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5 tips for using cloth nappies with newborns

Updated: Jan 14, 2023

Mum holding her newborn baby's foot

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The thought of using reusable nappies can seem overwhelming, let alone doing so with a brand new baby, but if you’re prepared and willing it’s totally doable, even enjoyable! Having just been through this with my own newborn, here are 5 tips that will help you on your way with your little bundle.

1. It’s easier than you think

The first few weeks and months, can be really tough, especially if it’s your first baby. It’s totally ok to say that you don’t want to think about washing nappies while you get to grips with parenthood. However, if you feel mentally and physically able, using cloth nappies with a newborn is actually surprisingly easy.

Firstly, there’s no need to deal with poo. Before babies start eating solids, all their poo is water soluble and can go straight in the washing machine without any issues. Just pop the dirty nappy straight into your wet bag or nappy bucket ready for washing, no rinsing required.

Secondly, they don’t wriggle! Newborns will generally stay almost completely still for you, which is great for working out how to fit your nappies well in the early days. It’s also particularly great for mastering flat nappies, like terries, prefolds and muslins.

2. You might not need special newborn nappies

Newborn wearing a Tots Bots reusable cloth nappy

Most nappies are one size, which means they’re designed to fit from birth to potty. However, in reality many won’t fit babies smaller than around 10lbs. This means if you want to use cloth from day 1 and/or you’re expecting a small baby.

However, if you have a larger baby, or you’re expecting to use disposable nappies for the first few weeks, then in all likelihood you’ll be able to go straight into one size nappies. This means the same stash of 25 or so nappies could last your child right the way through to potty training.

Note that one size and newborn nappies do have some overlap, so just because your baby fits one size nappies doesn’t necessarily mean they will have outgrown their newborns. Lots of newborn nappies will fit for 3 months or longer. I’ve even seen some people manage to fit small toddlers into generously-sized newborn nappies!

3. Embrace flats

Lots of people shy away from flat nappies because they’re worried they will be fiddly to fold, or that they’re old-fashioned. However, they’re easily some of the best options for newborns. Nearly all newborns are heavy wetters. They live on an entirely liquid diet, and consume an enormous amount of calories for their size - approximately the equivalent of an adult woman eating around 5,500 calories a day! So they need something super absorbent, like flat nappies, to cope.

The other reason flats are great is that they are very affordable, whilst still being versatile. If you invest in newborn all-in-one or pocket nappies, you might only use them for a couple of months, and you’ll need a lot of them, so it could end up being poor value. Building your stash with a bunch of flat nappies is affordable, and you’ll be able to repurpose your flats as boosters, or even keep using them as is, well beyond the newborn stage.

Flat nappies do have a little bit of a learning curve in that you need to learn how to fold them, but once you get the hang of it, it’s really very easy! I have a blog post here which takes you through my favourite folds.

There are a few different options:

  • Prefolds are the easiest to fold, since they’re already partly pre-folded. However, they’ll dry slightly slower than muslins (and some terries), and they’re not quite as versatile as you can use them in fewer ways. Generally prefolds are made of cotton, but hemp and bamboo ones are available.

  • Muslins are great for small babies, because they’re not too bulky. They’re also readily available and you probably already have some if you’ve had other babies. (Just be aware that some muslins are a bit too thin to be used effectively as nappies) However the folding is a bit more complicated than a prefold, and muslins generally aren’t as absorbent as terries. Generally muslins are made of cotton.

  • Terries are absorbent enough to work for pretty much every baby, regardless of weight. They’re classic! Terries are available in cotton, bamboo and a mixture of the two. Bamboo terries are less widely available but are much less bulky than cotton.

For newborns, you’re best going for size 1 prefolds and 50cm square muslins and terries, so that they’re not too bulky. With all of these, you will also need a waterproof cover. My favourite for newborns is the Seedling Comodo Mini Wrap because it fits a wide range of babies.

stack of muslin cloth nappies

4. Have a big stash

Because newborns are heavy wetters and have quite sensitive skin, they need frequent changes. This means you need more nappies for a newborn than you would need for an older baby. Generally I recommend having at least 25 if you’re planning to wash every other day. Ideally it’s worth having a few more, because there are bound to be days where you’ve barely slept and can’t face putting a wash on!

5. Newborns don’t do nights

Here comes the bad news. Unless you’ve been gifted with a magical unicorn baby, they probably won’t sleep all that well at night! You’ll likely be changing them right through the night at every feed, just as you do during the day. The silver lining of this is that you don’t need to worry about investing in special night nappies! You can use the same nappies at night as those you use in the day. Once you reach the stage where they’re not pooing at night, and having fewer, more predictable feeds, you can switch to a night nappy system.

Parents holding their newborn's feet in a heart shape

Innes runs her own blog over at aboderie, where she shares her family’s journey to a sustainable, handmade home. She’s used cloth nappies with all three of her children, and loves them so much that her youngest two have never worn a disposable!

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