By Laura Schmitt
"I wish I could just wrap myself in the softness of my child's diapers!" That's something you've never heard a parent say-unless that parent uses cloth diapers for the child.
Shortly after my first baby was conceived, I became obsessed with finding the best cloth diaper for my money. I no longer concerned myself with events of the day. My prenatal yoga tapes gathered dust as I scrolled through endless websites, absorbing every bit of data ever posted about cloth diapers. I became fascinated with prefolds, fitteds, covers, wraps-you name it. I was committed to uncovering the facts-and now I'm laying them out for you.
Cloth diapers come in two standard systems: diapers with separate waterproof covers; and all-in-one diapers, with the waterproof cover sewn on. Diapers have two variables: fabric and style.
What's Your Fabric?
If you opt for a diaper and separate cover, the diaper will not be waterproof, and its main absorbent fabric will be cotton or hemp. It's best to avoid diapers that blend in polyester or other synthetic fabrics, as they repel water and therefore do not absorb as well as a 100 percent natural-fiber diaper.
An unbleached diaper is one that has never been through the harsh bleach process, so the fibers are in their natural state. This prolongs the life of the diaper, and some will argue that it makes it even softer. Many moms opt to purchase diapers of organic cotton, like those made by Under the Nile, FuzBaby, or Oskri, which have not been treated with pesticides and chemicals in the growth process. Unbleached, organic Egyptian cotton unfolds like a cloud against the baby's bum. For durability, terry is a favorite; thin, soft flannel is almost equally popular.
Hemp fleece, such as made by LizsCloth, Cloud9Softies, and PeacefulMoon, is a blend of cotton and hemp unmatched in absorbency and comfort. Polyester fleece is often used as a top layer in a diaper for the purpose of wicking moisture away from the child's body and preventing diaper rash. Twill is the standard for flat, prefold diapers. It's durable and soft, and fluffs up considerably after several washings, although it can be bulky between the legs. Sherpa is noted for its luxurious feel, but it is blended with 15 to 35 percent polyester.
After choosing a diaper fabric, you'll need to decide on a fabric for the covers. That's right-no more plastic pants to pull up; now you have a plethora of options to keep your baby dry. Wool is a natural, "breathing" fabric that holds in and absorbs moisture, thanks to the lanolin oil in the fiber. A natural, undyed wool cover can be re-waterproofed with lanolin every few weeks, or as needed. Covers made of cotton, another "breathing" fabric, keep cozy cotton against the skin, with a waterproof layer in the middle.
PUL and Ultrex are waterproof fabrics used for diaper covers, with many shapes and options to choose from. They don't "breathe" as well as wool, but they can be tossed in the wash, making them a cinch to care for. Polyester fleece, such as Polar Babies or Stacinator, is an absorbent, soft, "breathing" fabric often used for covers. Diaper covers are available in pull-on or snap-on styles, or with a Velcro/Aplix closure in the front.
The Style Question
Prefold diapers-or, as they're often called, DSQs (for diaper-service quality) diapers-are the standard flat rectangle diapers you may remember from childhood. Nowadays you don't have to pin them, though, if you don't want to. Many of the covers that come in a wrap style, such as Bummis, Prorap, Imse Vimse, or Lambkin, will hold the prefold diaper in place as you fasten the cover in the front to fit your baby's waist.
Contoured diapers were created to make this even easier, doing away with the folding step. Shaped like an hourglass, they fit inside the wraparound diaper cover. Fitted diapers are my favorite for their ease of use and ability to keep everything in the diaper. Fitted diapers will Velcro, tie, or snap around the waist, allowing you to create a snug custom fit for your child. They still need to be covered, but work well with any fastening style. All-in-ones (AIOs), such as Bumkins, are diapers that have the waterproof layer sewn onto the outside. Often used for outings or when you're leaving baby with a sitter, they can take longer to dry and be more costly; in addition, AIOs don't offer the same fitting options.
Once you know which fabric and style you want, you're ready to buy, right? Not quite. We need to talk accessories: liners, doublers, and wipes. Cloth wipes are simply small washcloths used for cleaning the baby between changes. You can easily make wipes from old sheets, T-shirts, or other fabrics you have in your home. For a wipe solution, I use warm water, but some parents like to add two or three drops of an essential oil. Liners and doublers are roughly the same thing: an extra pad of absorbency for heavy wetters or for nighttime use. They come in rectangle and hourglass shapes and in the same slew of fabrics available for diapers. Whether or not you need them, will depend on your child and your diaper absorbency.
Where can we find these diapers, and how much do they cost? The great popularity of disposables often makes it difficult to find cloth diapers. If you're lucky enough to find some locally, you may have a very small selection of diapers and covers to choose from. Fortunately, there are hundreds of on-line venues for purchasing cloth diapers, most of them run by work-at-home moms (WAHMs). For lists of different websites and reviews, visit the following links:
www.clothdiaperinfo.org A newer website dedicated to reviewing diaper brands and companies, and encouraging the use of cloth diapering.
www.borntolove.com - This Canadian site lists diapering companies in Canada and the US. They also sell diapers, and review diapers and diaper companies.
www.diaperpin.com You'll find many company reviews here, and a list of WAHM diaper businesses.
Real Diaper Association - a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, provides support and education to parents all across the U.S. for the use of simple, reusable cloth diapers. They have a great list of resources and support networking available on the site.
Cloth diapers are expensive initially, but in the long run save you a lot of money. The average child goes through 8,000 diaper changes before being potty-trained; at 25 cents a diaper, that adds up to $2,000. So the money you invest in cloth saves you quite a bit in the long run, particularly if you plan on using cloth for two or more children. Many moms sell their used diapers in thrift stores and on-line auctions; a high-quality diaper will resell on eBay or Wahmall for as much as 50 percent of the purchase price. To save even more money on your diaper purchase, look for special offers made by WAHMs, or try making your own; you'll find all the information you need for sewing diapers at www.diapersewing.com.
Many moms have told me that they would love to use cloth diapers but are afraid they require toilet dunking. I've never dunked a diaper in a toilet in the 14 months I've been diapering. I put dirty diapers into a waterproof diaper bag and wash them within two days. Poop diapers get scraped off with tissue paper into the toilet if needed, then squirted with BacOut, a natural odor and stain eliminator. Next, they're rinsed in the washing machine on Cold to prevent stains from setting, then tossed in the hot wash with Bio-Kleen laundry detergent and all the other diapers and covers. (Some exercise caution and wash covers and diapers separately to prevent the former from shrinking.) I've never used bleach, and we have absolutely no stains on our diapers.
If you do have trouble with stains, just set the diapers out in the sun to be bleached naturally. Bleach and fabric softener are hard on diaper fabrics and should be avoided. Diaper covers can often be re-used several times before they are soiled enough to be washed. Diaper services are also a wonderful option for many people; see what's available in your area.
How many diapers you'll need to start out will depend on how often you want to do laundry. I launder daily, so I began with 12 fitted diapers, 12 prefolds, and 6 covers. It worked, although there were days when I longed desperately for more! Start with three or four dozen diapers if you don't want to do laundry every day. Keep in mind that a newborn goes through many more changes than an older child. I bought all sizes of covers at once; if I was in a pinch and my Smalls were all in the wash, I could use a Medium to hold us over until laundry was done.
If you have any questions visit Mothering's Diapering discussion forum where helpful parents are ready to answer your questions.
Using cloth diapers is the best thing you can do for your baby's skin, the environment, and your budget. If you haven't done so already, make the switch, and tell a friend. The moment you throw away your last gel-filled disposable and place soft, warm cotton next to your little one's sensitive skin, you'll know why we cloth-diapering mamas are so obsessive about the fabric.
For additional information about cloth diapering, see the following article in a past issue of Mothering: "The Joy of Cloth Diapering," no. 88.
Laura Schmitt and her husband, Eric, are the proud parents of Taylor, the "Sleeping Bean." They are anxiously awaiting the arrival of "Bean Sprout." Schmitt is the WAHM owner of www.SleepingBean.com, which offers natural products at affordable prices.
Issue 116, Jan/Feb 2003