When I first started looking into cloth nappies and discovered that they came in different types (or ‘nappy systems’!) I found it quite difficult to conceptualise how they actually worked just by looking at photographs on a screen. It really wasn’t until a friend gave me a starter kit (from the Scottish company TotsBots) which contained a couple of different types and I was able to physically handle them that I finally went “oh I see!” So, if you’re overwhelmed by the options, my best advice would be to try to actually handle some nappies. However, if that isn’t possible, here is my guide to different nappy types, expressed as simply as possible…
An absorbent bit and a waterproof bit
Basically, all nappies require an absorbent bit, and a waterproof bit. Every nappy you could use will have both of these things. The only difference is how the absorbent bit is attached to the waterproof bit! There are pros and cons to each system, and different people have different priorities, but I’m not going to get into those aspects right now. Instead I’m just going to focus on the physical makeup of the nappy.
The absorbent bit: this could take the form of good old Terry towels (or muslins for newborns), which you fold onto your baby, or a ready-shaped nappy which fastens using velcro or poppers. You can also get ‘pad’ or ‘prefold’ inserts (a ‘prefold’ is a square bit of material divided into thirds, usually with a more absorbent section in the middle, that you then fold over itself).
The waterproof bit: a separate cover, which fastens using velcros or poppers.
How the two work together: if using Terries or shaped nappies, you put the absorbent bit on the baby first, then you put the cover on. (Forgetting step 2 can be damp). If using a pad or prefold insert as your absorbent bit, you just lay it inside the cover and do the cover up.
The absorbent bit: a rectangle of material.
The waterproof bit: imagine a pillowcase (so open at one end) with one side made of waterproof material and the other side of something soft and absorbent, like fleece. This is your pocket.
How the two work together: you put the absorbent rectangle into the pocket, just as you’d put a pillow inside a pillowcase. After this ‘stuffing’ you have, in effect, a single, waterproof-and-absorbent nappy to put onto your baby, fastened with either velcro or poppers.
(Yes, these are different from two-parters. The difference lies in how the absorbent bit and the waterproof bit work together).
The absorbent bit: usually a rectangle of material with poppers on it.
The waterproof bit: A nappy-shaped piece of waterproof material with, you’ve guessed it, poppers on it.
How the two work together: You pop the absorbent bit into the waterproof bit before you put the nappy onto the baby.
The absorbent bit and the waterproof bit are permanently attached to each other. Ironically despite sounding simplest there are lots of different ways the two bits can be attached! Some all-in-ones have “tongues” which fold over each other, or which need to be tucked into the nappy, whilst in others the absorbent part is only attached to the waterproof part at certain points to allow for more airflow when drying.
So, if you’ve just started thinking about trying out cloth nappies, don’t be put off by talk of ‘systems’ and ‘all-in-twos’, or by the profusion of brands to choose from. All it comes down to is getting an absorbent bit, a waterproof bit, and fitting the two together over your baby. I’ll hopefully talk about the pros and cons of the different options in another post.