What causes cloth nappy leaks and easy fixes

Updated: Jun 1


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When I first started using modern cloth nappies one of the most common comebacks I received was 'don't they leak all the time?'. In truth, we have had our fair share of leaks probably more than my friends using disposables but the majority of them were user error and more often than not there is a quick fix, which doesn't involve buying all new nappies.


There are many reasons any nappy might leak (including disposables), here I'm going to share some of the leaks we have experienced and what I've learnt from them.


Compression leaks

A compression leak is as the name suggests, a leak when the nappy is compressed, for example when strapped into a buggy, carrier or car seat or too tight clothing.

We recently had two compression leaks on a 3-hour car trip to Bluestone. When we first stopped, I couldn't understand why the nappy had leaked - it had only been on an hour and a half. We did a full change and headed back on our way, when we arrived the next nappy had also leaked after only 90 minutes, I was baffled. It was only later when posting on my Instagram about it, it hit me - both had been pocket nappies with microfibre inserts, my baby hadn't suddenly started doing mammoth wees, she was sitting on a sponge.


The best fix for this is, if you are going on a long journey either make sure you change just before getting in the carrier/car seat/pram and more regularly during the journey, or choose a nappy/insert made from bamboo or help which are far less prone to compression leaks.


For compression leaks caused by clothing look for brands which are better cut for cloth, or size-up to make sure clothes are loosely fitted around the nappy. Another great cost saving option are vest extenders to increase the length of your vests without sizing up.



Saturation leaks

Quite simply, saturation leaks happen when the nappy is too full and there is no where else for the liquid to go.

You often get early signs of an impending saturation leak when you feel dampness around the stitching as this is the first place a nappy would wick when it is too full. One more wee and it's a full change of clothes.


We had this just before Christmas, usually H has a nappy change either just before or just after her lunchtime nap depending on when it falls. On this occasion I had put her down for her nappy and Daddy H had woken her, both assuming the other had done the nappy change. Later that afternoon we popped over to a friend's, when we arrived I could feel the seams wicking, but as we were just dropping something off I didn't have the change bag and thought we could chance it - we could not, five minutes later we had a major leak on our hands.


Quick fix, either change more often or opt for a more absorbent nappy. We've previously had a lot of issues with saturation leaks at night, so tried a few different nighttime options to find the right system for us.


Incorrect fit

In my experience this is the most common culprit when it comes to leaks. Cloth nappies fit slightly differently to disposables and different brands fit differently. If the fit is wrong you may find you have gaps around the edges for leaks to happen.

When we first started with cloth I was so nervous I checked on a Facebook group a couple of times before going ahead and made sure we had the right fit. In the early days we never had any issues with leaks. Childcare needed a little more advice as we would often come home to find the nappy on too loose, thankfully we only fell foul to this once and have never had a problem since.


My recommendation here is to ask. Whenever you are trying a new brand of nappy take a look at the fit guide on the manufacturers website, ask in a forum or reach out to your local nappy library to make sure it's going on right.


Flooding

This typically doesn't happen until toddler age. Flooding leaks happen once baby starts holding their wee and letting it all out in one go, when this happens some fibres can't absorb fast enough so the wee spills across the top.


We had many leaks in the past which I've incorrectly called as flooding leaks. Now we are experiencing actual flooding I realise that the previous ones were actually saturation leaks.


If you think your baby is flooding before toddler age it is unlikely, but these two things will give you a good indication:

  1. How saturated is the nappy? If it is completed saturated then it is overfull and that has caused the leak

  2. How often is it happening? If the nappy is only partially saturated and it is a one-off it's more likely going to be due to an incorrect fit than flooding

If you're ever unsure of why you are getting leaks always ask, while the Facebook Groups can be handy in my experience there can often be too much advice which will all conflict. I have also noticed that you will almost always be told that the PUL may be faulty and that you need to do a tea-towel test. Advice I used to give myself until recently when I learnt from Baba+Boo this will not always give you the right answer to your problem and you could end up throwing away perfectly good nappies.


If you would prefer more personal advice then reach out to a nappy library, if you don't have one locally then at Farnborough Nappy Library we will always advise any parents needing help with real nappies. The Nappy Gurus also offer an advice service through their website and I'm part of a community on Instgram called #clothmadesimple who are here to help solve any cloth related issues.


Long before disposable nappies ever existed, all babies used cloth nappies and I don't think that our parents put up with leaks just because they had to, they problem solved and found the solution.



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