cloth diapering for beginners (or what i am telling my pregnant friends this week)

My friends keep getting pregnant. (Congrats!  Welcome to the monkey house!) One of them has been asking me questions about cloth diapering, and as a (miraculously still) excited user of cloth diapers, I was all daaamn, I should write a blog post so that I can get all the basics out of the way, a link that I can send said her (and other pregnant-in-the-future friends) to reference when they realize that pregnancy-brain has erased our entire conversation on the subject.  When I was pregnant and researching cloth diapers, I was all over blog posts like this, and they really helped me figure shit out.  So this is for you, pregnant, frazzle-brained, considering-cloth-diapers friends. XX.

Why use cloth diapers?

This is a question that a lot of other people have answered very articulately.  The Real Diaper Association (gah what a pretentious name) has a quick and easy break down of facts and numbers that I would recommend. We chose them because it would save us money and trips to the store while looking cute and being marginally better for the environment.

Where do I start?

The cloth diaper world is full of acronyms (a non-diaper example: using MIL instead of typing out mother-in-law).  This drives me up the fucking wall.  Writers: Using acronyms is like placing big fucking boulders in front of your readers.  They will make someone new to a subject feel excluded and confused, and he or she will have to leave your page to go look some shit up.  Stop fucking using them.  The time you save typing is passed directly to your readers in triplicate, and it is fucking rude.  Ehem.  All of that is to say, you are probably going to need to start by learning some of the acronyms that are constantly used in the cloth diaper world.  You can find an extensive index here, but it is long (sigh), so I would recommend just keeping it handy for reference when you are clicking around the web and find yourself reading something that looks like the cat sat on your keyboard while the word processor was open.

What do you use?

We ended up with a varied collection.  In the end, researching all the details of all the brands was too much, and I clicked a set of diapers into our amazon baby gift registry based largely on how fucking cute they all were.  Most of our collection consists of Fuzzibunz, though we also have a selection of prefolds, HappyHeinys, bumGenius, GroVia, Thirsties, Kissaluvs, and BabyKicks.

Well, OK, I did back my decisions with some research.  I preferred snap closures to velcro, a preference that 16 months of experience has confirmed.  Velcro is awesome when the babies go through a squirmy, I-refuse-to-stay-on-the-changing-table phase, but otherwise?  It sucks.  They chain up in the wash, and it doesn’t take long for babies to figure out how to take them off by themselves.  Which is really inconvenient when they happen to take ’em off and poop on the floor.  And yesterday, I spent forty minutes picking fuzz out of the stuff with a little pin, because too much fuzz and they stop staying closed.  See?  Fuck velcro.  (Pictured left: A BabyKicks Premium Snap Closure Pocket Diaper in all its unvelcro-ed glory.)

I was into pocket diapers.  Just to explain roughly, pocket diapers involve a pocket that you stuff with absorbent inserts, while all sorts of other kinds of diapers involve putting inserts on top of the diaper or no inserts at all.  The nice thing about pocket diapers is that they keep the bits of fabric that are soaking up the pee away from the baby’s skin.  Having quick-drying fleece on your skin instead of a piece of wet terry cloth can make a huge difference in comfort and diaper rash.  BabyKicks even have one that comes with an extra bit of super super quick drying fleece to keep that sweet little ass even drier.

And I only wanted one-size-fits-all diapers.  Most of the cloth diaper companies make fitted diapers in specific sizes.  But having to replace your entire collection two or three times during your baby’s diapering life is expensive.  Really expensive.  Luckily some fancy snapping makes one-sizers possible, and so you can use one set of diapers for all two to three years of your baby’s time in diapers.

What do you know now that you wish you knew then about cloth diapering?

I wish I knew that hemp is fucking amazing.  Seriously.  I rave and rave about hemp on every cloth diaper post that I write.  It is miracle fabric, the most absorbent I’ve seen.  It could probably suck up a pitcher of beer (can someone please do a “how much beer can a cloth diaper soak up” test?  it would be so hilarious).  If I had known about hemp what I know now, I would have put 10-20 hemp inserts onto the baby gift registry.

I also wish I had known that FuzziBunz kind of suck.  Someone recently told me that while working at a cloth diaper store that had noticed that FuzziBunz was a brand that people either really loved or really hated.  Turns out I fall into the second camp.  We still use them, but they leak at the seams and many of the buttons holding the replacable leg elastic have broken.  Turns out that Happy Heinys and BabyKicks are better products.  I wouldn’t say never buy any ever, but I would recommend not basing your entire collection on them.

So what should I buy?

Thing is, every baby is different.  Babies with chubby legs might favor a different diaper than banana babies, just to take one example.  I am basing my recommendations on 17 months of cloth diapering an inititally rather small banana baby girl.  If I could do it all over again, this is what I would buy.  (And is largely what I did buy, by the by.  All of which also happens to be picture below, diapers on the bottom shelf.)

1. Essential paraphenalia.

Earth Mama Angel Baby products!  I fucking love them.  Their Baby Bottom Balm is miraculous for healing just about any minor wound and delicious and totally non-toxic.  It is also compatible with cloth diapers (some creams will stain and coat, making your diapers ugly and less absorbent).  If I was rich, I would buy a tub for every single pregnant mother in the universe.  (Not to mention that their Nipple Butter was fan-fucking-tastic as well and is a great alternative to lanolin based nipple creams for nursing mothers.)

Planet Wise Wet Bags!  Excuse all the exclamation points (I won’t be allowed to use another one until I’m 50 at the rate I’m going here), but these things make my life so much easier that I can’t help myself.  These little bags are awesome for travel of any kind.  One pocket is completely, utterly waterproof, while a second pocket isn’t.  The dirty diapers go in the former, the clean diapers in the latter.  Brilliant.  They have small wet/dry bag for when you are just nipping out for an hour or two, and huge wet/dry bag for longer trips that can also double as a diaper pail in the nursery.  Ours is a sleek, plain black, but then have a ton of darling prints as well.

Disposable diaper liners.  We didn’t use these for the first five or six months of Pickles’ life.  I had some from the registry, but the breast milk poop came out easily in the wash.  Then she started eating solids.  (Cue dramatic, here-comes-the-villian music.)  The poop got gross.  While it came out in the wash, it left the entire load smelling nasty.  Yeah, ick.  That’s where liners make cloth diapering past breast feeding feasible.  You lay one on top of your diaper, and when your baby poops, you just pull it out and flush it (or trash it if, like me, you live semi off grid and kind of far away from a toilet).  There is less poop in the wash, and everything comes out smelling a hell of a lot better.

2. The diapers.

This is the hard part.  The main thing to remember when buying cloth diapers is that flexibility is key.  Your baby is going to go through all sorts of stages, and different diapers will be ideal at different moments.  I hate velcro, but loved it during the squirmy period.  A lot of one-sizers didn’t fit well when Pickles was an infant, so a few gifted fitted diapers and prefolds got us through.  When picking out a cloth diaper collection I would recommend getting a little bit of everything.  That way, if one brand or style doesn’t end up working, you won’t be cursing your entire collection.

Prefolds.  Prefolds are basically the ultimate in flexibility.  These are the old school diapers that are basically rectangles of cloth (usually sewn into multiple layers for absorbency).  Because you oragami them onto your baby yourself, you can make the fit ideal for pretty much any shape.  Problem is, they are the worst when baby has the squirms because you can’t oragami a diaper on a baby who is halfway across the room before you’ve even had time to fold it around their legs.  Get at least one pack for your collection.  But don’t forget, you will need diaper covers for these.

Snappis.  In order to use prefolds, you are going to need some Snappis.  I mean, you could be totally old school and use safety pins, but I didn’t want to stick Pickles full of holes.  (How did our parents do it?)  These little plastic gadgets have hooks on three ends that just grab right onto any fabric you stick them in.  Which means you can have a prefold on and fastened without sticking anyone with a pin.  They are small and easy to lose, but we got by on one three-pack for the first year.

Pocket diapers.  As I said before, flexibility!  Diversity!  But so far, my favorite pocket diapers are Happy Heinys (they have glow in the dark skill and cross bones prints!  and owls!  fuck yeah!) and the BabyKicks Basic Cloth Diaper (pictured on the left: I prefer them to the premiums because I find that the leg gusset makes for quicker leaks than I am willing to deal with).  If you are planning on doing laundry every two to three days, you are going to want to have at least 30 diapers.  If you buy a pack of 10 prefolds, then that means about 20 of these suckers.  BabyKicks diapers also do a really neat folding trick that makes them fit well even on tiny newborns.  (Otherwise expect that many of these are going to be a bit too big at the very beginning.)

“Fitted” diapers.  After prefolds, these diapers are some of the most flexible.  They come in a lot of different varieties, some with pockets, some without, but I’ve really liked using Kissaluvs One Size Hybrid Diapers and BabyKicks Organic One Size Fitted.  Some fasten with Snappis, some with snaps or velcro.  They work like a charm and are often a little cheaper than the all-in-one I-do-everything pocket diapers, but they do require diaper covers.  I’d recommend getting between five and 10 of them, depending on how many pocket diapers and prefolds you decide to purchase.

Diaper covers.  Holy cute. This is one area where I haven’t minded using velcro.  You can reuse these through a number of diaper changes so get between three and 10 of ’em.

Hemp inserts.  These little strips of fabric will save your life/sanity/mattress.  They will make nighttime cloth diapering possible.  Or going out for hours without leaks.  MIRACLE CLOTH, PEOPLE, miracle cloth.  Buy as many of these as your budget allows.  You will love them.  These are my favorites.

Wool pants.  These are key for successful nighttime cloth diapering.  You’ll want to pack your baby in a diaper with several hemp inserts, and then put on a pair of wool pants.  Then, if you end up with a leak, it will never make it to the bed.  Wool in incredibly absorbent, and if you get the seriously unhandled stuff, it is waterproof.  We have only needed one pair (which my mother knit for us).  Almost as magical as hemp.  Natural fabrics for the win!

What you don’t need to buy

Special detergent.  We use the same eco-friendly stuff that we use on our clothes and have had no problems.  If you find your diapers are getting a extra smelly, then do a wash with vinegar and baking soda.  It will strip off any residue hindering absorbency and get rid of the stank that might be hanging around.

What is this going to cost me?

If you are doing a gift registry, then I highly recommd putting your cloth diapers onto it and getting all of your friends and family to buy them for you.  Because how good would it feel to be able to say that you didn’t spend a single cent on a diaper, ever?  That’s what we did.

Otherwise, yeah, this is all going to cost you between 300 and 500 clams, depending on what brands and combinations of styles you choose.  Prefolds are the cheapest, and the more high tech the diapers get, the more expensive.  Most are about 20 a pop.  Even used they go for between 5 and 10 bucks a diaper, but eBay, flea markets, and exchange sites are full of options for the small of wallet.

Remember, though: later, your only costs will be water and wipes.  (I used cloth wipes for a while, but we’ve ultimately switched to the throw-aways.)  Some folks have told me that they found the water/washing costs prohibitive, so think about your water/laundromat costs long and hard too.  There are also diaper services that deliver clean diapers at the beginning of the week and collect the dirites for washing after.

Whew.  So.  That’s what I want you to know, pregnant friends considering taking up the cloth.  Still have questions?  Ask away in the comments.

6 Comments on “cloth diapering for beginners (or what i am telling my pregnant friends this week)

  1. It eats into aluminium and will corrode the parts. But with most modern washers your fine 🙂 Also i am very happy you wrote this. I am writing the cloth diaper chronicles on my blog for cloth diapering is really /unknown in the Netherlands. It is mainly because of your blog about diapering pickles I got enthusiastic and decided I would give it a go. So happy you are being honest instead of making things all pink an pretty and glamorous 🙂

  2. Awesome post. Laughing my ass off about the acronyms..I’ve been reading forums and blogs for research and they’ve been driving me up the wall. FTM and DD and LO etc all make me think of reading local paper personal ads or Savage Love for hours at Uncommon Grounds. (How I spent hours doing this I’m still not sure.)

  3. Not sure if you will see this since this is an old post, but I have a question about your cloth diapering experience. Did you guys have a washer and dryer? Were they shared? We are debating about using cloth diapers in Denmark, where they’re not so popular yet, but we have a shared laundry situation, and I’m not sure if that’s weird or not. Also I’ve heard the recommended way to wash them is something crazy like a cold rinse followed by a hot rinse followed by a cold rinse, and I just don’t know if I have that much access to our shared laundry to do each diaper load like that. Did you wash them just normally or did you do different rinses? Thanks!

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