Ok you guys. I’ve been cloth diapering children since… 2004? 2005? Long enough to know a thing or two, and I’m here to share the knowledge. The thing about cloth diapering is that there’s an upswing in parents doing it now, but when I started I didn’t know anyone else that did it. I had to Google and search and research and try this out on my kids and learn the hard way. It wasn’t always fun, and sometimes it was really damn expensive.
One of the most common things I hear from first time CDers (cloth diaperers), and something I experienced myself, is that the choices are completely overwhelming, and that is totally true, and sometimes off-putting. Some advice: DO. YOUR. RESEARCH. Find out what things are important to YOU and then make your diapering choices based on that. Your best bet is to look for:
2. Size (how long can baby wear them before they’re too small?)
3. Whether they need a cover or not
You can buy diapers that pin or use Snappis, diapers that snap, and diapers that have velcro. You can buy diapers that are stuffable (pocket diapers) and diapers that include the waterproof layer (All-in-Ones, or AIOs). You can buy diapers that have a size range (5-15 lbs.) and diapers that fit from birth to 3. You can buy fancy ones or cheap ones, you can buy name-brand or WAHM-made (work at home mom), or you can make them yourself. This post is really for the DIYers, but hopefully any CD parents will find some useful information that they can take away.
Our number one driving factor in CDing was cost. No lie. I’m not going to stand on a soapbox and tell you that we initially did this for ecological reasons, although that was a huge factor — the main reason really was cost. The other benefits were a side bonus. The amount of diapers and solid waste that end up in landfills is horrifying. I’m glad we didn’t contribute to that, but I was looking for a cheap solution to our diapering problem.
Since cost is a factor to me, as is practicality, I wanted diapers that would fit all my girls at all ages. I didn’t want velcro diapers, because they stick to themselves and everything else in the wash. Velcro dipes usually have tabs that fold on themselves to prevent this, but they eventually wear out and then you have a tangled mess.
I liked snapping diapers for the ease, but I didn’t like the price. Also, some of the one-size-fits-all snapping diapers look a little snap-happy for my taste. I don’t want a diagram to figure out what snap goes where, thanksverymuch. I just want the diaper on the kid, and I want it to stay on the kid.
One note though: if you are only planning on cloth diapering one or two kids, then purchasing expensive or “name brand” cloth diapers does have one benefit: they usually have a pretty high resale value, so you can get some of your money back after the kid(s) is potty-learned.
My solution, after many many many trials and errors, and testing different diaper types and brands, was making my own Poo Pockets. Poo Pockets are designed to have a sewn-in soaker layer, and that’s where the fluids are absorbed. I loved the leg gussets, and I like that they were pinnable so they would fit any-sized and aged kid, but I didn’t like that I would have to sometimes dry them twice or more to get them fully dry in the soaker area. That was wasteful and counterproductive.
I decided to take the PooPockets pattern and turn it into a stuffable diaper, and this worked well for many reasons:
1. I could take my infant CPFs (Chinese Prefold Diapers) and use these as inserts
2. It cut the drying time significantly
3. They take all of 5 minutes to make
4. Pinning them was quick and easy, and offered the most customizable fit.
If you’re the crafty type, and if you’re a first time CDer, or are just looking to get the job done practically and with minimal fuss, then this solution may be for you.
I tell people to buy 2-3 dozen infant CPF diapers. You can use these when the babes are wee, as in NB to 3 months old. After the umbilical cord falls off, then you can start using the stuffable shells. Whether you do this at 2 weeks old or 3 months old is up to you — little tiny babies have tiny baby pee and poo, and they don’t require much on their bums. So CPFs work very well for that. The older they get, the more they consume, the bigger the mess, and that’s about the time to switch to something sturdier.
For the PooPockets, I cut out the diaper inner and outer, and the leg gussets. I make the gussets according to the pattern. I take the two outer and inter pieces, and serge them along the long front edge. I don’t cut any off, I just serge them to give it a nice edge. Then I finish the diaper according to the pattern, omitting the soaker piece, and leaving the diaper front open for stuffing.
Stuffing the shell is easy. Take an infant pre-fold, and fold it in thirds lengthwise, then shove that puppy inside the diaper. Voila. A stuffed diaper, ready to but on a baby bottom. This extends the life of the pre-folds, so you can use them as long as you diaper, and really get your money’s worth.
The infant CPFs will get too small at some point, so instead of buying larger prefolds you can keep using the ones you already have. Also, you can customize the stuffing: heavy wetter? night-time pee? Use 2 prefolds.
You can pull out the insert(s) when the diapers are dirty, or you can be lazy like me (or simply forget!) and leave the soaker in there — the agitation of the washer will (90% of the time) pull the pre-fold out of the shell for you.
Of course you’ll need covers with these, but there are a TON of covers you can use out there, and they’re all perfectly fine. As far as covers go, you don’t need nearly as many of those, since the baby won’t get it dirty every time they need a diaper change. Also, they’re usually sized so that one cover will fit the baby for a long while.
I like to make my own side-snapping cover, using the New Conceptions pattern. It’s pretty simple to put together. On that pattern, instead of cutting of the long edges off the FOE, I round the edges and bind it all in one piece (if you have or purchase the pattern, this will make sense when you read the instructions). Also, I put 3 snaps (instead of 2) at the waist and legs. Doing this, a size Medium cover will last a baby from 2-3 months up to about 18 months (if not longer).
This is the method that has worked the very very best for our family, and it’s the method I recommend to everyone trying this out for the first time. Also, the cost is very low for the supplies: prefolds, and covers if you need to purchase them. If you make covers and invest in a serger (more on this below) then the cost will go up, but in my case, the things I’ve purchased have paid for themselves many times over.
If you make the diapers and covers yourself I will tell you this: buy cheap ass flannel, and use that for the shell. Buy a huge roll of FOE in either white or black, and don’t worry about being fancy. If you want to dye the FOE to have it match the cover, go for it, but at least you’ll have supplies to make enough covers to last you pretty much forever.
Consider buying a snap press. It’s a lot up front, but I purchased one that came with snaps and I have yet to order more — I still have tons and tons left. I also use this for more than just diaper covers — bags, sweaters, etc. If you only buy one die set for your snap press, get the size 20. They’re larger snaps, and more appropriate for diaper covers. It does help to make the process much faster and more secure: you’re putting 16 caps, 12 sockets, and 4 studs on each cover.
If the snap press isn’t an option for you, get the Snap Setter tool. I used this when I made covers for Phoebe and Charlie’s stash. With this, you can use metal snaps like you buy in the craft section at big-box stores. I *still* have diaper covers where I used those metal snaps, and they have never rusted.
Also, consider buying a serger if you don’t have one. I didn’t at first, and one was gifted to me. I liked it so much that when it crapped out I bought a new one to replace it, but I use it for all kinds of wardrobe sewing. It made the process much faster for me, but that’s just me. If it’s too much expense, then just use your sewing machine. No biggie.
And don’t forget garage sales, Craigslist, eBay, etc. You can buy supplies or used diapers there for really cheap. That’s how we started out: a huge lot of diapers from eBay so we could see how we felt about the process. It didn’t cost much, and we had an instant diaper stash.
There’s so much I could talk about: using a top-loading washing machine vs. a front-loading washing machine, what soap to use, or having a large stash so they’re in light rotation. But I won’t. This post is already crazy chock-full of information. The best thing is to figure out what works best for you, and do it. There is no right or wrong answer with any of this.
One final note: not to toot my own horn, but I know I’ve influenced at least 5 other mamas IRL to use cloth. Why? Because I talk about it. Because I show people what I do, how I do it, and I let everyone know it’s not a big deal. I answer questions whenever I can, and I’ve shared my diaper stash with 2 different people. I’ve made diapers and covers for gifts and for trade. If I can do it, and if these other families can do it, so can you. Whether you’re in a house or an apartment, whether you’re having your first baby or your 5th, you can do it.
If you decide to cloth diaper, then you make that decision, and you’re done. It’s not hard, but realize that you can’t throw the diapers away when you’re out and about — you have to lug them home with you. You have to buy pants that fit a CD butt. You will have to touch baby poop and pee, and you will do lots of laundry. But. You will save thousands of dollars. You won’t be putting raw sewage in a landfill. You will have an actual asset instead of garbage: you can give your diapers to another family that needs them, or sell your stash when you’re done, or save them for your next baby.
I’ve used cloth while traveling, I’ve used cloth while staying in a beach house (with a washing machine) and in a hotel (without a washing machine). I’ve never let diapers stop us from living our lives and our family never let it become a problem for us. Our household has never regretted our decision, ever. Not once.
If you need help, please ask me, and I’m more than happy to offer advice, point you in the right direction, or send links to cloth diapering resources.