Interested in helping the planet? Want to use a sustainable system for diapering? Need to keep baby’s bum healthy? Want to be prepared to still diaper your baby in an emergency? Confused by all the options for cloth diapers and have no idea what you want to do?
Here are some reasons to consider using cloth diapers for your baby and a little help deciding which kinds to try.
A Few Reasons to Consider Cloth Diapers
- Cloth diapering is sustainable – it’s a system that can just keep going and going with a little labor from you.
- Disposable diapers end up in land-fills; cloth diapers don’t.
- Many (not all) babies have diaper rash issues that clear up in cloth diapers.
- Once you’ve purchased cloth diapers, you own them; this means you can conveniently diaper your baby even if there grid is down or there’s a disposable diaper strike (or, insert disastrous event of choice).
All of those are good reasons to consider cloth diapering for your baby, but I’d have to say the bottom line (ha! no pun intended) for me was the money. I did the math, and with what I’d spent over the years in disposable diapers for the other four, I could have bought myself a car. Not cool.
A Place for Disposables?
I’m not an all or nothing girl. I think even disposable diapers have their place. Here are some times when I use disposables:
- When traveling
- If washer breaks (yep, that’s happened)
- I just couldn’t handle one more thing and for whatever reason disposable diapers were the difference between me making it to the end of the day or not
But those times are the exception to my days, not the rule. I am NOT going to tell you that cloth is the only thing to use if you’re going to be a good mom. Be very wary of anyone telling you that you must do one thing or another to be a good mom. Love your baby and do your best in all things and you will be a great mother, never fear.
It’s possible, though, that cloth diapers will be a boon to you and baby. They might be the diapers you actually prefer to use! Here are some things to know about modern cloth diapers.
Modern Cloth Diapers
First of all, these ain’t your momma’s cloth diapers! You know those things people my age wore when they were babies – the infant version of tighty whities with big pins and plastic cover pants that always leaked?
Have a minute or two? Go read the history of the diaper for a few laughs and some perspective on how easy we have it these days.
My father’s mother used to have to wash my dad’s diapers by hand and hang them out to dry rain or shine or snow. They lived in Lake Tahoe, CA, and many a time frozen diapers were brought in to defrost.
These days cloth diapers feature:
- water proof, designer fabric
- synthetic fiber materials that will suck moisture from the air, let alone your baby’s bootie
- or, 100% natural materials like bamboo, if you prefer
- easy-to-use diaper pins that protect baby from pokes
- and so much more!
Still, with all this coolness comes a cost. Well, yes, cloth diapering systems are an investment of capital but I’m talking about a higher cost – your gray matter.
Go ahead and Google “cloth diapers,” I dare you.
Do you have any idea how many results you’ll get? I can’t count that high.
And they all will try to explain modern cloth diapers to you using a language you have never before encountered:
- pocket diapers
- PUL fabric
- wool soakers
- hyena mothers
And yes, there are cloth diapering systems to choose from; great galaxies of diapers, in nebulae of confusion.
Let me see if I can clear this up just a bit for you. And, no, you’re not dumb because you’re confused – there’s a whole world of cloth diapers out there!
Cloth Diapers – Basically 3Ways
I am not about to try and clarify all these systems for you, FYI. By the time I was done fighting that battle I needed therapy and fresh horses for my men.
However, I will say that there are basically three ways to cloth diaper:
- All-in-ones with every part of the diaper attached – outer shell to prevent leaks with the inner, absorbent material to catch waste
- Pocket diapers that come with an outer, protective shell into which you insert an absorbent pad – these can be washed separately
- Pre-fold diapers that are simply a cloth diaper with an outer shell for leak protection and a fastener (these are more like the diapers I wore in the ’70’s)
There are various ways to implement and change up those methods, but those are the basic three. And there are fierce defenders of all three.
Seriously, want to start a cat fight? Start dissing another mom’s cloth diapering system. Bring popcorn to that one because it will be epic.
I’d been thinking about cloth diapering for awhile but every time I opened the computer to research, I got so confused and overwhelmed that I simply shut the laptop and backed away slowly. If you feel like that, too, read on just a bit more.
Cloth Diaper Mentors
I was fortunate to enjoy the help and experience of two ladies at church explained what they liked and what they didn’t about their cloth diapering systems. They also showed me how it all worked. The best part was that they let me see and experiment with some of their cloth diapers so that I had a better grasp of what my options were.
If you can find moms near you who are using cloth diapering systems, ask them if you can see their cloth diaper stash. See what they like and what they don’t like about their system. This is probably the best place to start. Move onto the Internet only after you’ve done this.
Finally, I decided I could start researching online again without being too confused. Still, every time I went to look at patterns (yes, I was actually considering sewing my own – puhlez, what was I thinking?!) or to order diapers online, I got confused.
Then I found this website – Get Back to Basics. No muss, no fuss. For whatever reason, maybe the copious amount of photographs, I finally figured out what I wanted and ordered it. Check it out and see if it might help you, too.
I’m deliberately keeping this post VERY SIMPLE because I don’t want to overwhelm your mommy brain that’s probably functioning on little sleep as it is. When you’re ready, check out our next post for more details: Cloth Diapering 101.
What I Chose First
The cloth diaper system I chose first was a pocket diaper system where you stuff absorbent material into a pocket in the shape of a diaper and backed with water resistant material. This system seemed easy and economical.
I purchased pocket diapers with snaps on the outside that adjust as baby grows all the way up through potty training, theoretically. Since my baby was over 12 lbs., I had no problem getting these to fit. If she were smaller than 8 lbs. then possibly I would have needed newborn size.
A friend sent me a pre-fold cloth diapering set which is more like the ones from when I was a baby: a waterproof cover (made of PUL fabric) separate from the absorbent, pre-folded lining that you close with pins or a Snappi.
For some reason, that system just looked harder. (Note – I actually ended up switching from pockets to prefolds and they’re no big deal.)
Adding More Absorbency to Cloth Diapers
As baby ages and their volume of waste increases, you may want to add:
- bamboo inserts
- or hemp inserts for extra absorbency
- a strip of micro-fleece fabric or cotton flannel
These material can help to wick away moisture from baby’s bum. My newborn gets changed so often that her skin hasn’t been bothered by the moisture but I can see how it might be an issue later. If you’re doing all this, you may as well make the switch to cloth diaper wipes – here’s more information on those from Pistachio Project.
Give Cloth Diapers a Chance
I encourage you to take a deep breath and at least take a look at the whole cloth diaper thing. I’ve found them to be easy to use and really pretty easy to clean. I admit that I’m glad to have a washing machine but after washing my laundry by hand when I lived in Russia I can testify that it IS possible.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to stuff my pocket diapers – notice my nonchalant use of my new vocabulary skills? Smooth as a baby’s bottom…
UPDATE: Nearly three months later, I’m still loving my cloth diapers but here are a few things I’ve learned:
- The synthetic fiber inserts for the pocket diapers were working OK as long as I put two inserts into every diaper. My baby is so big that many of her onesies already pull so having all that bulk in her butt is inconvenient sometimes (although it will be great while she learns to walk!). I asked Laura from Get Back To Basics what she suggested and she said I should try a more natural fiber as they tend to have great wicking power.
- I ordered ten charcoal inserts and they work really, really well. In fact, they’re so absorbent that, in order to not spend three hours drying them in my dryer, I make sure to put them on my clothesline. Make sure you initially process the charcoal ones in boiling water or you’ll get gunk all over your laundry – there should be instructions on whatever website you use.
- My baby’s skin will occasionally get irritated by the PUL on her inner thigh so if I know she’s going to be in a diaper awhile (like overnight), I make sure to put her in a Minky diaper so that everything is soft on her skin. A reader wrote in on our Facebook page and left this comment which would be great to try if you’re having a problem with rashes:
“I liked pre-folded diapers because of the cost of disposables. I hung them on the line because the sun does a good job of sterilizing them. When my kids got rashy I used a trick my mom taught me that a nurse taught her – I turned on a hot light bulb lamp or used the direct sun through a window and let my baby’s skin be exposed to the heat/light. In just a couple minutes the rash goes away. You can watch it go. Kind of a miracle. It required both light and heat to work. I was in constant diapering mode for 14 years, and I’m glad it’s over.”
-Allison, via her genius mother, Vesta
Amen to that – 14 years of constant diapers would earn anyone a good rest!
So, there you go! Not rocket science, way cheaper and really no big deal in my day. So grateful for the modern cloth diaper mentors who’ve made this journey way easier than I anticipated!
Another UPDATE: A mere two months after so blithely saying it was no big deal, I pretty much ditched cloth diapers. Wanna know why?
Cover photo gratefully attributed to this Wikimedia Commons user.