Midwives Chronicle & Nursing Notes, June 1986

This month’s post is taken from the 1986 volume of Midwives Chronicle & Nursing Notes and is all about disposables! Starting off the discussion is a study by two student midwives comparing the benefits and discomforts of terry towelling nappies (Terries) with the comparatively new disposable nappies. The study points out that disposable nappies, introduced in their all-in-one form in 1975, were still relatively fresh as an affordable commodity for mothers, with 40% of babies wearing disposable rather than reusable Terries. The appeal of disposable nappies was apparent though, and the authors of the study point out that the convenience of using disposables when travelling and away from home were making them a viable choice, despite the higher costs involved. These costs were calculated by the authors as £248.18 per year for Terries, and £270 per year for disposables, and includes the statement that ‘Many mothers commented on the fact that they would prefer to use disposables all the time if they could afford it. All of them felt that it was cheaper in the long run to use Terries.’

A similar study today gives the yearly financial cost of disposable nappies as £754 as opposed to £92 for reusable – and the environmental cost as higher, with the increased burden on the taxpayer of rubbish disposal, although an interesting 2008 report by the Environment Agency points out that ‘consumer behaviour’ in washing and drying reusable nappies can alter impacts on the environment. In other words – full washing machine loads, line drying and reusing the nappies on second and third babies!

Other new disposable commodities introduced during the 1980s were nappy sacks (also popular with pet owners today!) and ‘the safety changer’ designed by father Captain Harry Eves and recognisable as the padded plastic covered changing mat still in common use.

Other highlights of this volume of the midwifery journal include a report of the first RCM Study Day, held in Newcastle on Tyne in September 1985, attended by 200 midwives and discussing the future of midwifery as a profession. There is also a look at the decrease in the number of spina bifida births in England and Wales by 80% over 15 years, a study on the use of breast-milk to combat cracked nipples rather than the costly ‘Rotersept’ spray issued in maternity units, and a new regular feature on parliamentary news of interest to midwives, covering the Cumberlege Committee enquiry into community nursing service and plans for a survey into the quality of mothers’ breast milk.

The volume also contains an interesting article on the creation of a commemorative book to capture the many different events, personal experiences and memories of the RCM Centenary celebrated in 1981. To me this was of particular significance, as a year or so ago this weighty volume came into my care as a transfer to the RCM Archive!

RCM Commemorative book June 1986
Cow&Gate June 1986


Advertisements are plentiful in these volumes from the later twentieth century, but there is a change from the merchandise based advertisements found in the early volumes of Nursing Notes, to services aimed at midwives as professionals. Pension services, information services, and job vacancies abound, putting the midwife at the heart of the purpose of the journal. There are still plenty of lovely baby images though!


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