Day nappies, night nappies...what's the difference?

Hey there!

So you might be looking around for nappies, or been doing cloth nappies during the day only and wondering what's the deal with night nappies?




Well in a lot of ways they are actually very similar.

They have absorbent layers and a water-resistant outer layer.

But there are some key differences to meet the needs of babies at different times of the day.

If you get unsure about some of the types of nappies discussed in this article, refer to our page on Cloth Nappy Types.



A fairly obvious one to start! Reusable nappies at night need to provide higher levels of absorbency compared to daytime nappies. This is because babies tend to sleep for longer durations at night (yes! Eventually they do!), and their urine output is generally higher during this time. Especially if they are still on a mostly liquid diet and still feed/drink at night.

So night time nappies will need to have additional absorbent layers or inserts to handle the increased volume of urine and prevent leaks.


Absorbency = Bulkiness

It is always a balance between absorbency and bulkiness. Cloth nappies don't have the chemicals that disposable nappies contain to absorb the urine. Absorbency is achieved by layers of fabric. Different fabrics will have different levels of absorbency (see the blog about nappy fabrics) so the amount of absorbency can also be adjusted by selecting the right type of fabric. But there will always be more bulk to increase absorbency.

Embrace the bulk! Cloth nappies have been used for generations!

Disposables only became mainstream in the 70s, that's not that long ago. And before that there were centuries of babies growing in cloth nappies which were much bulkier than the modern cloth nappies of today.

Due to the increased absorbency required for nighttime use, nighttime reusable nappies will be bulkier compared to daytime nappies. The additional absorbent layers make the nappy thicker, which provides adequate absorbency for extended periods of sleep.

If you are using Real Nappies, extra absorbency is achieved by adding our Booster Pads under the prefold or adding a flat nappy in the mix:


The Newborn size prefold is also a good booster option when baby has grown to a crawler or toddler. Just add the newborn prefold into the crawler or toddler prefold.


So many ways to use the prefolds and inserts! Just mix and match to see what works for your baby!


Bulkiness = larger water-resistant outer layer(s) needed

Since more layers of absorbency are needed inside the nappy, the water-resistant outer layer(s) of the nappy will need to accommodate this.

And that pretty much then defines the difference between a day and a night nappy.

Generally, day nappies are pretty trim fitting and therefore can't adequately allow for additional layers of absorbency to be added without the fit (the seal around the legs and waist) getting compromised. So yep some nappy brands look very trim, but they will only be able to serve one purpose which is to be used for daytime and need changing pretty often before they leak.

On the other hand, there are some brands of nappies that have been designed to have a slightly more generous fit and therefore more flexibility for "boosting" the absorbency for daytime use for heavier wetters or for nighttime use. Real Nappies is one of those brands.

The Real Nappies system is multi-sized:

  • Newborn 2.5 - 6kg
  • Infant 5 - 9kg
  • Crawler 8 - 14kg
  • Toddler 13 - 18kg+

They also have a generous gusset. The gusset is this part of the nappy:

This allows for flexibility in what to put inside the nappy cover and extra room for a nighttime absorbency booster if needed while still having a leg seal from the elastic edge.

Thanks to the multi size approach you can have a trim nappy for during the day but that has enough room for some boosting. If your baby is a heavy wetter, you can always go to the next size up Snug Wrap to get the extra room for absorbency! 


What are cloth nappies marketed as "night nappies"?

Most of them are simply larger nappies with extra inserts and that are priced a lot higher than day nappies.

I have been trialing a few of these and I am getting leaks using some of them when I don't using a Real Nappies boosted. So I wouldn't go investing in some of them before trying other more cost-effective options.


Prefolds are already a type of insert on the higher end of the absorbency range, so these are in my opinion better options to invest in if boosted prefolds are not enough:

Hemp inserts: hemp is a natural fibre which has great absorbency. A hemp insert can be a good addition next to our Booster Pad in a night time nappy.

Fitted nappies: one type I have found to be beneficial for heavy wetters are fitted nappies. Fitted nappies are made entirely of an absorbent material. Have a contoured shape absorbent insert with gathered edges around the legs and waist. They are generally fastened with a nappy fastener or snaps and require a waterproof cover over the top. Because they are quite thick they are slow drying but can be a good option for night time, especially at the stage when babies are still on a liquid diet but holding a lot more urine like around the 6 - 15 months mark.

Real Nappies Snug Wraps can be used as the water-resistant layer over fitted nappies so if you already have some, you are already half way there.


Wool covers: another type that people have success with are wool covers which provide a stretchier, larger water resistant outer layer. So instead of using a PUL cover, you use a wool one which is great as it is a natural fibre and we love that at Real Nappies! When well lanolised, the lanolin provides the water resistance but requires re-applying regularly and requires some skill but it's not overly difficult. Wool covers can be aired between use and washed once soiled or significantly smelly.

In extreme heavy wetter cases, people have used prefold or fitted nappies with a Snug Wrap cover, then another layer of absorbency such as preflats/prefolds/booster and a wool cover over the top of it all.



So you don't really need anything special for night time, especially at the newborn stage because you will be changing baby about every 2 to 3 hours anyway (at each feed).

But once baby starts sleeping for longer stretches of time, you will need more absorbency!

You can reach the absorbency you need many different ways and I wouldn't necessarily rush into buying more things if you don't need to! What do you already have at home that you could try boosting with?


Tips for nighttime use in order of least to more boosting:

  • As well as the Real Nappies prefold which already has higher absorbency than most pad shaped inserts, first try and add in a face washer. If baby is a tummy sleeper, add the face washer towards the front. Folding the prefold in the boy fold also increases absorbency towards the front for tummy sleepers. Check out our Helpful User Guide H.U.G for various folds.
  • If that is not enough, then increase the amount of absorbency stepwise using the Booster Pad, face washer, another smaller size prefold, flat nappy, hemp insert or fitted nappy.
  • To match the increased absorbency, increase the size of the Snug Wrap if needed, or use a wool cover.
  • Your baby's output will change over time so don't be alarmed that you need to keep tweaking your setup, that is quite normal. Every baby is different! I'm often using 2 sizes of Snug Wraps and various prefold and inserts at different times of the day and for nights to keep the nappy as trim as possible but with the correct absorbency. Or one setup that I know will cover everything to keep it simple for daycare.



Real Nappies allow you the flexibility to change your setup to have a trim nappy during the day, boost it for nap times and boost it even more for nights!