The Lowdown on Cloth Diapering
For the environmentally & cost-conscious parent (or soon-to-be parent), cloth diapering is a no-brainer (assuming you aren’t freaked out by poop). You’ll find a truly epic number of resources online about cloth diapering, and honestly they all seem to say different things. I am not going to tell you what to do – there are loads of other resources out there who are much better equipped to do that – but I will share with you what worked for us and what was truly frustrating with our cloth diapering experience.
There are a few big pros to cloth diapering, not including the self-congratulations you allow yourself for helping to save the planet (and the subtle superior feeling that goes along with that).
These are the major reasons I stuck with it:
It is CHEAP to cloth diaper.
An entire year of diapers will cost you anywhere between free (if you have a really awesome friend who gives them to you) to $500 if you buy them new & decide you ONLY want a top pocket diaper or all-in-one brand. Add in the cost of doing laundry every other day, and you’re still at a fraction of the price of traditional diapering. Plus you can sell them on Ebay after you’re finished with them & recoup a lot of your investment. The cost savings are no joke.
You will COMPLETELY stay on top of laundry.
The only time in my life that I’ve ever been organized when it comes to laundry is during the cloth diapering years. If you know you have to wash a load of diapers every other day at a minimum, you do ALL of your laundry on a rigid schedule. This is, of course, assuming you’re dedicated to the effort and don’t cheat with disposables.
They’re a lot better for your kid’s skin.
Cloth diapers absorb less than disposables, so you change your kid more frequently. In addition, your kid knows when they’re wet because they can feel it. These are actually good things, as it turns out. Our older son was cloth diapered until 24 months and our younger son was cloth diapered until he was 9 months. I can speak with some authority from both worlds. The rash cream we go through with disposables is 5-6 times more. Not exaggerating.
You will potty-train early.
Our older son was fully potty-trained by two and a half including overnight because I felt so guilty about giving up cloth & wanted to minimize the diapers we used on him. If we had stayed with cloth, we’d have potty-trained early to stop the laundry cycle. Even our daycare commented that he was the youngest boy they had potty-trained in a long time.
These were some of my bigger complaints:
There are WAY too many options.
Prefolds, trifolds, all-in-ones, all-in-twos, fitted, wool, pocket diapers … it is completely overwhelming to figure out where to start (this graphic does a pretty decent job of summarizing). I agonized over this for MONTHS, reading blog after blog after blog that all said different things. I thought this blog was the best at explaining things, and ultimately I went with her suggestions (with the caveat that GroVia covers are not my favorite, we preferred Thirsties Duo Wraps).
Diapers were sized for average children.
We cloth-diapered our firstborn exclusively until he, at age 2, outgrew the diaper covers. Our son was not fat – he was just enormous. He was off the growth chart at 4 months and has stayed there. The covers just didn’t come big enough. The Duo Wraps only came in two sizes at the time (1 and 2). Our kid outgrew size 1 at 4 months and size 2 at 20 months (you know when they outgrow them – they start leaking consistently when they never leaked before). We struggled for a bit keeping him in size 2s, but I finally gave up at 24 months and bought some disposable size 6 diapers. I potty trained him very shortly thereafter because I felt so guilty. Thirsties must have heard from other moms in this predicament, because they now carry a size 3.
Cloth diapers are bigger in the crotch.
We had loads of adorable pant outfits that we couldn’t use at all – the pants were too tight. Somewhere in the archives of my phone, I have a hilarious video that I couldn’t resist taking of my son attempting to work within the confines of this unforeseen predicament. Needless to say, the couch was an insurmountable obstacle. After I finished laughing, I changed him and retired the outfit (which was worn just the once). If you’re cloth-diapering, make sure the pants you buy either are made with a flexible cloth or have some give in the crotch.
Diaper bags and other convenience supplies are made for moms who use disposable diapers.
The pockets are all conveniently located and sized for, well, NOT cloth diapers. This drove me NUTS – it sounds so trivial, but for me it was a major irritation. Pre-fold diapers might be a little bulkier than a disposables, but taking a few along with you on day trips should really not have filled the entire bag, nor should it have necessitated a special folding style. I ended up switching to disposable diapers whenever we left the house so I could just take a normal-sized bag with me that I could keep moderately organized. Apparently someone got that memo, too, because GroVia now makes a cloth diaper-friendly diaper bag and changing pad. It’s on the pricey side, but truthfully if I were still in this mode of parenting, I would buy both of these. When we start our foster care journey, I plan to cloth diaper again, so it’s likely I will purchase these at some point in the future.
Things I Wish I Knew
I would have saved hundreds of dollars and dozens of hours if someone had just told me the following things:
Don’t cheap out.
As I said above, we used the Thirsties brand with great success, but I was constantly looking for less-expensive options. Every other brand we used had something about it we didn’t like. If you find a brand you truly love (and there are loads of FuzziBunz moms out there that swear by those diapers, I am just not one of them), stick with it. It truly isn’t worth the effort to try new ones unless you’re dissatisfied.
Snaps are superior to velcro.
I know they look intimidating, but they are not. Just trust me on this. When I first started, I wanted velcro everything because I thought it would be easier Our velcro covers wore out in months. The snap covers are still going strong.
If you have a heavy wetter, buy doublers or just use a disposable at night.
Don’t feel guilty if you use ONE disposable diaper a day. You’re still doing the world a service. But if you want to avoid it, doublers work for most kids. Again, we used Thirsties hemp inserts for these, but they have some great fleece ones that absorb a lot and are very thin (we also loved their Duo inserts when we needed diapers to look a little more trim). We tried a few other brands, including a few charcoal ones, but they were always too bulky and not as absorbent. Back to #1 – stick with the brand you like.
You have to wash new diapers a LOT before they absorb anything.
No one really adequately explained this to me & as a result we had a lot of leaks initially. It was endlessly frustrating at first to think you’re doing things right and still end up changing yours and your baby’s clothes 3 times per day because the diaper isn’t absorbent enough. If you go the tri-fold route that we did (we bought these ones), wash those suckers on HOT water AND DRY THEM ON HIGH (this is important!!! Washing alone is not effective) at least 5 times before you put them on your kid, preferably 6.
Cloth can confuse your daycare.
This surprised me, but we had issues where our diapers were lost (thrown away instead of put into our bag to take home), where one daycare interpreted state law differently than another did (when we switched, we were suddenly required to provide a new cover for every diaper change), some teachers couldn’t figure out the snaps, others couldn’t figure out how the pre-folds went into the covers & put them on incorrectly … the list goes on. If your kid is in daycare and you are planning to cloth diaper, I highly recommend picking ONE brand and sticking to it. I also recommend a training session – I assumed that these people were pros, but with the number of options out there, that was an unfair assumption. Show the teachers how your diapers work- it’ll save you a lot of laundry.
Good luck on your cloth journey!