cloth diapering 101

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By request (sorry for the delay)
Bill over at Fathers Know Best posted a recipe for home made baby wipes awhile back. In the Comments box, I promised to post info on the hows of cloth diapering (at least from my perspective as the mom of 6 all of whom were cloth diapered even with 2 in diapers at the same time). Mea culpa, it has taken me a while to get around to it. But better late than never. I think that the Sleepy Mommies may also have a few posts on the topic, so check them out also.
Basics: well you need diapers, a way to keep them on the baby, and at least some times you will want a diaper cover to protect baby's outerwear.

I'm old-fashioned - I like fairly simple fabric that can be folded to fit, and I prefer to use diaper pins like these - all metal, and locking. Here is another mom's rant about diaper pins vs velcro. My experience with the velcro diaper cover type systems has been that any reasonably agile 9 month old can remove them faster than I can replace them. I did not have any kids who could remove a properly pinned on diaper until they were of potty training age. So I am a big fan of pins, and trust me, these lock so well that you don't have to worry about baby getting stuck. This is sort of what it looks like in use (except that I always pointed the pins the opposite direction from this pic).
pinned diaper.jpg
There are other ways to fasten diapers, but this is what has worked the best for me.
As far as diapers, the basic categories are prefolded and fold-to-fit. The prefolds can be rectangles or contoured shapes (or sometimes thick pads that are fastened into panty type things). Fold-to fit gives you the most flexibility and the same diaper can be folded to fit any baby from a 4 lb premie to a large toddler. More absorbancy can be obtained by double or triple diapering. The fabric should be very absorbant and easily washed. The three basic common choices are (100% cotton) flannel, gauze (tightly woven!) and a weave called birdseye or diapercloth. Whichever type of diaper you choose, a minimum to have on hand is 36 or so, and I highly recommend investing in having around 90 so you can wash less frequently.
You can buy cloth diapers by the dozen at places like Target as well as lots of on-line places. They are between $12/dozen and $30/dozen. The really inexpensive way to make a lot of diapers used to be to buy a bolt of 100% cotton flannel and cut off squares of the flannel (if the width is 27", they will be the standard size, but larger widths can be used as well) and quickly machine-hem the edges. If you can find birdseye diapercloth, that it also great to sew for yourself. Fold-to-fit diapers dry very quickly because there is no thick panel in the middle as there is with prefolds. Gauze suitable for diapering seems to no longer be available except in prefolds. I used to have a few dozen fold to fit gauze diapers but they have all gone the way of all dust cloths.
Here is a slide show about how to fold a diaper - and also links to how to change a cloth diaper.
Once you have the diaper snugly on baby, then you need to think about a diaper cover. I admit to being very fond of the nylon panty style pictured below.
alexis diaper wrap.jpg
They are about $5 each and are made by a company called Alexis - one place you can find them is here but there is also a cheaper Gerber clone that is at Target and other stores.
Finally, there is a good diaper web site with lots of links to other places that you may wish to explore. Good luck, and happy baby bottoms!
Addendum - Some comments about another option - not diapering at all.


I'm thinking whenever I get around to having children, I may go the cloth diaper route... if only for the cost alone... I was shocked to find out how much disposable diapers cost these days.

See I have the velcro fitteds, velcro and snap covers, a couple of all in ones. I just couldn't get into the pins & prefolds even though I used them fine on my little brother when I was only 11. And I hated CD'ing when the boys were itty bitty, I don't mind when they are toddlers. There is definitly a good selection out there, I don't think people realize just how versatile the selection is these days. You don't have to use the paper & spend so much money !

I paid a bit more and bought completely pre-formed, snap diapers from a company called Motherease ( They also sell breathable but leak proof covers with toddler-proof snaps.

They are awesome, awesome! And in the long run soooo much cheaper than disposables.

Another good brand of diapers is Kushies. They make wonderful All-In-One diapers. Perfect for the diaper bag.

We use disposables, mostly because the vast majority of my wife's and my time is spend at work/school. However, once I get a full-time job, and she graduates, we're thinking of moving to cloth. Although I've heard that detergent/water costs eat up all if not most of the savings (I guess a lot depends on how many kids you end up having).

I have one crunchy friend who did not diaper her first child (called "EC" in the crunchy circles). Her concern was not only the 'sposies filling the landfill, but the use of water. And that made me pause....for a minute.

In my household of 7, the washing machine seems to be going constantly. There is ALWAYS laundry that needs to be done, especially with an extremely active 7 year old boy who thinks he's in the Major Leagues when he plays baseball in all sorts of weather.

When our fifth child was born, I switched back to disposables. I was just too unorganized and overwhelmed by laundry in general, let alone cloth dipes. I've gotten over it and I have a system in place now, so I'm seriously thinking about going back to cloth. It's just so nice to always have a diaper on hand, or know that one will be ready as soon as the dryer buzzes.

So, yeah, in response to the first comment, I guess it does depend on how large your family is. With five kids, what's another load of laundry?

Thanks, Alicia, for pushing me back to the other side of the diapering issue. :-)

It's been disposables all the way with Davey... I want to do cloth with our second (to be born in August or September,) and was just thinking about it before I happened upon this post. The vast number of options overwhelm me, even though it's nice to know there's probably something that would suit us if I could just get organized enough to find it and learn how to use it.

So Alicia, do you have any thoughts on diaperless babies/EC? I am not remotely interested in doing it at this point, but I would be surprised to find you in agreement with the general tone of the link you provided. I'm certainly not... maybe the hardcore advocates who look down on diaper users are often "eco-idiots," but I know there are normal parents who try it and sometimes find success.

I am not a big fan of the diaperless baby concept, as I think it could contribute to poor public health. I am comfortable with the idea of being responsive to baby's signals and to toileting education in a timely manner. I think that paper diapers have contributed to the (IMO scandalous) delay in toileting education of otherwise normal toddlers.
A great book on that topic is Toilet Training in less than a day - I think it is out of print but if you can find a copy it has some great tactics.
Despite coming from bed-wetting on both sides, all my children were out of diapers day and night within a week of beginning the toileting process. The key, I think, is to be aware of when to start the process and to not even begin until you are ready to follow through.

Yes, what little I know of those who have tried it and seem to be "normal" parents, is that it does basically amount to what's seen as early toilet training these days. I haven't really heard about any normal American parents dragging diaperless babies out and about, but their kids may spend more time undiapered at home and the parents try to tune in to the signals that the kids need to go.

I'm not saying that no one "normal" takes out a diaperless baby in public, rather that I have not heard of parents going out with an untrained diaperless baby who will be soiling whatever surface he or she happens to be in contact with when the time comes...

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This page contains a single entry by alicia published on April 22, 2004 4:26 PM.

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