Are you having issues with your cloth nappies leaking?
It can happen from time to time just like with disposables... but it shouldn't be a regular thing!
If your nappies don't last at least 2-3 hours and you stress about using your nappies on car trips, then something ain't quite right!
There are 3 common reasons why reusable nappies may leak:
- Nappy fit
- Compression leaks
And a few other less common reasons that I will get into at the end.
The advice given here applies to any types of nappies and it may take a bit of trial and error to figure out what works best.
It may be that you don't have enough absorbency, or the wrong type of insert being used, or putting inserts in the wrong order, or not changing the nappies often enough or your baby is flooding the inserts.
a) Not enough
Typical signs that you don't have enough absorbency: the inserts you are currently using are fully soaked.
Solution: add more absorbency!
This may be as simple as adding a face washer or another insert on top of what you have already been using.
Typically from about 4 months old, you may need to start using 2 inserts in your cloth nappies.
For Real Nappies, follow the nappy size on the label as per the weight of your baby and the size of the prefold is already suited to your baby's output. If you think your baby is outwetting the prefold, try adding a small face washer or a booster pad with your prefold.
b) Insert material is unsuitable
It could be that you are using an insert made of a material that is unsuitable to hold the amount of output your baby is doing at their age.
For example, many nappies come with microfibre inserts because they are cheap to make and therefore the price of the nappies is cheaper.
Microfibre inserts may be sufficient when baby is small but as baby grows they will not absorb a big enough volume of urine.
When buying nappies, look for inserts or booster pads that are bamboo viscose, hemp, cotton or a blend of these.
Find out more about the different insert fabrics in our page Cloth Nappy Fabrics.
c) Putting inserts in the wrong order
Different fabrics absorb at different speeds. For example, microfibre inserts are good at absorbing fast but they don't hold a big volume. Compare that to hemp inserts which can hold a lot of urine but absorb it a lot slower.
So it is important to layer inserts in the nappy in the correct order: fast absorbing fabric on top to draw the moisture in and slower absorbing but bigger volume insert underneath to hold more.
Read more about it in this blog about the importance of cloth nappy fabrics.
Cotton is a great natural fibre to use in cloth nappies because it holds both a lot of volume and is also pretty fast absorbing! So it's a great middle ground.
d) Not changing often enough
Cloth nappies should last at least 2 hours without leaking.
If they last longer that's great but it's up to you to monitor how often to change baby.
You can leave the nappy on for longer than 2 hours (as long as it is not soiled) but you don't want to leave it too long either as the moisture may irritate baby's skin and you are bound to have a leak eventually once the inserts are saturated!
We recommend changing Real Nappies ideally every 2 hours and up to 3-4 hours maximum. This can really vary due to individual babies' output and skin sensitivity.
e) Flooding the inserts
When babies are small, they pee small amounts regularly throughout the day and night. Hence you will change a newborn around 10 - 12 times a day.
Whereas older babies start to hold onto the urine for longer periods but then release it in one big flood.
Typical signs that your baby is flooding the nappies: the inserts you are currently using are NOT fully soaked, there are dry areas left on the inserts but you are getting leaks, especially around the legs.
Solution: play with the types of inserts you have so that a fast-absorbing fabric is on the top layer to catch the flood and draw the liquid into the other inserts faster. This may be as simple as adding a face washer or an insert made of microfibre or bamboo viscose or cotton on top.
If you are using a pocket nappy, the pocket layer (also called the stay-dry layer) can prevent the liquid getting through to the inserts tucked inside the pocket. Skip putting the inserts into the pocket, and instead lay them on top. So you are using your pocket nappies just as a nappy cover.
2. Nappy fit
Cloth nappies are designed to fit snug and low, like underwear. And like underwear that comes in different shapes, so do cloth nappies.
Getting the right fit can take a little practice if you are using OSFM (One Size Fits Most) nappies. But with Real Nappies, having appropriate sizing means you have a lot less to figure out to get the right fit!
Babies are all different shapes and sizes, and just as adults can't fit into a size that's too big or too small for them, babies can't either. Beware of one size fits all nappies that supposedly adjust to fit babies from birth to potty training. No single nappy can adequately address the needs of a tiny delicate newborn and a growing, boisterous toddler.
The four different Real Nappies sizes means you get a snug fit without any extra bulk at all ages and stages. A newborn in a one-size-fits-all design is generally saddled with a very bulky, often leaky, awkward and uncomfortable nappy, while on the other hand a toddler is left with one that is less than adequate. Using the correct size nappy will ensure a comfortable and leak-proof fit.
Ensure your nappies fit well:
- tuck the elastics in the underwear line at the front
- ensure there are no, or only minimal leg gaps. If you have plenty of absorbency inside the nappy, a small leg gap should not cause problems. But if your absorbency is borderline enough, then you might see small leaks in that area. So readjust!
- There should be a 2 finger gap at the front at the waist. This ensures baby is comfortable when they have a very full tummy or when sitting to give their tummy some room.
- Gentle pink marks where the elastics are, are normal, a bit like sock marks.
3. Compression leaks
Compression leaks can be due to using microfibre inserts, not enough absorbency or tight clothing.
a) Microfibre inserts
Microfibre acts like a sponge and will release what it has absorbed when squeezed.
Typical signs: you use microfibre inserts and they are usually fine but you get leaks when baby is sat up or there is pressure on the nappy (eg. during feeds or in the car seat).
Solution: ditch the microfibre inserts and replace with bamboo viscose or cotton inserts.
b) Not enough absorbency
Inserts (apart from microfibre) hold the liquid but if they are saturated and the cover presses on the soaked inserts, liquid will seep through the covers.
Typical sign there is not enough absorbency: the inserts are soaked and you get damp patches around the legs or if baby sleeps on their back or their tummy, dampness occurs in those areas.
solution: add more absorbency.
c) Tight clothing
Clothing that is too tight around the nappy will cause moisture to be wicked from the nappy when the nappy gets saturated.
Typical signs: using bodysuits and damp patches occur at the front of the legs especially or on the tummy where the cloth nappy stops, not super wet but damp. A damp patch on shorts around the elastic waist band because the shorts have squeezed under the nappy front flap.
Solution: try the next size up bodysuit or clothing, avoid bodysuits if the next size up is really too big on baby. Bodysuit extenders can be found but you will need to ensure the extender buttons are the same size as the ones on your bodysuits.
4. Other leak causes
Other causes of cloth nappy leaks are:
- delaminated or damaged PUL: the plastic layer which is water-resistant comes away from the polyester layer of the nappy cover and can be ripped or have small cracks. Typical signs of damaged PUL: the nappy outer part sounds crunchy when it is moved around, or you can visibly see cracks in the plastic layer.
- inserts are new: new cotton, bamboo viscose and hemp inserts absorb less than ones that have been used for a while. The reason for this is that the fibres inside the fabric become rougher over time after being washed repeatedly. The surface area of the fibres increases over time due to the friction that occurs during washing and the greater the surface area, the more micro piling, the more absorbency. These inserts will continue building absorbency with use. So with new inserts you may need to change more often until the absorbency builds up (this should only take a few washes not weeks!).
- elastics are too slack: elastics getting looser over time is part of normal wear and tear, but they shouldn't be completely gone! You will get leaks if elastics are too loose. You might be ok for a while if you have enough absorbency but once they are too slack it will create leaks. Also look out when buying secondhand nappies as you don't know if the nappies have been washed well to prevent premature elastic damage. Ask for close up photos of the elastic areas.
- urine output changes: urine output peaks around 6 months of age as babies' diet is still very much mostly in liquid form and they drink still quite often! Once babies start eating solid food and drink less, things tend to settle down again. Around 2 years of age, it is common for flooding to occur. But urine output can also be influenced simply due to hot days and babies might drink more water at daycare. So you might need to have more absorbency at daycare compared to at home or winter vs summer.
Nappy leaks whether with reusables or disposables are not fun!
Unfortunately, they will happen as you baby grows, and they are simply a sign that you just need to tweak your setup because baby's output has changed.
But leaks should not happen on a regular basis and your nappies should definitely last at least 2 hours during the day.
I've always got at least 3 hours out of my Real Nappies!
There will be a little bit of trial and error until you find what the issue is.
So don't worry too much and roll with it! This is an issue that can be solved.
Peruse the Real Nappies inserts, they are super thirsty and prefolds have great absorbency and can be added to any other nappies: