and some clay. Enforcing the no licking rule may be a challenge with him!). It was especially nice to meet some other parents who are as mad about the outdoors as we are – sometimes I feel like a bit of the odd one out at Tom’s lovely, but very mainstream, nursery.

The only minor drawback is that the 0-3 year-old sessions will be held on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which are both work days for me. However, I have spoken to Mr Techno, and he seems up for taking Tom on Tuesdays, so I’ll be signing them up (pending confirmation of fees). Roll on January!

Monkey and Mouse


Leaving Your Baby Overnight

It’s been a bit quieter than usual on this blog the past few days, because I’ve been away. Not, sadly, on a lovely holiday to a warm beach, but in Exeter, where I was helping to organise a conference on cobbled paths in Devon’s churchyards. (It went well, since you ask).

Sadly, Exeter is a bit of a hike from London, so I had to travel down the evening before the conference (Thursday) and didn’t get back until late Friday night. Which meant when I kissed Tom goodbye at nursery on Thursday morning, I knew I wouldn’t see him again until Saturday morning, nearly 48 hours later.

This isn’t the first time I’ve left Tom overnight. That was back in June, when he was 9 months old and I had to go to Derbyshire to run a masterclass on the repair of slate roofs. I left him again in August to go to a friend’s hen do in Cornwall, and again for her wedding in September. Then again for one night of that five-day course back in October.

While leaving Tom during the day can often be a much welcomed break, I worry quite a lot when I’m away from him overnight, especially if it is somewhere it would take me a while to get back from. However, I have to say it is getting easier each time. That first time in June, I was pretty emotional (and had a stinking cold, which didn’t help). This time, I missed him and Mr Techno and thought about them a fair bit, but I was also very busy, so didn’t have too much time to dwell.

As well as keeping busy, it has been very helpful to know that I am leaving him with people I can absolutely trust. For most of my nights away, Mr Techno has been here so there has been no question that Tom will be looked after well. He was with me for the wedding in September, so my mum took Tom. She’s really great at following our preferences exactly and I can be sure that she will make sure Tom naps and eats and gets his nappy changed – and has a lovely time playing too. I’ve not left him with my mother-in-law overnight yet, but I know she’d be the same, as she is always brilliant when I leave him with her during the day. All of them are also great at keeping me updated – often with pictures sent over Whatsapp – so I know Tom is happy and well.

Because I am a control freak, anyone who takes care of Tom finds he comes with an instruction manual – really just a page with his normal routine, plus details of how to put him down for naps/bed, what to do if he is upset and how the cloth nappies work. Knowing they have it is really helpful to me in relaxing about being away, and also means that they have an easy reference and don’t have to call me every time something comes up. Leaving emergency numbers – contact details for both me and Mr Techno, and his doctor – is also a good idea just in case.

With all that in place, I can relax when I am away and know that Tom is well cared for. Though I was definitely very pleased to see this little face when I woke up on Saturday!


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