How do you know when a Cloth Nappy is ready to be changed?

Sometimes the seemingly obvious questions are the ones we need to answer the most. Even a question like “How can I tell when it is time to change my cloth nappies?” is one I have been asked many times so I’ll be answering that here today.

Disposable nappies have an easy “tell” that let you know when your baby has wet. In some cases, they even have a stripe that changes colour once the baby has peed which lets you know visually that the nappy is wet. Even without that sign, a disposable nappy is ready to be changed when it is “squishy.” A simple pinch or light poke will give you a clear answer. This is because the super trim disposable nappies use what is called “SAP” gel and this will expand to 500 times its weight when wet. This is not the case with any type of cloth nappy. Almost all parents are aware of the “pinch” test for disposables but when they begin using cloth nappies they are no longer sure how to test to see if the nappy is wet and needs to be changed.

Just as they are many varieties of cloth nappies there are also various ways to tell if a nappy is wet and needs to be changed. As a general rule a baby shouldn’t be in a Nappy longer than 2 to 4 hours, age depending. Newborns and infants wet more frequently so changing every 2 hours is a good idea. As babies turn to toddlers they also begin going less frequently so going 2-4 hours between wet nappies is common.

To test a cloth nappy for wetness I have used several techniques. The first is simply poking or pinching the nappy, like a disposable. With cloth nappies you are not looking for a squishy feeling. Feel for weight, warmth through the material, and hardness. Natural fibres like cotton and bamboo will feel harder and more dense when wet but more pliable when dry. They “bunch” together more when wet also and this can be felt by pinching the nappy in the wet zone.

Prefolds and Fitteds with a waterproof cover can be checked for wetness also. My method might not be your favourite but I just peek into the front and top of the nappy. There I will be able to usually visibly see of the material is wet, or if not, I will peek in the leg and feel for wetness. Peeking in the legs will also work for any other kind of cloth nappy.

Strangely enough, sometimes it is even harder to tell when to change a cloth nappy when your baby has pooped. Disposable nappies give off a serious nasty odor once the poop hits the nappy. Most cloth nappies, unless they have a detergent or mineral build-up (and in this case they need to be stripped), won’t have as strong of an odor. Additionally, many cloth nappies have such effective elastic around the legs and waist that they keep odor from escaping. I’ve been surprised a number of times when changing my baby, thinking they are only wet, and discovered a surprise poop! You would think the smell would be a dead giveaway but that isn’t always the case.

To new cloth nappying parents I pass this nuggets of wisdom (get it, nugget?!) down to you:

Always check for a number 2 before changing the nappy.

Take a peek in the leg or back before opening up the nappy. If the coast is clear you are ready for an easy change. If not you’ll need to get the proper provisions (wipes, changing pad, etc) before going in.

Eventually you will get into a rhythm with cloth nappies and know when and how often to change your baby and you’ll have your own preferred method of checking for a wet nappy, perhaps even one not listed here so feel free to send me an email and share your tips!