Just picture it: your sweet babe with the most adorable tush decked out in the cutest print. Fluffy bottoms, adorable patterns—cloth diapering sounds like a dream, right? Take a step back, Mama. While cloth diapering has many benefits, it may not be the best solution for every family. Let’s start with some basic information:
Cloth Diapering 101
All diapers, disposable and cloth, have two main parts: an inner, absorbent layer to soak up messes and an outer, waterproof layer to prevent the messes from getting everywhere. Disposable diapers typically have some sort of fiber (often cotton or bamboo) mixed with an absorbent gel and wrapped in a plastic-coated paper shell. Cloth diapers have the same elements, but there are a few different styles:
Often called AIOs, this style is the easiest to use. The liner is sewn into the cover, so you don’t need to worry about separate pieces. The drawback is that AIOs take longer to line dry (which I recommend since the sun is a great way to sanitize and remove stains). Also, AIOs are usually the most expensive option.
Since these are so simple and the most similar to disposables, pocket-style diapers are my favorite. This style has an outer, waterproof layer and an inner layer of fleece that stays surprisingly dry so baby feels comfortable. The diaper has a pocket where you put in an absorbent layer. Many pockets come with microfiber inserts. Other inserts are made of hemp, bamboo, or cotton. I like bamboo for night since it’s generally more absorbent.
These are very similar to pockets, but they have an opening on each end of the diaper. Removing inserts can be unpleasant, so if you have two openings to pull from, you can pick the less soiled one! You may not even need to remove the insert before washing; your washer’s agitator will often dislodge the insert from the cover during the prewash cycle.
Often called AI2s, these cloth diapers are almost a hybrid of AIOs and pockets. Instead of having a liner sewn in, the liner snaps into the cover. With a lot of AI2 brands, you only have to change the insert when soiled, so you can use the cover several times before washing.
Fitteds, flats, and prefolds
These are the cloth diapers your mom or grandma may have used. Typically made of cotton, these three styles have some minor variations. Fitteds look like a diaper, are shaped to baby, and snap in place. Flats are flat pieces of cotton that can be folded in a lot of different ways depending on your needs. Prefolds have three sections; the middle section is thicker and more absorbent. All three types need a shell or cover to act as a barrier; the cover can be old-school wool or plastic or have modern snaps.
Is Cloth Diapering Right for Me?
Now that you have the basic rundown on styles, you may be asking whether or not cloth diapering is right for your family. Here are a few things to consider before taking the plunge so that you and your little can have the best possible experience with cloth diapering:
1. What style?
For me, the most overwhelming part of cloth diapering was deciding on a style. You really need to research and think about your lifestyle. You'll have to decide on the type of liner and, depending on style, the type of cover. My best piece of advice is to find used ones from a friend, mom group, or local secondhand store, and give a few styles a try. A mom friend and my sister-in-law each gave me their old cloth diapers, and another friend bought me a set from my registry. I was able to try several styles, and while I do have a preference, I use all of them because baby’s bottom needs covering! Personally, I love pockets; I can prestuff them with liners of my choice and add extra liners for nap or bedtime.
2. Full or part-time?
Some moms cloth diaper all the time. They do it when traveling, running errands, and camping—and they mean business. Some moms don't want cloth diapers and wet bags taking up space in the diaper bag, so they only cloth diaper when they’re at home. In my family, we follow the one-hour rule. Since a cloth diaper typically needs to be changed more frequently than a disposable, if we’re out of the house for more than an hour, we use disposable diapers.
3. What about nights?
Whether or not you cloth diaper at night depends on a lot of factors like how old your baby is, the style you choose, if your baby is a heavy wetter, etc. Remember that cloth needs to be changed more frequently to avoid leaks, so if you use them overnight, you may want to consider extra liners or inserts. I've heard some liners are much more absorbent than even disposable diapers, but I have yet to encounter one that can withstand my son overnight (he’s a heavy wetter). If baby is still waking up often, you can change them when they wake, but if they’re sleeping through the night, you may want to consider using disposable diapers for bedtime. I use cloth some nights and disposable for others depending on what I have on hand.
4. How will you treat diaper rash?
A lot of parents don't realize that many standard creams and ointments aren't compatible with cloth diapers. This isn’t an issue for your baby but rather for the diaper itself. Some ingredients, like zinc oxide (found in most creams), stain cloth diapers. Other creams may impact how the cloth repels liquid. I use Burt's Bees Diaper Rash Cream. It’s safe for use in cloth diapers, comes from a reputable brand, and has a pleasant smell.
5. What will you do about poop?
An age-old question, am I right? There are a few options when it comes to baby BMs. Breast milk is water-soluble and easily absorbed; this means that if you’re exclusively breastfeeding, you can just throw cloth diapers in the wash, and they’ll get cleaned during the prewash. The tricky part comes when baby begins to eat solids. Bamboo and rice disposable inserts are great for on-the-go since you can flush them easily. You can invest in a spray hose and rinse the soiled diaper right into the toilet. I even read of a mom who used an inexpensive spatula to scrape out the poop. You should know in advance what you want to do because when that day finally comes and baby has a solid-food BM, you don't want to be unprepared. Trust me.
Bonus Consideration: Blowouts
This is actually my biggest selling point for cloth diapers. (I've talked before about our issues with blowouts.) Never, not one single time, have we had a blowout in a cloth diaper. Most of the cloth diapering moms I know will tell you the same thing. Something about the elastic really keeps it all in.
The bottom line with cloth diapers: it's up to you. Like all things in parenting, it really is a matter of preference. Experiment. Buy a few, and if you don't like them, you’ll probably be able to resell them or pass them on. Do it part-time and keep a pack of disposables on hand. Don't do it at all if you don't want to. Whatever choice you make is the best choice, Mama.