Adventures in Cloth Diapering

In the blur of bringing Hannah home from the hospital, the last thing I wanted to do was slap a cloth diaper on her tush. The stack of soft, white, wash-cloth-like inserts resting in the Pack ’n Play taunted me day in and day out. Newborns need around 14 diapers changes per day. The hospital Pampers had a that little, blue line, making it easy for weary new parents to see when baby is wet. Why would I give that up? After two weeks, I finally got up the courage to reach for a cloth diaper for the first time. With many ups and downs, cloth diapering is still worth it to me 14 months later. Here’s our experience with cloth diapering so far.

Hannah at 6 weeks old in Rumparooz cover

The decision to go with cloth goes back years. It was part of that pre-parenting fantasy. You know, the one where your child never sees a cell phone, rarely cries, and walks early. It sounded great. The benefits of less waste, no chemicals on baby’s skin, and money savings seemed more than worth the trouble. My cousin used cloth diapering for her daughter and made it look easy while working a full-time job.

While I was pregnant I did a lot of online research (blogs, YouTube). I even read a book on cloth diapering called Changing Diapers by Kelly A. Wels. One of my main takeaways was that there are tons of different types of cloth diapers. Not only that but different brands work better depending on baby’s shape and size. It’s quite overwhelming. So overwhelming, in fact, that this is where many interested parents give up. So I’ll go over that first.

Image via Library of Congress.  1943
Library of Congress. 1943

When you think of cloth diapers, are you picturing those white, cotton ones with the safety pins? Get that image out of your head! You can still go that route (they’re called “prefolds”), but today parents use much safer fasteners called “snappies.” That’s still too complicated for me. Diapers today are fastened with velcro or snaps. They’ve come a long way…baby.

Most of the examples below are from diapers I use or have used, but you can also check out this extensive guide for all types. Here’s a quick breakdown of the more common (easier) types of cloth diapering.

AIO (All-in-One): You can expect as close to a disposable diaper as possible with AIO. Simply remove the diaper and instead of throwing it in the trash you throw it in your hamper for later washing. I own one AIO and I like the simplicity of it. It’s also the best type for unsure husbands or grandparents.

AI2 (All-in-Two): There are two pieces to this diaper: (1.) an outer, waterproof shell that you use 2-3 times, and (2.) an absorbent inner-liner that must you wash between uses. Most of my diapers are AI2 or hybrids. I have 13 inserts and 7 covers.

Pocket: I haven’t used these but this is where you stuff an absorbent insert into the diaper liner. The liner keeps baby dry as urine passes through it into the absorbent layer. Also one-use and caregiver friendly. Many parents swear by these.

Fitteds: This is what I used as newborn diapers and they lasted until Hannah was about 3 months old. It was like putting a fitted washcloth on your baby with snaps to secure it. Then you must use a waterproof cover over that. My only concern with these is that the diaper itself didn’t wick away moisture. It didn’t become a problem because I was changing diapers so frequently. Many of the AIO and AI2 are designed to grow with your baby, but are still too small for newborns.

So what do you need when you decide to cloth diaper?

Most “experts” recommend trying different types of diapers to see what works for your baby. I didn’t want to mess around with that. It was helpful to have a family member to go to for advice. I took a chance and bought some preowned Kissaluvs from a boutique baby store. Their diaper rental program was being discontinued and I was able to get a deal. I bought about 40 diapers(!) at $5 a piece, because I didn’t want to do laundry daily. I had about 12 of the waterproof diaper covers (Rumaprooz) since you can reuse those a few times. The recommendation is more like 24 inserts and 12 covers, and doing laundry every other day. There are so many places to find pre-owned cloth diapers online if you can get over the weirdness of that. Many come already “stripped” or sterilized, or you can do that process yourself with a quick Google search.

It’s also helpful to check out the sizing. Most cloth diapers adjust to fit a wide range of weights. They will grow with your little one through potty training age. It’s hard to read reviews without getting overwhelmed. Some diapers fit certain shapes better than others (ex: lovely, chunk-a-monk legs vs sweet, little chicken legs). You can’t really get a good sense for what works for your baby until you try it.

Perfect leggies.

Aside from the diapers themselves, other helpful things to have around:

  • Cloth wipes: why not go all the way with this cloth thing? I love using GroVia reusable wipes.
  • Wipe solution: if you do cloth wipes, you can wet them with a wipe solution. There are lots of recipes out there on the web, but I use water and a drop of baby soap. The bottle/lid combination that I found works the best is Thayers Witch Hazel bottle.
  • Detergent: parents get all up in arms about using the correct detergent for cloth. I’ve been washing mine for about a year now and as long as it’s free and clear you shouldn’t have a problem. More about care below.
  • Drying rack: it’s recommended you hang your diapers to dry instead of putting them in the dryer. This helps them last longer. It also saves costs on energy. This has been my favorite drying rack by far.
  • Wet bag: I use the Planet Wise wet bag, recommended by babygearlab.com (my favorite pregnancy/baby website).

Care

Now let’s think about how this whole thing is going down. Cloth diapering requires a bit more work compared to disposables. In my experience, in the beginning, it was pretty simple. Change the diaper when wet or soiled, and throw the cloth in the hamper. After a couple of days do a load of diapers in warm or hot water and hang to dry. If your diapers come out stained, simply dry them in direct sunlight and that takes care of it. The work you don’t have to do is purchasing more diapers on a regular basis.

Once Hannah started eating solid foods, the poops became more challenging. I use a sprayer that attaches to the toilet to get rid of most solid waste. Instructions: hold the diaper so it hangs vertically over the toilet bowl. Gently spray the poop in a downward direction, toward the inside of the toilet (parallel to the poops). Spraying too hard may cause splatter so be careful! I find this position keeps the diapers from getting soaked from the sprayer, focusing the spray on just the solid waste. Our really wet or soiled diapers go directly in the washer instead of being scrunched in the hamper. These days I wash our diapers every other day.

Cloth diapering comes with huge benefits, and lots of nagging little challenges.

Benefits

I have the ultimate benefit when it comes to cloth diapers. I’m a full-time mom right now, so I’m there for every diaper change and every laundry load. Here are some things that make it all worth it:

  • Environmental: cloth is better for the environment. Afraid of doing too many loads of laundry per week and using too much water? You can get a few extra diapers to go longer between washes, and skip the dryer in favor of air drying. I haven’t read any compelling evidence that throwing disposable diapers away is better than using a bit more water.
  • Your baby’s health: in my experience, Hannah has never gotten bad skin irritation or diaper rash from cloth diapers. They’re free of chemicals, afterall. Since cloth diapers require more frequent diaper changes, she stays dry for much of the time. It’s very easy to peek in the diaper to see or feel any wetness or waste. Those amazing absorbency powers of disposable diapers do not come without consequence. You can read about what’s in disposable diapers here, and what alternative disposables are a better choice here. In an ideal world everyone would use cloth, but I’m realistic.
  • Potty-trained early: cloth means earlier potty learning in many cases. The slight inconvenience motivates you to introduce your baby to the potty earlier. Yes, that’s less time in diapers! This is the case for Hannah and me right now. We have been using EC (elimination communication) since about 6 months old. I plan to do a whole write-up on our experience with EC in my next post. In short, EC is a way to respond to your baby’s hygiene needs that can start as early as birth. Babies tend to gain independence at 9-18 months. More on that next time. EC aside, babies in cloth diapers are potty-trained earlier.
  • Cost: cloth diapers are less expensive. Changing Diapers quotes disposable cost (from birth to potty training) at $2577.35 and cloth at $381.00. You’re also not having to run out and buy diapers and wipes all the time.
“Mama to Fluffy-Butt. Come in, Fluffy-Butt.”

Challenges

  • Time: cloth diapering requires more time, most of it spent doing laundry. Aside from hanging diapers outside, it’s not that bad.
  • Gapping/fit when your child is growing: Hannah started experiencing diaper leaking (at about 11 months) during naps when she laid on her side in the crib. The leaking would wake her up. I ended up putting her in disposable diapers for naps so she would sleep better. We’ve experienced gaps between the diaper and her legs at times, which can cause some leakage too. As baby grows, the diapers need to be adjusted accordingly.
  • Nighttime: I also use disposables at night since Hannah can now sleep through the night. Cloth diapers nowadays do a good job of absorbing and wicking, but it pales in comparison to the absorption powers of disposables.
  • Out and about: when we’re out for short periods of time, cloth works fine. For longer trips, I have her in disposables for ease of changing in public. Another consideration for cloth when going out is carrying a wet bag in your diaper bag.
  • Vacation: disposables. I’d rather not spend my vacation time doing laundry.
  • More frequent diaper changes: cloth diaper technology has come a long way! That said, there’s nothing like a disposable diaper for maximum absorbency. I find myself changing cloth diapers more often than disposables. This is a challenge but also an advantage because I pay closer attention to Hannah’s habits. I’m seeing patterns in her day, and signals that she is going to potty. I’m also keeping her more comfortable and dry. In a weird way, I view it as more respectful.
  • Caregivers: if you’re on board for cloth, don’t count on anyone else being. Husbands and grandparents might be best with disposables, but they also might be surprised how easy it is to use cloth. I would recommend the velcro ones for the caregivers since they are the closest to disposables. When we were looking into daycares I asked if they would be up for using cloth. There were some suspicious looks but they seemed open to learning. If you were to go this route, the All-in-Ones (again, velcro!) would be the way to go since they are as close to disposable as you can get. Alternatively, go with cloth at home and disposables out. Any difference counts in my book!

Cloth diapering is work. I can also tell you that cloth diapering is fun and totally worth it. Realize, it’s okay to do hard things. I’ve found so many hidden advantages to it (not buying diapers all the time, earlier potty-learning). As with most things, the path of least resistance is the least rewarding.

If you’re even remotely interested, give it a shot! If all else fails, Pampers will still be there for you, blue indicator line and all. One big thing that helped me was having someone I knew who had been through it. I do recommend a cloth advocate, or sherpa, of some kind to guide you through your journey. Can I be that for you?

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