Your bundle of joy will need about 6000 nappy changes before graduating to undies. That's a lot of dirty nappies and, depending on which ones you use, either a lot of waste or a lot of washing! 

Then there's the poo factor – that nappy has gotta be up to the job. The things we do for love.

A stitch in time saves nine … minutes of sleep

Getting a nappy plan in place before baby comes along will save you time, money and energy, and will have a big impact on your environmental footprint. Having said that, it's never too late to switch nappy teams or mix it up a bit depending on your concern for the environment versus your concern for your sanity ... and your need for sleep

Firstly, let's get to know nappies.

Disposables

Good ol' disposables. With really only one style, they absorb moisture quickly to prevent leaks and 'lock it in' to keep your bub relatively dry; are easy and quick to fasten; stay closed during use; and fit various shapes and sizes. And they're very convenient, especially when out and about – particularly so because they're available in every supermarket and convenience store. They don't call them convenience stores for no reason!

See our reviews and comparisons of disposable nappy brands

Reusable modern cloth nappies

Modern cloth nappies (MCNs) are becoming more popular and, to be clear, we're not talking the old terry-towelling squares. MCNs are the new whiz-bang version featuring a water-resistant cover, leak-proof elasticised leg holes and absorbent padding and liner.

The different styles

There are more than 200 brands – most of which are made by work-at-home mums who sell them over the internet on stores like Etsy.

  • All-in-ones have a moisture-resistant outer layer sewn together with an absorbent inner to form the nappy – they can take a little while to dry.
  • All-in-twos, also called snap-in-ones, consist of a lined waterproof outer layer and absorbent inner layers, which "snap in" with press studs. They can be taken apart for laundering, so they dry faster than all-in-ones.
  • Pocket nappies have a waterproof outer layer sewn together with a soft inner lining, which forms the shell. Between these two layers there's a pocket for the absorbent inserts. These are removed for washing then replaced, which can be a bit fiddly but on the plus side they dry quickly.

Old-fashioned terry-towelling square nappies are also still available. They can take a little practice to fold and fit right, but they are a cheaper reusable option than MCNs, and modern fasteners mean you don't even need to use safety pins.

I can see there are benefits to both – how do I choose?

There are a number of considerations, so let's take a look at them.

Cost

The upfront cost of reusable nappies is quite high, but in the long run it's potentially cheaper than disposables – decreasing in cost exponentially with every child.

Convenience

Cloth nappies do require a bit more work, and might be a pain when you're out. Just like a tired bub.

Performance

Good quality, well-fitting nappies – whether cloth or disposable – will keep baby dry, and won't cause nappy rash.

Environmental impact

Disposable nappies really don't have the best green reputation, but there are options to reduce their impact:

  • Some brands are biodegradable, though conditions in landfill make this degradation difficult to occur.
  • Some have compostable or recyclable packaging.
  • Buying locally-made nappies, rather than imported, saves on transport carbon cost.

Despite the environmental costs of fabric production and nappy laundering, cloth nappies that are dry-pailed and mostly line-dried still come out ahead of disposables.

Sizing

Disposables come in different sizes to suit your growing bundle-that's-now-turning-into-a-handful, and eventually you can move into pull-up pants from some of the same brands.

MCNs are available in fixed sizes, or a one-size-fits-most (OSFM), which has extra fastenings for adjusting the nappy as your baby grows.

  • Fixed-size nappies means buying new sets as your baby grows bigger, so it could cost more. On the other hand, if you're having more than one child, you'll use the outgrown ones again.
  • You'll only need one set of OSFM nappies, but their longer use means more wear and tear, and they might only last through one child's infancy.

Materials

The type of fabric used affects drying time. Natural fibres usually take longer to dry than synthetics, and you'll want to make sure you have enough nappies to get through a few days of wet weather if you don't have a dryer.

Paper or fabric nappy liners make your laundry life easier by keeping solids off the nappy. Flushable ones make clean-up a cinch!

The absorbent materials (shell liners, pads and boosters) include bamboo, cotton, hemp or fleece, with breathable polyurethane laminated fabric (PUL) or lanolised wool often used for covers – if you're interested in that sort of thing.

I want a verdict – which nappy is best?

For environmental and financial reasons, you can't go past MCNs.

For ease-of-use and convenience, disposables are the way to go.

Of course it doesn't have to be one or the other: you could use cloth nappies at home during the day, and disposables when out and about, going away, at nights, at daycare, and during long periods of rain when you'd rather not use the dryer.

If you're unsure:

  • Buy a single nappy of each type that piques your interest.
  • Some MCN companies sell trial packs with samples of the different styles.
  • Hire a trial pack from a nappy library, a service offered by nappy companies and community groups: search the internet for 'modern cloth nappy library' to find one near you.

How do I know I've chosen the right nappy?

Whatever you've decided on, here's the checklist for a good nappy:

  • No leaking around the legs.
  • No liquid seeping through the cover.
  • Not too tight or too loose around hips and legs.
  • No rubbing or chafing from the nappy or fasteners around the legs or hips.
  • Baby's skin feels reasonably dry when the wet nappy is removed.
  • The nappy holds enough liquid to be practical (ie you don't have to change too often).
  • Baby can move legs freely and, at later stages, crawl and walk without being bothered by the nappy.

One last thing, are reusable nappies as much dirty work as they seem?

There's an easy five-step technique called dry pailing, which fans say make light work of heavy soils.

  1. Firstly, use flushable liners to catch solids.
  2. Separate the components (cover and padding) of the wet nappies, or if they're all-in-ones skip ahead to step 3.
  3. Rinse in cold water if needed.
  4. Put them into a bucket with a lid.
  5. Throw the load into the washing machine every other day.

Hopefully you now have a happy, dry baby and the only thing you have to worry about is how you'll find time to Instagram every moment!

Cost

Nappies range in price from around 20c to 80c per nappy for disposables, from $2 to $5 each for cloth squares, and from $20 to $35 for MCNs.