Cloth Diapering -- One Mom's Lessons
Cloth diapers. The very words seem to draw up hard work and icky stench; not very alluring images. I know that when I had my son, I opted immediately for disposable - so much easier, so much more available!
However, by the time he was almost two, I was getting tired of buying that giant Costco box about what seemed like every other week. I was irritated at the smell of perfume soaked in urine that seemed to emanate even through the diaper genie, permeating my bathroom. I hated taking out the sausage rolls of stinky diapers from the diaper pail. In addition, my son has extremely sensitive skin, and most synthetic diapers gave him a rash. We tried brand after brand, but only certain versions of Huggies seemed to work for him.
Fed up with my options, I decided to research cloth diapers. How hard could they be? Besides, I figured, he's almost two years old. He'll potty train soon enough.
Ha. The potty-training joke was on me.
Regarding cloth diapers, though, I was surprised at what I found. I had envisioned the flat-folds that my mother had used, relegated to the scrap-cloth cupboard to be employed as dust rags. Visions of needle-sharp pins, slipping and jabbing into my son's tender skin had danced terrifyingly through my mind. Images of poop-smeared cloth, impossible to ever fully clean, had tickled at the edges of my thoughts. All these fears were for naught, however.
Cloth diapering has come a long way, baby.
At the most basic level, there are still flat-folds - a flat square of cloth that can be folded in various manners to create a padded center to, ah, catch the mess, shall we say? The flat-folds can be fastened with either diaper pins or a snappi, and it's best to have a breathable outer pant (generally made out of PUL, although they can also be waterproofed fleece or wool) slipped over the diaper.
If you don't want to learn the various methods of folding a flat fold (and there are many), or you simply don't think you can master it, but you like the traditional look of folded and pinned cloth diapers - there is a solution. Pre-folds are essentially flat-folds, but slightly narrower. They have a thick, padded area sewn down the middle, and are easily manipulated into a useable diaper. These are also fastened with either diaper pins or a snappi.
What I like about even these most basic forms of the cloth diaper is that they are both cost-effective and cute. Pre-folds and flat-folds are the least expensive of the various kinds of cloth diaper out there, and can still be sewn or dyed to show personality and verve. I myself bought some plain white and natural pre-folds. Though I have a minimum of sewing experience, it was the work of minutes to sew a brightly colored Sesame Street flannel panel along the center fold and edge it with rick-rack. There are also services that will personalize the diapers for you; embroidering designs and dyeing or tie-dyeing it to your specifications. Since it's fairly common practice to let the diaper "breath" by letting the child run around at home without their outer pants on, these little works of art are shown off.
There are other kinds of cloth diapers, as well. For those moms who don't fancy the idea of messing about with pins or snappi's, diapers like AIO's (all-in-one's), Fitteds, or Pocket diapers usually fasten with snaps or Velcro. Even better, most of these latter kinds of diapers come with an outer lining of waterproofed fabric. For instance, all-in-ones and pocket diapers always come with an outer lining of waterproofed fabric. These cloth diapers look similar to disposable diapers, being sewn in the same shape.
All-in-ones are exactly what they sound like - an all-inclusive diaper that includes the waterproofed outer shell, the inner padding, and the soft fabric next to baby's skin, all sewn into one handy diaper. While these take longer to dry and often need a second drying cycle, they are very handy diapers that make the whole experience quite easy.
Personally, I preferred pocket diapers the most out of the various diapers I bought for my son. These nifty creations have a PUL outer and the soft cloth inner. They usually have snap fasteners, though I've seen a few with Velcro. At the rear of the diaper is an opening, into which you can put the washable insert. While most diaper sites sell inserts specifically for pocket diapers, it's also possible to use a cut or folded pre-fold or flat fold. The great thing about pocket diapers was their washability. Since you took the heavy insert out and washed it separate from the outer, you didn't have to deal with heavy, waterlogged diapers that took forever to dry.
Fitted diapers were, to me, a sort of cross between pre-folds and the more user-friendly pocket or AIO diapers. These diapers also have the shape of a disposable diaper, but no waterproof outer. Rather, they require a cover (like pre-folds and flat-folds). The benefit to this is that they can be washed separate from the covers - PUL and waterproofing tend to degrade over time, and lukewarm or cold water can slow that. In addition, some people choose not to wash the covers every time if they're only a little damp. On the other hand, you always want to wash cloth diapers at a high temp, with much less soap than recommended on the bottle.
Why, may you ask, do you use less detergent? I asked the same thing. You would think more detergent = more cleaning power, right? And we need all the cleaning power we can get against poop, right? Yeah, so wrong. Apparently, about a quarter of the detergent normally used is plenty. I usually got out a tablespoon and used 1 ½ tablespoons. First off, you don't want the soapy buildup caused by over-use of detergent on those diapers - that can cause irritation and rash on baby's soft skin. Second, we actually use too much detergent in our everyday laundry as it is. The amount recommended for use on most detergent bottles is far above and beyond what's necessary to clean our clothing.
I washed my son's diapers for almost two years (he did eventually potty train, at about 3 ½ years of age) in a mix of a small amount of All Free and Clear detergent with a once a month addition of white vinegar (to counteract build-up). The use of vinegar was highly debated among cloth-diapering moms, but I found it helpful.
As mentioned earlier, there are three main types of outer covers: Wool, Fleece, and PUL/Synthetic. I have little to no experience with wool or fleece, although I dearly wanted to try wool. It's terribly expensive, though, and there's a slight possibility of allergic reaction. PUL/Synthetic is the most common and cost-effective, and fairly easy to care for. The other reason I liked PUL/Synthetic is that they come in a variety of colors and patterns, which, let's face it, is fun. I completely admit it: I did not go into cloth diapering with the intention to make the environment better. I went into because it was more cost-effective in the long run, and lots of fun.
How, you may ask, can scraping poop off a diaper be "fun"? Well, that's easy. Don't scrape the poop off. No, seriously - get a diaper sprayer. It's like a little shower head, attached to your toilet. You shake the solids out over the toilet, and then spray it with the diaper sprayer. What I really liked about this method of cleaning the diaper was - it didn't smell. I mean, initially, as you're taking care of the mess, it smells, yeah. But where disposable diapers have chemicals and perfumes imbued in every layer, as well as those absorbent crystals that smell when reacting with urine even if you got the non-perfumed kind of diaper, cloth diapers don't. They're, well, cloth. Once that poo is cleaned off and flushed down the toilet, they don't smell. Once the wet ones are thrown in your diaper bucket and the lid closed, they don't smell. Do you realize the awesomeness of this? Even my husband was disbelieving of the phenomenon. He would stand outside the bathroom, a slightly puzzled look on his face, and ask, "Did you take out the trash today?"
"No, why?" I would ask.
"I don't smell diapers or anything."
"That's because I switched to cloth," I would patiently explain (again). His brow would wrinkle further. "So . . . you did laundry?"
"Weird." Mystery still unsolved in his mind, he would wander off to whatever guy stuff needed to be attended to.
Still, I can hear you protesting, even spraying poop off a diaper isn't my idea of a "good time". Yeah, to be truthful, it's not mine, either. It's more like "less of a chore" time. No, the fun part of cloth diapering was a little different.
You see, there's something of a cloth-diapering community out there, especially on the internet. There are forums you can go to where mothers chat about their children, daily life, and of course, diapering techniques. Usually, there's a sub-forum for trading or selling goods - clean used diapers, baby toys, clothing, etc. This is a good way to get cloth diapers at a very good bargain, if you don't mind used goods. With a little effort, it's possible to find women in your community who cloth diaper, as well. Brick-and-mortar diapering stores or a casual conversation in the bookstore can bring you together with like-minded women. Once you're adept at spotting the tell-tale cloth diapered baby bubble-butt, it's easy to make friends with the accompanying environmentally-friendly momma's.
Besides the social aspect, there's the incredibly cute and personalized aspect. We all know baby clothes are fun. It's neat to be able to dress your little man up in adorable outfits that you had to search all over for; even more so, I'm sure, for those lucky mothers of daughters. Cloth diapers allow you to personalize the outfit all the way down. There's just something inherently pleasing about a fully-customized and matched outfit, shallow as it sounds.
Even beyond the social networking and cute clothing, there's the pleasure of cutting costs. When I started, an initial investment of about $175 on pre-folds and covers would take care of all the diapering years. In addition, if you put them up for trade or sell when you're done with them, you can recoup part of that investment. I'm sure the prices have changed as the economy has, but they're still more cost-effective than spending a bundle every few weeks at your local warehouse club, or even more at the local supermarket.
And for those of you who are environmentally concerned - well, you've probably already chosen cloth diapers, right? But if you haven't, consider this: disposable diapers account for about 2% of all landfill waste in our country - and they don't biodegrade quickly. In fact, some of the first disposable diapers made are still degrading in landfills today. Nice thought, isn't it? A great starting off place for more information and ideas on cloth diapering is the Diaperpin, a site I stumbled onto in those early days. It has a wealth of information therein, and I've recommended it to every friend who's shown an interest in this wonderful and versatile form of diapering since.
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