Saturday, April 23, 2011

Cloth Diapering 101

With modern fabrics and designs, cloth diapering is now a viable alternative to keeping little ones' bums dry and rash-free.  Plus, there is no need to worry about all of the chemicals and landfill issues surrounding the use of disposables when you choose to use cloth diapers.  It has also been said that babies in cloth potty train faster (especially if parents make an effort to keep them in dry diapers or to use feel-dry fabric next to their skin), since the feedback loop is still there between urinating and feeling wet (disposables wick moisture so quickly that many babies don't know they are going potty). There are so many options of cloth diapers and covers, though, it is hard to sort through it all.

Hiring a diaper service will help keep your up-front costs down, since all you will need is around half a dozen covers in the correct size and have the option of a few Snappis.  Buying the cloth diapers is a higher upfront cost, but there is a huge resale market for used diapers and covers, and many parent recoup more than half of their initial investment (more if you buy them used to begin with).  In the long run, using cloth is cheaper than disposables, in environmental, health, and monetary costs.  Going Diaper-Free is cheapest of them all, but that is another subject completely...

So if you decide to use cloth, first you need to decide if you going to wash them yourself or hire a diaper service?

If you hire a diaper service, you will be using covers and prefolds.  They will give you the folded white cloth part (the prefold), and you will need to sort out how you are going to keep them on baby and keep baby's clothing dry (diaper cover).  As an example, in the Bay Area, Tiny Tots Diaper Service costs less than $100 per month, depending on how many diapers you rent from them.  Basically, you keep a stack of their diapers and give them back a bag of soiled diapers in exchange for a stack of clean diapers weekly.  When your baby uses the diaper, you spray or shake feces into the toilet, then put the wet diaper into your diaper bag (inside a diaper pail).  When the baby wets the diaper, there is no need to spray it off.  A diaper sprayer is invaluable for this task.  If you do not want to spray the diaper, you can line it with a disposable cloth diaper liner which is thrown into the toilet and flushed.

The best candidates for a diaper service are those who do not have a washer and dryer at home, since you can easily use the same method of a diaper cover and prefold but wash the prefolds at home.  If you choose this method, then parents generally choose to use Indian Prefolds or Chinese Prefolds.  Flatfold diapers are also an option.  In general, all of these are made of cotton.  Prefolds have a thicker portion in the middle, which is more absorbent.  The different styles of prefolds are so named because of the style of cotton and stitching used.  If you buy your own, you will probably want to look for "Diaper Service Quality" (DSQ) on the description.  Also be aware that these come in different sizes.  "Infant" size is probably the most versitile, as it can get squished into a newborn or preemie cover, and leave extra room in sizes medium and large covers.  Another advantage of buying and washing your own is the zillion and one other uses for cloth diapers besides cloth diapering (i.e. as rags and burp cloths etc).

With prefolds and covers, you may choose to close the diaper before putting a cover on.  Parents used to use diaper pins, but many use Snappis now.  These are quick and can be attached one-handed, but their sharp teeth are reported to cause some parental hand injuries while learning to use them.

You could also skip closing them, and tuck them right inside your cover.  The advantage of this is speed, and disadvantage is that there is now no extra layer of tightness around the leg which could help contain fecal messes.  If you choose a cover with a gusset, though, the gusset adds that extra layer.  Other brands of covers have a flap where you can tuck the cloth diaper in, making these as easy to use as disposables.  Fabrics like PUL, originally invented to be used in hospitals, replace our grandmother's use of Nylon, and are lightweight and also breathable.  Covers are also made in fleece and wool are also breathable and extremely watertight.  With fleece, extra soakings in fabric softener help, and with wool, extra soaking in lanolin helps on occasion.  PUL covers can double as a swim diaper, although dedicated cloth swim diapers are available as well.

If you choose a pull-on cover, though, the diaper itself will need to be closed somehow.  Some parents like wool or fleece longies or soakers over a diaper.  These double as pants, and are nice with babies with head control or who are sensitive to snaps or velcro on covers.

As far as choosing velcro or snaps on a cover, a lot is personal preference.  Some babies are noise sensitive, and parents choose snaps.  Other parents think velcro (often called Aplix on cloth diapers) is easier to use.

Most covers do not need to be changed with each diaper change, which is why half a dozen in each size is more than enough.  If covers get wet, they can just be laid out to dry and another cover changed in.  They only need to be washed when soiled with feces.

If you wash yourself, other options under a cover are a fitted diaper or a contour diaper.  These are shaped like a diaper cover, but smaller and often thinner.  Fitteds come with snaps or velcro, and contours need to be laid in or closed with pins or a Snappi.  The fitteds are a great option under longies or soakers.

These come in all sorts of materials besides cotton, and some of these "modern cloth" materials are quite revolutionary.  Many parents want a feel-dry layer like microfleece, suedecloth, or Diapermaker next to baby's skin.  These wick moisture away from baby and move it into the absorbent core.  [As an aside, you can always line any cloth diaper with a feel-dry liner.]  Parents who do EC or are potty training choose to have feel-wet fabrics like cotton or flannel next to baby's skin and change baby often.  The absorbent core material is often made from a fabric like flannel, Zorb, terry, bamboo, sherpa, hemp, or velour.  Many of these are soft and also used for the exterior (and sometimes the interior, if a feel-dry fabric is not used).  An added advantage of a fitted diaper is that it can be used without a cover if the caregiver wants to change baby as soon as baby is wet, as the wetness can be felt from the outside yet messes stay contained.

In addition to diapers and covers, if you wash yourself, you could choose an all-in-one or all-in-two diaper.  An all-in-one diaper is a cover and an absorbent portion all as one piece.  An all-in-two is an all-in-one with part of the absorbent layer as loose/ attached on one side or as removable/ snap-in.  These allow caregivers to adjust the amount of absorbency needed, using more at night, for example, and less during the day when baby is learning to pull up or roll over and less bulk is desired.  The same revolutionary materials described above help make these trimmer, more absorbent, and easier to care for than ever before.

Another option is a pocket diaper.  Pocket diapers are usually made with PUL on the outside and suedecloth on the inside.  There is an opening in the back or middle where the caregiver can tuck in something absorbent like a prefold or insert.  An insert is a thin soaker made of absorbent material.  These are easier to dry than all-in-ones since the parts all come apart and dry more quickly.  You can also choose and customize the level of absorbency.  They also wick moisture from baby.  Disadvantages are the act of stuffing them, which many moms get around by stuffing them when they fold laundry and having them ready to go.  You also need more of these in your "stash," since they need to be traded out at each diaper change.

For sizing, you can choose to use newborn, then small, medium, large, and extra-large.  Or you can use newborn then switch to one-size diapers.  Most one-size diapers have snaps up the front of the diaper so you can change the rise of the diaper as baby grows.

For potty training, there are many cloth choices for training pants.  Some are very waterproof, and are basically thin and trim all-in-ones.  Others have a layer of waterproof material in the "wet zone" behind the absorbent material, and others are basically just padded underwear.  Some are completely pull-on style, and others have snaps on one or both sides, in case of poop misses (they can be pulled on and off until the one time they need to be snapped off).  When choosing a trainer, make sure and choose one with a feel-wet lining (and don't let them sit in it when wet!) to keep the child noticing when it is soiled.

With all of these choices, you will need a wet bag or two for when you are out and about.  This is for carrying home soiled diapers.  These are often made of PUL to keep them light and waterproof, and zip closed to keep odors inside.

All of these covers and diapers can be washed with your regular laundry.  Detergent charts are useful to make sure your choice of detergent is good for your diapers, but most kinds are (here are more tips).  Fabric softener is not recommended on absorbent pieces, since it makes them less absorbent.  As mentioned earlier, if you choose fleece or wool covers, you will occasionally need to lanolize (or fabric softener-ize) your covers.  Stripping Diapers is an occasional task as well, and is basically an extra wash cycle when (and if) your diapers ever start to smell bad or seem to be less absorbent.

If this seems like a lot of choices, you are right!  There are so many choices because babies are shaped differently (did I mention you may need to try a couple brands in each style depending on your baby's leg width and rise...) and parents enjoy different features of the diapers and different tasks relating to diapering.  The internet is an amazing source of information as you are learning.  Some internet vendors also offer trial packages, where you can test the product and return it for a small fee (like Nicki's or Jillian's Drawers).  You can also buy them used off websites like craigslist.  Sewing your own is another option, as there are hundreds of patterns and fabric choices out there, as well as blogs, websites, and Yahoo! Groups dedicated to sewing your own diapers.  But the advantages of cloth diapering far outweigh the learning curve associated with their use.  Good luck on your journey!

Dear Nicolle: Washing Cloth Diapers
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