As any first-time parent will know, the change that comes as you welcome your first child are huge, abundant and largely - despite all the books you read and podcasts you listen to - unpredictable.

Preparing and caring for a baby requires planning, money, and savviness, and as the saying goes, "necessity is the mother of invention". 

This is how it came to be that Belle McCabe started making her own reusable products for her company OtherMother Creations, including menstrual pads, nursing pads, nappies and a broad range of products women typically spend hundreds of euro on each year. 

Belle's products include everything from nursing pads to nappies. Photo: OtherMother Creations

There is the added benefit of minimising your contribution to environmental waste, which becomes a far greater feat when you have a newborn baby racing through nappies. It is estimated that a nappy can take anywhere between 200 and 500 years to decompose, with babies typically requiring hundreds of nappies a month. 

Necessity breeds creation

"I first started making reusable products right after our son was born", she says. "I hate to say it but the inspiration behind us making our own reusables was we couldn't fathom having to budget for hundreds of nappies a month. We were very stuck for money and wanted so badly to use cloth nappies but found that the upfront cost of a [reusable] newborn bundle was way more than we could afford.

"We found second hand selling groups online and bought our first bundle for €100 and thought we did really well until our son came along and we realized most of the nappies we bought were actually unusable because of broken elastics or waterproof layers." 

After searching online for patterns, Belle began developing her own nappies from the material of the broken nappies. She quickly found that aside from the handy aspect of it, she enjoyed the act of sewing itself, and at just six months post-partum she began crafting her own menstrual pads. 

Teaching herself how to sew, Belle experimented with patterns for nappies and pads, and after trial and error came out with the pattern she now uses to make her OtherMother Creations pads, which come in four sizes. Similar to nappies, menstrual pads are a vital item for many women, and one sanitary pad can take 500 years to decompose, while Belle's fabric pads last up to five years.

A positive effect

As well as this, Belle says reusable pads have "a positive effect on menstrual symptoms". "I suffered a lot as a teenager, and used to dread that time of the month and now not only has is gotten shorter, I barely notice it at all."

"You can also customize nearly every cloth product to fit your individual needs. I think it's important for people to feel confident in their menstrual products and I hated using disposables but never realized I had other options growing up."

The trend towards more eco-friendly feminine products is well on its way, as more and more women choose products like the Moon Cup over standard pads or tampons. 

"I was making them for friends and family, then was getting recommendations online and I realized it was a growing business. I had been let go from my job a few months before getting pregnant so I figured it could be good to set up on my own, that way I could be a dedicated stay at home mother and do this whenever I was able", she says.

Fun and playfulness

Reworking old material also allowed Belle to experiment with patterns and designs, bringing an aspect of fun and playfulness to products that are generally more simplistic and identical in appearance. 

"I had gone to a few eco baby fairs and found that across brands many of the nappies and menstrual products actually had the same prints and I wanted my brand to stand out. Reusing old fabrics was one way I could do that", she says.  

As they are made from mixed fabrics, reusable pads can have more personality. Photo: OtherMother Creations

"When I found beautiful vintage print cotton pillowcases in a second-hand shop that I was able to turn into multiple nappies and menstrual pads I knew that was what I wanted to do: upcycle!"

Belle says that since debuting her products, the reaction has been positive. "I wasn't starting this zeitgeist, it was already gaining traction among loads of families and women in particular, so in the groups, I shared the products with, lots of people were already on their own zero waste journey, especially when they've done cloth nappies.

"Once you've washed poopy nappies, menstrual products are a breeze!"

Othered

In the course of growing her business, Belle has experienced the stigma attached to wanting to parent in an eco-friendly way, and indeed this was the inspiration for her company name. 

"The name Other Mother came from feeling very othered in my own group of friends", Belle explains. "Loads of Facebook groups seemed to think that going eco in your parenting is strange, and they joked about hippy parenting, 'crunchy moms', etc. It wasn't until I found the zero waste community and other cloth nappy parents that I didn't feel completely separate from the general community." 

Even with the shift towards sustainability and eco-friendly products, adapting your parenting to fit with those ethics can still be viewed as "going against the norm", Belle says - "never mind making my own and doing it by upcycling fabrics."

On top of the ethical discussions surrounding them, the benefits of reusable products for parents are numerous. "There's no harsh chemicals and for nappies, that means a lot less nappy rash, therefore a lot less nappy rash cream. They do birth to potty so last through an entire child.

"Parenting is hard enough, without the additional worry of financial security so reusables give parents something they might actually like to use. Nobody gets excited about nappies, but there are entire fairs dedicated to cloth nappies because they are cute as hell and so exciting to buy."

A pain

In many ways, disposable products are no more convenient than reusables, something that Belle now knows intimately. 

"I think all baby related products have such a short life. With disposables, particularly things like post-partum pads, nursing pads, etc there is no reason to use disposables, they are no more convenient than reusables, other than being able to throw them out, but that's a convenience our planet isn't really appreciating at the moment."

The lifespan of one reusable menstrual pad is five years. Photo: OtherMother Creations

"For those without children, disposable products are generally a pain", she says. "The cost builds up, they aren't discreet - no matter what the advertisements tell you - they're filled with chemicals and people who menstruate seem to be overjoyed when they realized there were other options. The menstrual cup is a popular one but not everybody can use them and for some it's a bit extreme. So the cloth pads are a nice middle ground for lots of people."

There is also a sense that reusable products allow for better connections between people, be it a mother and her baby, a seller and a buyer or - like Belle - the person creating these products and those buying them. 

"They are so much prettier", she adds. "Nursing pads have a 4-5 year life span. Once you finish with them they can be sold on or freecycled to other people who need them and they will do just as good a job." This is also why she doesn't personalise the products, in case they belong to another person later on. 

And while there will always be those who cannot fathom how they could wash a reusable nappy, any idea that the public aren't ready for upcycled nappies can be poo-pooed by how popular products like Belle's have become.

"I was worried that the upcycled fabrics might be a turn off for some people but when I asked the zero waste Ireland facebook group that's when my pads took off. They were a massive hit."

You can find Belle's products on Facebook at OtherMother Creations.