I have wanted to write a diapering post for some time now. I remember when I was pregnant that I could read just about anything on cloth diapering and that I was always looking for more. In fact, as a cloth diapering parent, I still love reading about how others find their ways through this process. Therefore, I want to share with you the process we went through to get to an almost exclusively cloth diapering place. It wasn’t necessarily graceful. It wasn’t the wonderfully back-to-the-good-old-days experience I initially thought it would be. Instead, it was a journey of trial and error much like everything else has been since our Baby Genius was born. We’re not advocating any one method here; we’re just sharing what worked–and mostly what didn’t work–for us. Please feel free to leave any questions in the comments area, and we’ll be happy to answer them there (you can also send an email). We don’t by any means claim to be experts in this field, but we’re happy to share what we have learned as we’ve bumbled our way through cloth diapering our son.
I’ll warn you now: this is a long one, but our journey has been a long one. I’ve included headings to help make this a little easier to navigate.
And, finally, a disclaimer: We talk about our shame over using disposables. We’re not passing judgment on anyone else’s diapering choices here; this was solely connected to what we perceived as our own failures at the time.
I have always known I would cloth diaper my children. I was cloth diapered, as were my siblings. I learned at the age of eight when my sister was born how to fold a diaper and safely pin it. We used these dreadful “plastic pants” then–the covers that are made of vinyl with elastic at the legs and waist. I was also taught how to swish the soiled diapers in the toilet, and this became one of my jobs to help out. It wasn’t until I started babysitting as a preteen that I even knew about disposable diapers. I just assumed that diapers were cloth, and that was that. I spent many years providing childcare, and in the mid-nineties, I informally nannied for a family who cloth diapered exclusively. They had some really cool covers that kept them from needing the dreaded diaper pins. I loved cloth diapering their little boy, and I reaffirmed to myself that cloth diapering it would be when I finally had a baby.
When J and I first started talking baby stuff in earnest, I told her I wanted to cloth diaper. She wasn’t sure about it because she didn’t know much about it. The thought of safety pins scared her, but it didn’t take long to help her realize that it might not be so bad once she knew there were alternatives to diaper pins and plastic pants.
The Research Phase
Once I was pregnant, we really started looking at diapers. We began to research them like we do everything. For so long, we thought we would do prefolds and covers because that’s what we thought was available. Then we got online. Just scratching the surface revealed new and unfamiliar terms like AIO, pocket diaper, fitted diaper, stuffers, soakers, and more. There weren’t just prefolds; there were Indian prefolds and Chinese prefolds, bleached and unbleached, hemp, cotton (organic and not), microfiber terry, and even bamboo. To say the least, we were completely overwhelmed. The stubborn, practical side of me said we’d stick with prefolds–the ones my sister was giving us for free, which she had never used. We would get some covers–simple ones–and that was that.
What made our decisions more difficult, as I’m sure many of you have found, is that it was nearly impossible to try to find real samples of these things anywhere. BRU does not carry anything but the really crappy G.erber prefold diapers and those dreaded plastic pants–and those aren’t even in the diapering section of the store! No other mainstream big-box baby retailer carries real cloth diapering supplies either. One day, though, we happened into a baby boutique, and we spied our first pocket diaper. It was a Happy Heinys. The salesperson was more than happy to tell us about them, and we were amazed. We bought one for $20 and had some serious buyer’s remorse upon returning home, realizing it was a one-use-then-wash item. We had to keep this diapering thing economical because that was one of the reasons we wanted to cloth diaper. At $20 a diaper, this was not going to be economical.
The Reality of Diapering a Newborn
By the time Baby Genius made his arrival, we were stocked with diaper covers of several varieties and those pre-folds my sister had given us, about six (huge) designer pre-folds, along with a homemade all-in-one (which basically looks and works like a cloth disposable), and a single one-size Happy Heinys. We thought we were pretty set, but we also bought a pack of newborn disposables, thinking we might need those before his cord fell off. We had high hopes that the diaper covers and pre-folds were going to work. They were the most economical option, and we were going to have to make due. We also had plans for a wet pail soaking method.
Then reality struck.
When BG came home, he was wearing the disposables from the hospital. For the first few days, we kept him in disposables, but we were itching to try out the cloth. A few days in, we tried one of the prefolds, and it was so huge that we had to fold it and refold it, and fold it some more to get it to fit. We put it on with a cover that had a cut-out (Pro-Wraps), but we quickly saw that it was going to irritate his cord, so we were back in disposables. We waited a bit longer, and soon his cord fell off, but the covers still irritated his healing belly button, so we used the cloth sparingly until he healed.
Cloth Diapering–Phase I
When we finally were able to start using cloth, we hated the diapers. They sucked. It turns out that the diapers my sister gave us were the cheap but thicker G.erber diapers, and as generous as it was for her to give these to us, it became very clear why she had been discouraged by cloth diapering. They didn’t fold well. They didn’t quilt up at all, making them less absorbent than they needed to be. They weren’t very soft. And they were huge–just too huge. We kept trying to use them, but because we had to fold them so many times, they made it impossible to put any of BG’s clothes on him, and the covers hardly fit either. We were both incredibly discouraged, and we would often “cheat” and put him in a disposable just because we didn’t want to deal with folding another diaper that didn’t fit within the covers we had. We had expected some diaper bulge, but this was bordering on the absurd.
Cloth Diapering–Phase II
After some research, we finally decided to get some prefolds that were sized. We looked around and decided on Indian over Chinese. We read great reviews about how well the Indian prefolds soften up over time, how absorbent they are, and how long they last, so we bought a couple dozen small prefolds, thinking they would fit well within the covers without having to fold them over at the top. These turned out to be pretty good. We liked that they fit within the covers, and they were super absorbent. They were also rather soft (and continue to get softer with each wash). We tried to use these for some time, and we used them with a variety of covers, but mostly Bummis Whisper Wraps. We also had some Thirsties wraps, Cott’n Wraps, one Kushies wrap, and some homemade wraps someone was selling on ebay. Bummis were fine, but they tended to be bulky, and as Baby Genius’ thighs grew thicker, they were harder to fit properly. We liked Thirsties for how thin they were, and now we’re pretty fond of Cott’n Wraps and Kushies (also nice and thin).
This system, while better, was flawed. First, it takes some practice to get the diaper into the cover just so, and even then, it doesn’t always fit properly. J found this endlessly frustrating at the time, and I did on occasion. When the baby was particularly fussy, or we were in a hurry for some reason, we’d end up reaching for a disposable because it was easier. Second, the covers and prefolds typically made BG’s butt so bulky that few of his clothes would fit. Baby clothes are made with disposable diapers in mind, so when you try to stuff a baby with a bulky cloth diaper into these clothes, it can be very difficult and frustrating. Third, we couldn’t get much longevity out of the prefolds because BG felt any moisture so very quickly (and hated it). If we put him down for a nap in one of these, he would wake up as soon as he peed. Putting him in these diapers overnight was out of the question, so we used disposables at night and usually ended up going through three or four before we got around to putting him into a cloth diaper in the morning. We were buying a pack of diapers a couple of times a week.
At one point, and I’m horribly embarrassed to admit it, we bought a huge box of H.uggies from Co.stco. It was enormous. We were so embarrassed that we waited to bring it up to our apartment until nightfall, and we waited until the next night to take the box down to the recycling bin. But that didn’t stop us from using the damn things. I’m still not sure why we thought we needed them at the time. I think it was just so alluring because there were so many diapers for what seemed like so little money. We figured they would last us a few months, but we didn’t take into account any growth spurts our son might go through. In fact, because our son was growing so quickly at the time, there came a week or two that we had to put him in these diapers exclusively because he was almost too big for them. We were determined to use them up, but in the process of doing so, we had developed a nasty disposable habit. Our diaper pail was reserved for cloth diapers, and we didn’t have a separate one for disposables, so we had a bag for dirty diapers behind the nursery door. Even though we took this bag out to the trash (full of shame) every day, the nursery stunk. We hated throwing that many diapers in the landfills, and having the visual evidence every day was enough to send us back to the drawing board.
Cloth Diapering–Phase III
As we came to the end of that box, we vowed never to buy a box again, and instead, we decided to once again reconfigure our diapering system. We had since learned the value of the one pocket diaper we had purchased. These things work almost like a disposable in that the stuffer that fills the pocket soaks up tons of moisture and draws it away from the fleece lining. As a result, baby doesn’t feel wet when he pees. Finally after using this thing a few times, I realized that this was the direction we needed to go. Thanks to a couple of my favorite diapering websites, Diaper Pin and Nicki’s Diapers, I found a great deal on some pocket diapers that would work for us, and I bought a couple. We tried them out and loved them, so next paycheck, we bought two more, and then two more, and on and on. With part of our tax return, I bought eight more, and then, as a late holiday gift, my sister bought us ten. We’re up to 25 pocket diapers now, and we have a pack of disposables for when we go out for long periods of time. I bought this pack a month ago, and we still have half of them left. So here’s the nitty-gritty–our current system: Daily Diaper Use
During the day, we use Haute Pockets one-size diapers. We are still using these on the first setting, and our son is nearly twenty pounds. They’re going to last until he’s out of diapers. They cost about $13-$14 each, so a little over $300 was invested in this system. They include a large stuffer and a small stuffer which can be combined for a super night-time stuff. We probably use 8-10 diapers a day at this point, but we have a frequent pooper. I’ve heard rumors that many babies at BG’s age only poop once a day or less. Were that the case, he’d probably go through fewer diapers. At night, we double-stuff the diapers, and we can go almost all night without needing to change him (if he has just wet the diaper). When we go out on a short jaunt, we usually keep him in a pocket diaper, but we do keep disposables in the diaper bag. For a longer jaunt or when going out of town, we use disposables.Believe it or not, we also still use prefolds and covers on occasion. When BG is developing a bit of irritation, the cotton seems to help him heal quickly. Other times I think we just use them because now that they’re optional, they’re a bit more of a novelty, and they aren’t half bad. They also help us stretch time between diaper washing a little.
A Note on Wipes
We use primarily cloth wipes. We have some that were gifted to us, and we have a bunch that I made out of antique cotton flannel. To wet the wipes, we use the peri bottle I was given in the hospital (much like a small bottle for dish soap), and in it I place about a tablespoon of hand-crafted, baby safe body wash (I think it basically has olive oil, vitamin E, water, and some essential oils), and I fill the rest up with water. It works very well, and BG’s diaper area tends to stay very healthy.
Diaper Care and Laundering
When these are wet, we pull out the insert and place both the diaper and the insert into a dry pail. When they are soiled, we pull out the insert, place it in the pail, and then place the diaper in the toilet for a moment. Then we put on our trusty gloves, clean the diaper out in the toilet a bit, and place the diaper in the dry pail. I mention this part because the diaper companies make it seem easier than it is by saying all you need to do is dump the solids into the toilet. If your baby is breastfed and/or not eating solids, or has gastrointestinal issues like ours does, you’re not going to have neat little poos to “dump” into the toilet. And while many people simple throw the pre-solids poopy diapers in the washing machine as-is (breastfed, especially), we prefer to get a jumpstart on the process to minimize staining and stink.We usually wash a load of diapers every two or three days, although we could probably do them every four days or so if we had a larger diaper pail. As it is, we wash them when the pail is full. We put them in for a presoak, and then we wash them in hot water with a small amount of detergent (scent-free, dye-free). To help combat the odors that can linger in pocket diapers, we use a D.owney Ball with white vinegar in it– it really helps to keep the odors away. We alternate line drying and machine drying for the covers so that we can make them last as long as possible. Once they’re dry and clean, we pre-stuff them. We even pre-stuff our night-time diapers, and we’ve designated a color just for night (white, if you’re interested in knowing).
The Bottom Line
We are so happy with our diapering system. They pocket diapers are still bulkier than the trim disposables, and as a result there are clothes that just don’t fit as well. We either don’t use those clothes, or we dress BG in those clothes when we’re going on big outtings when he’s wearing a disposable anyway. Our initial investment has nearly paid itself off already because we truly are down to a small pack of disposables (or less) per month now. Baby Genius loves his diapers too. We’re finding that he’s less comfortable in paper diapers. He prefers the soft fuzziness next to his skin. Yes, it takes more effort, but it really is worth it in the end, and honestly, I find those duties related to cloth diapering very rewarding.