Cloth Nappies at Night: The Beginner's Guide

Many thanks to Elizabeth Guthrie of Nest Nappies, for her time in compiling this comprehensive beginner’s guide to night cloth nappying.

After nine years of broken sleep, I consider myself to be a bit of a veteran when it comes to the middle of the night wake up.

Over that time I’ve come to the conclusion that second only to waking up to a desperately ill child or a little person vomiting onto your side of the bed, the worst thing to greet you at two am is wee-soaked sheets, pyjamas and a soggy baby.  So when it comes to trepidation about using cloth nappies at night, I get it!  Really I do.

But I also want to assure you that for the majority of people who use cloth nappies at night, it’s a simple process of making sure there’s a whole lot of soaking power in what ever nappy you choose to use over night.

The general rule of thumb is that an over night nappy should have one layer of absorbency for every hour you want it to stay on.

Twelve hours. Twelve layers. While that’s a good starting point, many babies need a few added bonuses when it comes to night nappies.

All my girls were extended over night feeders. Particularly during periods of intense growth or development (around 4 months, 9 months and 13 months), their night nappies saw some serious action. Over three babies we had several different nighttime nappy options that we pulled out according to what was going on at what stage.

Beginner's Guide to Using Cloth Nappies at Night

Here are some quick tips if you are keen to use cloth nappies at night.

In the early days most babies will poo. All the time. Night or day. There’s no getting away from it – you’re going to have to get up in the night and change the odd nappy or two. Most people find they use whatever nappies they use during the day, just making sure it’s nice and snug and has proven itself not to leak!

If by some chance you are blessed with a miracle child who sleeps for extended periods from early on, be sure to add some extra absorbency to your nappies so they last the distance. Mini boosters or folded up cloth wipes work well as extra absorbency in newborn nappies. It’s unlikely you’ll need anything too high powered like a night booster or a night nappy at this stage.

Fitted nappies are also a great option for nights from early on. If you reach the point, like I did (the more babies, the earlier I got to this phase!), where you’re happy to get up and feed but not so happy to open your eyes to change a nappy, again be sure to add enough layers of absorbency to get you through that extended period of time.

As you move into needing more absorbency it’s important to make sure your nappy is fitting snugly around the legs.

When you start adding extra absorbency there can be a tendency to add so much bulk to the nappy that it starts to come away from the crotch or the tummy.  Be sure to check your nappy is fitting well by bending and lifting your baby’s legs a bit to see there are no gaps.

Often little ones sleep with their legs curled up which can create a gap between the leg and the nappy that isn’t there when their legs are straight. Be sure to check no fabric or liners are poking out from the waterproof cover as this can wick moisture from the nappy onto your babies clothes, particularly if they are in the same nappy for an extended period of time.

Many babies find spending the whole night in a wet nappy irritates their skin and some babies really dislike the feeling of being wet. Selecting a nappy that has a stay dry lining or using fleece liners can help keep your baby feel nice and dry over night. If you are using any kind of barrier cream make sure you pop a biodegradable or washable liner into your nappy to protect the absorbent fibres.

Beginner's Guide to Using Cloth Nappies at Night

If you’ve been using disposables at night but feel like you want to transition to cloth day and night, here are some easy ways to make the move.

If the nappies you’ve been using come with a night booster, pop it in and see how you go! Alternatively, you can often add two inserts rather than one or boost with the inserts from a newborn nappy or another nappy in your collection.

While there are lots of great night nappies on the market if you are just testing the water it’s much more cost effective to use what you already have before investing in something different. It’s always safer to over compensate with absorbency and find half your nappy is still dry in the morning!

Two-part nappies such as fitteds with a separate cover allow you to have more control over the different components of your nappy. You can add an almost limitless amount of absorbency, so long as you have a cover that can accommodate it all! Two-part nappies are also more flexible when it comes to swapping around what nappies work for you at night.

I found having a few generous sized covers meant I could use them with terry squares boosted up with old prefolds when I needed some heavy soaking power, or we could just lay prefolds inside when we got to the “just in case” stage.  Or I could use them with fitted nappies that were much trimmer at night when I had to squeeze winter PJs over the top.

Many people find using a wool cover is the best option for them at night. 

While wool takes slightly more care than just throwing a PUL cover in the wash, they aren’t as difficult to use as many people first think. I only ever had one wool cover in rotation for nights. I would use it and then air it out during the day. They are a more expensive outlay but you really do only need one or two. There is some work involved in keeping the natural lanolin in tip top shape but again, getting into the habit of doing that regularly means it doesn’t become a chore.

Wool is an amazing fibre that will absorb up to three times it’s weight in moisture before feeling wet. When used as a cover it draws wetness out of the nappy and locks it away, leaving more soaking power in the nappy. Air circulating through the wool evaporates any moisture out of the cover while the natural lanolin helps it stay waterproof. Wool is particularly good in hot climates as it is constantly breathing leaving your baby lovely and cool. In winter, many people use wool ‘longies’ as a super handy all-in-one nappy cover / pyjama / pant combo!!  Fleece covers are a synthetic alternative to wool and work in much the same way, but require daily washing (and no lanolin!).

Beginner's Guide to Using Cloth Nappies at Night

If you’ve been using cloth over night but find you have come up against some obstacles, one of the biggest tips I can give you is to have a look at how your baby is sleeping as this is often the one thing that gets over looked when looking for a solution!  

The number one question I ask people who come to us for night nappy advice is “does your baby sleep on his or her tummy”? I hear time and again of people who have tried everything under the sun and have their nappies boosted up to the eyeballs but they are still leaking.  In 95% of those cases their babies sleep on their tummies!

Tummy sleepers, especially boys, will wet up super super high but many people are boosting their night nappies down between their legs.  There often isn’t enough absorbency where it’s needed and then pressure pushes all the moisture in the nappy up towards their tummy. This results in soaked sheets, soaked pjs, soaked baby and sleep deprived mummies and daddies.

From my experience the best fix is a pocket nappy that sits very high up over the tummy with a generous amount of absorbency folded up into, and across the front panel of the pocket. Alternatively use a fitted nappy and ensure there is extra absorbency right up high and wrapped around the sides at the front.

Another common problem is older babies who wee early in the night and then hold on until the early hours of the morning to do another wee at three am or four am.  Often this early morning wee is really big and comes out with such force it floods their already wet nappy.

If you’re using a pocket nappy with a suede cloth layer it may not be allowing all that liquid to absorb quickly enough, which results in the wee running out the legs! You can usually tell if this is happening if your babies bed and clothing are wet but the absorbency in their nappy isn’t. Try adding a natural fibre as the top layer, or better still add a microfibre booster as the first layer as this will draw moisture away very quickly and stop it from running out the leg.

If your baby truly is a mega wetter, out wets disposables and out wets cloth, we’ve had customers who have had enormous success adding a disposable nappy insert between a fitted nappy and the waterproof cover. I recommend the Cushie Tushies singles as they are very basic, trim and absorb up to one litre of liquid (way more than any disposable!).

Beginner's Guide to Using Cloth Nappies at Night

Some people find a night nappy that works for them from the start and which they continue to use the whole time their baby is in nappies. But more often than not there’s a certain amount of trial and error involved in finding something that works for you and your baby.

As with everything, it’s so worthwhile to keep telling yourself that nothing will stay the same forever and be prepared to roll with what ever is happening at the time.