There are so many decisions parents are faced with. One that often gets overlooked is what kind of diaper baby is going to wear. The hospital hands you your new baby in a disposable and often, that’s that! But why? Cloth diapers have a reputation for being more work and, well, gross. Thankfully they are nothing like they used to be! They are better designed with new fabrics and actually have quite a few benefits!
One benefit is cost savings. A child can be diapered from birth to using a toilet for around $200, and those can be used again on future children or resold. To put that in perspective, disposables and wipes cost around $2500 per child! Cloth diapers are also better for the environment. Disposable diapers do not decompose well especially in a landfill. Yes, you use water to wash cloth diapers, but water is also used to manufacture those disposables, so it’s a wash (see what I did there?). By using cloth you know exactly what is touching baby’s skin, unlike disposables, which are not required to disclose what chemicals the diapers contain. Cloth’s breathability helps decrease diaper rash, too! Lastly, I know you don’t think that sweet, adorable little baby is capable of this, but as any veteran parent or caregiver will tell you, babies can poop with unimaginable velocity. This causes the diaper blowouts you may have heard of. Thankfully these are almost unheard of with cloth!
Interesting! But where do I start?
For newborns, you have a few options. Flats are essentially big, thin sheets of cotton that can be folded in many ways. If you’re into origami or fast drying laundry, this is for you! Another option is prefolds. These are basically flats folded and sewn into a square with more layers in the middle. You wrap them around baby and secure with a safe, elastic Snappi- no more pins! Then put a cover on top as a moisture barrier. Fitteds also nee a cover, but they are in the traditional diaper shape and offer absorbency on the sides, too! If you want to cut down on steps, there are all-in-one diapers that have the absorbency and water-resistant layer together or all-in-two/pocket/hybrid diapers that allow for more customization.
The materials used are typically microfiber, bamboo, cotton, or hemp which absorb fastest to slowest and lest to most respectively. These can be combined in different ways depending on baby and the situation. While a perfect diaper solution may not leak for hours, baby should still be changed frequently to keep their skin healthy.
How many do I need?
Every time a newborn eats, it generally means they’ll need a diaper change, too. With eating every two hours, you should plan to go through around twelve diapers a day. That doesn’t include when the mid-diaper change freedom causes you to go through two (or five) diapers at once. As baby grows, the number of diapers used daily significantly decreases.
What about wipes?
You’re already doing diaper laundry, so using cloth wipes might actually be easier than having a trash can just for wipes in the nursery. Remember the eight packs of baby washcloths you got at the shower and could never possibly use, short of a very, very bad day? Now you can! They make great wipes.
Please say you don’t want me to put poop in my washing machine!?
Technically… yes. But hear me out. If baby is exclusively breastfed, diapers can go straight into the wash. Once baby starts solids (and most babies on formula), the contents of the diaper are a little more… formable. Just empty the diaper into the toilet when changing baby. If the consistency doesn’t allow for dumping, you have a few options. A DEDICATED, labeled spatula that lives in the bathroom, a diaper sprayer, or, the cheapest (but most mentally challenging for me): the dunk and swish. Don a pair of gloves (please don’t skip this step!) and dunk the diaper in the toilet to wash the solids off, wring to remove excess water, toss in pail. Again, it’s free. I’ll leave it at that.
Before washing, store diapers in an open container. Airtight diaper pails will start to smell before wash day. A cheap solution is a kitchen trash can with a pail liner (elastic topped, waterproof bag) and no lid. If you have other curious tiny humans or four-legged friends that cant resist a good diaper smell, you can get a hanging wet bag to keep diapers out of reach. There are smaller wetbags for the diaper bag. Every two to three days, dump the diapers in the washer.
1) Rinse on a short cycle, warm water. Add little detergent if needed.
2) Normal or heavy cycle, warm/hot water. Full amount of detergent.
3) Extra rinse may or may not be needed.
4) Machine dry or hang to dry.
Don’t fall for the special cloth diaper detergent. They’re expensive and the directions can be absurd. Use a commercial detergent with enzymes meant to break down organic waste, such as Tide. Powdered is usually preferred over liquid. Skip the softener and dryer sheets. That’s it!
Sounds easy! But I’m not ready for commitment.
If you think you might be interested but aren’t ready to invest in a whole stash of cloth diapers, consider either starting part time, or buying used. Used cloth diapers can be sanitized with a little bleach. It won’t fade most cloth diaper materials.
Emily Johnson hosts Cloth 101 classes that teach caregivers the benefits, types, care, and cleaning of cloth diapers, including troubleshooting problems. She also teaches a Babywearing 101 class that introduces types of carriers and how they’re worn. She’s a mother of four that like long walks down the aisle at Target, microwaving coffee at least three times a day, and hiding in the bathroom with chocolate and a good book.
If you have any questions or want some help getting started, feel free to email Emily at HelpWithCloth@gmail.com.