If you are thinking about using cloth diapers, you’ve probably done a lot of research on the topic. This research can end up feeling completely overwhelming and confusing. So this post is the start of a series that we’ll call Cloth Diapering 101. Lesson one will focus on one of the different types of diapers. For me, understanding the variety in types of diapers was hurdle number one.
There are three basic types of cloth diapers. We’ll go in order of cheapest to most expensive.
These are one of the most basic types of diapers to use. If you were cloth diapered as a baby, these are likely the types that your own mother used. Prefolds and covers are a two-part system. The prefold is the actual diaper part. It is the part that absorbs the pee and holds the poop. They are typically made of cotton, though you can also find them in bamboo, hemp or blends of the various fibers. The cover is the waterproof part that keeps the wetness off your baby’s clothes and your furniture, carpets, etc.
If you are looking to cloth diaper because you want to keep chemicals and synthetic materials away from your baby’s delicate skin, then prefolds are a good choice because they tend to be made with natural fibers. However, because of this, your baby will feel the wetness against his or her skin. For some babies, this might not matter, but some are more particular. If your baby does not like the feeling of wetness, and synthetic fibers aren’t a big deal to you, you can line the diaper with fleece. Fleece wicks moisture away so that your baby will feel dry; it doesn’t affect the absorbency of the diaper, and you simply wash the liners with the rest of the diapers. The other option is simply staying on top of diaper changes and making sure that you change your baby frequently enough that wetness isn’t a problem.
If you are looking to cloth diaper to save money, then prefolds and covers will be your best bet. The only cheaper option is flats, but I know very little about flats, so I’ll keep that discussion brief. Flats are large, thin pieces of material that you fold around your baby. The benefits are that they are cheap, and they dry very quickly. One of the drawbacks of prefolds is that they can take a little while to dry because they’re so thick. But because prefolds are so hardy, you can throw them in the dryer on high and not worry about damaging them. In the long run, drying them in the sun will keep them just as clean and extend their life, but drying in the dryer isn’t too terrible for prefolds. (As a side note, I tend to be very lazy about air-drying, and I dry them in the dryer all the time. Most of my prefolds were hand-me-downs; some of them are between three and six years old, and they are holding up just fine.
The answer to this question is up to each individual. With little babies, a lot of people like to use a snappy.
A snappy is a pretty basic but very handy little thing. It’s essentially a Y-shaped piece of plastic with teeth at the ends of the three points. You hook one end around one of the sides of the diaper, near the baby’s hip, then stretch it across his belly to hook the opposite end on the baby’s other hip. Then pull the stem down to hook it down between the baby’s legs. (See the first picture in this post for a shot of a snappy on a diaper.) Don’t worry about the teeth on the snappy hurting the baby, the diapers are thick enough to prevent that.
Snappies work best on cotton diapers because the loose weave of the fabric allows proper attachment of the Snappy. They don’t work as well on hemp diapers because the fibers are too tight and the teeth of the Snappy can’t catch the fabric as they should.
The other option is pins. I don’t actually know anyone who uses diaper pins, but they can be just as effective as a Snappy and once you get the hang of them, I hear they’re pretty easy to use. They are also pretty cheap and time-tested. Since Snappies don’t work well on hemp, you might consider pins if you want to use hemp prefolds exclusively.
Once your baby is a little older (past the runny breastfed poop stage), a lot of times, you don’t even need to worry about securing the diaper. You can simply trifold the prefold inside the diaper cover and allow the cover to do the work for you. Once your baby gets older and doesn’t want to sit still for diaper changes, trifolding is often the way to go. It’s faster and easier than securing the diaper any other way.
This depends on how old your baby is and how often you plan to do diaper laundry. If your baby is under six months old, you will need about a dozen diapers per day. So if you are going to do laundry every day, about twelve will serve you. If you want to wash every other day, you should have about twenty-four diapers. I wouldn’t recommend going more than two or three days between washings because you might start to get bacteria build-up on the diapers, plus they do start to smell like ammonia if they are left much longer than that.
The amount you need goes down as your child gets bigger and wets less. For babies who are six months to a year, eight to ten diapers per day should be good. For an older baby, a one- to two-year-old for example, six to eight a day should be plenty.
You will also need one cover for about every four to six diapers. You can reuse the same cover for multiple changes as long as no poo has actually gotten on the diaper cover. Some people just put the same cover right back on for back-to-back changes; some like to allow a cover to air out between changes and rotate diaper covers throughout the day. Either way, it’s up to you.
So that’s prefolds and covers in a really big nutshell. The next post in this series will about pocket diapers. Other topics that will be covered in time are all-in-ones, aplix vs. snaps, wash routines, and one-sized vs. sized diapers.
I love to talk cloth diapers, so if you have any questions, feel free to ask away!