When my husband and I took a birth class during my first pregnancy, the instructor asked if anyone in class planned to cloth diaper. Images of white prefolds and pink-topped clothes pins came to mind and I literally laughed out loud. Surely no one used cloth diapers any more!

Turns out, we were the only couple in the class who did not raise their hands. I am so thankful the instructor showed us her stash and shared with us how she made the transition from disposable to cloth. I had never seen a pocket diaper before! So, we decided we wanted to try it out and now I've cloth diapered two babies for over 3 years combined.

"But why would anyone choose cloth over easy disposables?!"

Each family has their own reasons for committing to cloth:
  • Money: Depending upon the brand and source, disposable diapers can cost $1000 per year, per child. Our main motivator was to save that cost. Cloth diaper prices vary, as well, but we've spent about $250 total on cloth diapers, plus the cost of soap, water and energy to wash and dry them. The savings in our case has been significant!
  • Sensitive skin: Some babies' skin does not react well to the materials or chemicals in disposable diapers, especially when mixed with pee or poo. So for that reason, some parents will make the switch.
  • The environment: According to recent research, disposable diapers are the third highest single consumer item in landfills. Also, it is unknown how long it takes for a disposable diaper to decompose, but estimates are around 250 years. Families who are concerned with environmental preservation often choose to cloth diaper.
  • Health impact: There is plenty of research out there about how the chemicals, dyes and fragrances in disposable diapers can be toxic. Some of the of the toxins have been shown to negatively impact the nervous, respiratory, endocrine and reproductive systems. With cloth diapers, parents can choose the materials and know the ingredients in the soaps they choose to clean them, so there is more they can control in terms of exposure.
Do any of those reasons apply to you? If you think you'd like to give it a shot, here are a few tips and tricks for getting started and successfully cloth diapering your baby or babies:

Visit a cloth diaper store in person.

We did this before even getting started. The one near us actually offered a free class where they walked us through the different brands, benefits of each type and talked about their wash routine. We were able to put our hands on them and bought a few different types to try. I figured out that some brands fit my baby's shape (c-h-u-n-k-y) better than others. Since I had the store nearby, I could take back the ones I didn't use and even resell used ones. Yes, I said resell used cloth diapers. You can often find used stashes in diaper stores, cloth diaper groups on Facebook, Craigslist. It's not a bad idea and it's encouraging to know that when you no longer have bums to cover, someone may be interested in buying your stash.

Don't be grossed out by putting diapers in your washer.

We talk about cloth diapers in my birth class, just in case some students are like me and would never hear about them otherwise! Inevitably, some dad says, "Ya, but I don't want poop in my washer, where I wash all my other clothes." Let me just give you a harsh dose of reality: Whether or not you cloth diaper, there will be poop in your laundry. At some point, your baby will have a blowout, or they will poop with their diaper off, they may even take off their diaper and then poop. (Pause for a *shudder.*) When, not if, one of those things happen, poo will leak onto their clothes, blankets, sheets, car seat cover, high chair cover, maybe even your clothes. So, unless you're willing to throw away any of those items, you'll need to trust that your washer + soap + hot water + maybe a vinegar rinse just to make you feel better every once in awhile, is enough to keep all your laundry soil-free and smelling fresh. Solid poops can, and should, be scraped into the toilet before washing.

Consider drying them outside on a clothesline.

I'll admit - I don't even do this. But I have friends who do! If you have the space, time and good weather to let your diapers dry outside, you'll save on the energy it takes to run your dryer, which makes the savings even more significant. Also, the best features of your diapers, like snaps and elastic, are more likely to last longer the less time they spend in the dryer. The bonus is that the sun gets out stains, so it keeps your diapers looker newer longer and smelling fresher.

Expect that changing a cloth diaper takes a little more time than a disposable.

I worked from home with my first baby and I remember that my gchat would go into "idle" mode when I was away from my computer to change a poo-filled cloth diaper. There are a few more steps than with a quick 'sposie change. I've seen a few different routines ,but for us, it was faster if I had my drawer of pre-stuffed pocket diapers ready to go. Once I wiped and cleaned the booty, I had to shake out the solid stuff in the toilet. (You can also buy a sprayer that hooks up to the potty to rinse the diaper.) If you baby is exclusively breastfed, the poo is all liquid, so you can skip that step. Then I had to unstuff the diaper and drop the inserts and cover separately into the wet bag-lined hamper and the disposable wipes into a diaper pail. Some moms use cloth wipes and then the waste all goes in one bin. Either way, after the change and a good hand-washing, I never could clock the whole process in less than 3 minutes.

If you cannot commit to full-time, try part-time.

When the babies were first born and I was recovering, I kept them in disposables. Don't get me started on women needing to recover more than our society suggests, but it's important that mom gets plenty of rest. Babies go through so many more diapers as newborns that they generate a lot of laundry. So for that reason, I waited a few months before cloth diapering full time. If I am sick or the baby is sick (especially with a tummy bug,) we switch to disposables for the day. And when we travel, I prefer not to bring my wet-bag, hamper, cloth diaper-friendly laundry soap, etc. and I doubt most of my friends and family would be comfortable with me washing diapers in their washers (though, I promise, it's no big deal!) Traveling with cloth diapers is certainly possible and many moms do it easily. Some childcare places will not agree to change or handle cloth diapers, so I know some families who only use them when they are home.

Do what works for you!

There are many places to get advice and help for cloth diapering these days. Check out the Mothering diapering forums for some great advice on getting started.

Image: Lou Haach