This article is for people who may be a little hesitant about cloth diapering as I was. And now that I've got some years of experience doing it behind me, I can speak with some authority. I was really scared about starting cloth diapering but I am really glad I did it. It is easy.
When I started looking into cloth diapering, before my son was even born, I was really overwhelmed. There are so many different kinds of diapers and I really had no idea where to start. I ended up buying a little of this and a little of that to try things out and ended up spending a lot of money I didn't need to and now I have a bunch of stuff I'll probably never use. So, for you, dear reader, I have compiled a little bit of information to help you cloth diaper without stumbling the way I did.
You will probably change your baby's diaper about 9,000 times (give or take a few hundred) between his birth and his potty training adventure. If you use disposable diapers, that means that those 9,000 diapers will end up in a landfill where they will take 500 years or so to decompose. As an Earth-loving Pagan, I have issues with that. As a mom on a budget, I am also not pleased with the idea that I will pay about $2000 of my own hard-earned cash for this giant start to my child's ecological footprint. If you use compostable diapers, you can feel a little better about the environmental impact, but you may end up paying quite a bit more. (And I am suspicious of just how compost-able they really are anyway.)
But cloth diapers are pretty expensive themselves, so your start up costs can be somewhat daunting. The usual recommendation is to buy a few diapers a month while you're pregnant to get your stash set up, but there is often a savings in buying a bunch at once. My recommendation is to set aside $20 from every paycheck while you're pregnant and buy a big bunch of diapers right before baby is born. What to buy? Well, I bought them all so you don't have to.
Types of Diapers on the Market Today
Flat Fold Diapers_ - a wide, flat bit of cotton (usually) that you fold up into a diaper and pin or use snappies to hold onto the baby and then cover with a wool soaker, rubber pants or a PUL cover.
Pros- You can pretty much fold these into any size or shape to fit any size or shaped baby and the diaper is really good for wiping up general spills and messes and shining mirrors and sinks after Jr grows out of it. Depending on what your cover is made of, this can be a nice, breathable diaper. It also cleans up well and dries quickly. This is your most inexpensive option.
Cons- folding and pinning is a pain in the butt. And I hate snappies. I can't imagine why anyone would like snappies. But people do.
Pre-Fold Diapers - These are flat fold diapers that are partially folded and stitched together so that there is some extra thickness in the middle but you still have to do some finagling to get the thing on and pinned. You need a PUL cover, rubber pants or a wool soaker over this.
Pros - All the same pros as a flat fold diaper except not quite as much, that is, slightly less flexible for size and shape, etc. Pre-folds make great burp rags and fit nicely on the shoulder.
Cons - All the same cons as a flat fold diaper. Prefolds don't also tend to be as flexible across sizes, though more flexible than some other options.
My Recommendation - Try Real Nappies Cloth Diapers Essentials Pack. You'll need more than that, but it's enough to get you started to see if you like them.
Contour Diaper - This is like a flat fold diaper that is already folded and stitched and maybe strategically cut to be the right shape for a baby. It may come in multiple sizes. These usually need pins or snappies to keep them on and need a waterproof cover.
Pros - easier to get on and off without a lot of folding and fussing.
Cons - I still hate snappies and pins only slightly less.
My Recommendation - Try Kissaluv's Cotton Fleece Contour Diaper
Fitted Diaper - This is a diaper that is cut in the shape of a diaper, no folding required. It usually has snaps or hook and loop fasteners to hold them on- so no pins. These need an additional cover to keep the wet in.
Pros - easier to get on and off. You don't need pins.
Cons - Fitting can sometimes be a problem. You may need to purchase multiple sizes though there are one-sized options. It can be a little harder to get these clean and dry because of the multiple layers that can't be separated. For some reason, these are often ridiculously expensive.
My Recommendation - I really like Bamboozles and Mother Ease. Kissaluv's newborns were the only cloth diapers that fit my son when he was new but within a few weeks, I had no use for them anymore. Mother-Ease Sandy's have nifty side snaps turn the diaper into a nifty quick release underpants kind of thing that are perfect for that potty training transition period.
All In One Diaper - These are also referred to as AIOs because so many people are averse to typing out whole words these days. These diapers do not need an extra cover, they are truly all in one. Many are also one-size. I haven't found one I like…
Pros - Super easy to get on and off. No fuss with covers or pins.
Cons - Fitting is often weird with these and they can be difficult to get clean and dry because you can't separate the layers for washing.
I haven't found one I like to recommend to you…
All in Two Diaper - Often abbreviated as AI2. This is a PUL diaper shell with a waterproof insert that goes into it, usually by means of snaps. The insert can be removed and laundered and the shell can be reused several times unless it becomes soiled.
Pros - Easy to keep clean. No pins. Waterproof cover is included. These are usually sold in kits with a cover and a few inserts which seems pricey on the surface but since each kit represents multiple diaper changes isn't so much.
Cons - Switching the inserts in and out can be fiddly and I'm not sure how comfortable this is for baby.
My Recommendation - I like Grovia's, but use the hemp inserts. The cotton ones keep soaking wet cotton (think wet blue jeans) right up against baby's bits. These inserts also make good re-usable menstrual pads after baby's done with them. Softbums Echo are also good. Get the bamboo inserts or the stay dry ones. The super stay dry inserts are awfully bulky. The bamboo inserts are nice when baby is small, but awfully fiddly when he gets to be difficult about diaper changes. Grovia's hook and loop option is good but if you go with Softbums, choose snaps.
Pocket Diapers - Pocket diapers are PUL diaper covers with a microfiber liner stitched to it. An absorbent insert is slid into a pocket between the waterproof cover and the wicking microfiber liner. Since the insert is removable the liner and insert can be washed as two separate units. The liner hangs to dry and the insert dries in the dryer. After everything is clean, you just assemble the diaper and it's as easy to use as an All in One. These are great to send along to daycare.
Pros - these are super easy to use and they seem pretty comfortable. The daycare provider isn't too horrified by them.
Cons - This makes for a lot a of laundry and it's a somewhat pricey option.
My recommendation - BumGenius, but make sure you get the snaps. The hook and loop option is much too easy for baby to remove on his own.
What about poop?
Breast fed baby poop is very easy to deal with. It just washes right out in a normal wash. So, for the first six months or so it's sort of a non-issue. Once solid foods are introduced and you get those real poops, you might have a problem. Really solid poops shake out or scrape out of a diaper pretty easily. You may also want to consider a sprayer that hooks right up to your toilet and some people use disposable diaper liners, (but we're talking about bringing in more disposable stuff). You can minimize this by paying close attention to your baby's schedule. If he eats at the same time every day, he'll probably poop at the same time every day. I put on a liner before each meal because the first thing he does when he's done eating is poop.
What about diaper rash?
I have never had a problem with diaper rash unless I left my baby in a poopy diaper too long. Sometimes his little creases get red but a bit of corn starch clears it up super quick. My doctor recommends that I let him run around without a diaper for awhile each day. He calls it "air time". As long as it's warm enough in the house, I put him in his crib or playpen wearing nothing, or just a T-shirt after his morning meal and poop each day. He enjoys spending some time alone looking at his board books and playing with his toys. He has peed in the crib before, but he's never pooped in it. Everything in there is washable, so no big deal. If it's too cold, I put him in a fitted diaper with no cover. We call it his spa diaper.
I wash diapers every morning. I always did a load of laundry every day and now I just do two. I start the first when I first get up and the second before I head to bed. I start with a pre-treat cycle and add a tiny bit of soap. I also set it to do an extra rinse to make sure all the soap got out. I hang all the covers to dry and put all the inserts in the dryer and run them through once. Then I do my regular load for the day and when it's done washing I add it to the dryer with the diapers so the diapers get two runs through but I'm not running the dryer extra. I have had times when the diapers started to get a little stinky and I just ran them through the wash twice and that seemed to clear it up.
What's this About Wool Soakers?
Wool soakers are almost a culture. Some people just love them and use them from birth, but I find they aren't so useful until baby is older. I prefer them for overnight during potty training, in case of accidents, but that's about it. They usually slide on over a cloth diaper slow moisture loss, but if you have a blowout, you're dragging poo down a leg getting them off. They do breath better than most other diaper cover options. If you knit or crochet, I suggest you look into them further by joining the Yahoo Group http://groups.yahoo.com/group/wool_soaker_group/
I haven't found any wool soakers available for purchase that I like as well as the ones I make on my own. They all fit funny. I'm sorry I can't give you a pattern. Patterns confuse me. But there are lots out there. (Edit: Nowadays Yahoo Groups seem pretty much defunct, but I bet you could find a Facebook group.)
An Edit 1 Year Later:
My son is nearly 3 and is not yet cooperating with potty training. He likes to sit on the potty and make potty noises, but doesn't actually do anything productive. We'll get there. The point of this edit is not to complain about my son's lack of potty training but to report that now that he is vocal and has strong opinions, he has let me know that he really likes Bum Genius diapers, which he calls "button diapers". They are his favorite. He requests specific colors, mostly based on what super hero or villain he is pretending to be that day, and expresses disappointment when we tell him he has to wear a paper diaper because he's going to daycare. The inner linings got stinky and had to be replaced, but the outer shells are still going strong. Many still look brand new, though some are pretty well stained. We didn't replace the inner linings with official Bum Genius soakers, but we use good old-fashioned pre-folds.
I sold all of my other diapers except for a few Bamboozles and Sandy's, which I put on him without a cover when I think he needs some extra air and I am planning to use as sort of transitional undies. We call these his "spa diapers". They're basically just terry cloth.
1 Year Later:
My boy is big and potty trained and I gave my diapers away to a woman who was asking for baby stuff. I regret it. They were at least $500 worth of diapers, she didn't come herself to pick them up, but sent someone else after I drove over an hour to deliver them and she never said thank you and I see her asking for more free stuff every time I turn on my social networks. I was emotionally attached to those diapers. We went through a lot together. And now they're gone and I don't know if they're even being used. (sniff) I kept the pre-folds we used to stuff them with though and we use them a lot for cleaning up around the house.
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