"I should really write this down."

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A Conversation In Cloth (Diapers)

I'm no expert, but I will share what I have learned about the world of cloth diapering, including my personal preferences, for anyone who might be interested...

People are using cloth diapers after they invented disposables? Gross!
Actually what I think is gross is paying lots of money to put plastic with scary chemicals against your baby's sensitive skin, letting them pee and poop in it, rolling it up and throwing it in a landfill to preserve it and take up space for the rest of time. That is my nutshell version. If you want a more thorough explanation, this article is where it's at: Why Disposable Diapers Are Dirty And Dangerous

On the positive side, using cloth diapers will:
  • Save money, especially if you use them for more than one kid. You can also buy them used and/or resell them when you're done if they are still in decent shape.
  • Be better for your baby's skin without the preservatives and absorbent chemicals in disposables. You can even go all the way and use cloth diapers with natural fibers like bamboo and cotton instead of microfiber.
  • Help preserve the environment by reducing the amount of resources used to produce disposable diapers and the amount of waste added to landfills.

Ok, I'll take a diaper made out of cloth instead of plastic.
All-in-one cloth diapers are basically a disposable diaper made out of cloth that you wash and reuse. If you are scared, or you have to deal with childcare providers who may resist the idea of cloth diapers, this might be the place to start. A good example of this type is bumGenius Elemental diapers.

But won't those take forever to dry?
No, not forever, but longer than you might like. To help with this, some AIOs have semi-attached absorbent layers, which allows them spread out and dry faster, and you can tuck additional soaker pads underneath to increase absorbency. bumGenius Freetime, Thirsties Duo AIO, and Grovia AIO have this feature.

What if I want the inner part to be completely detachable?
Pocket diapers are kind of like AIOs but you can completely remove the absorbent inner layer, called an "insert". This makes them faster to dry and you can customize the absorbency as needed. There are lots of choices for this type, all with various features (explained better later) and prices.
  • Diaper Rite seems to be the cheapest, and it is also the least bulky one-size system that I have found.  
  • Thirsties Duo Diaper has "duo" openings so the insert comes out on its own in the wash. It is a two-size system.
  • bumGenius 4.0 is very popular and moderately priced.  
  • FuzziBunz Elite has a different way of adjusting the size, using elastic instead of snaps, which I like, but it's a little more expensive.  
  • Rumparooz G2 and Blueberry pocket diapers are pretty expensive, but they don't seem that much different or better than the others to me.

But I don't want to wash the whole diaper every time the baby pees...
The two types described so far, AIOs and pockets, require you to wash all the parts of the diaper every time the baby even just pees in them. Shell systems, sometimes called all-in-twos or hybrids, don't have the top half of the pocket that goes between the absorbent insert and the baby. The insert just sits in there, or sometimes snaps in, so if it is just wet, you can replace the insert and wipe out and reuse the shell/cover/wrap part. You save some money by buying fewer shells and more inserts.
  • Flip is the all-in-two diaper system from the makers of bumGenius. The shells can be used with their stay-dry microfiber inserts, organic cotton inserts specifically made for day or night, or disposable inserts.
  • GroVia Hybrid Diapers also have shells that can be used with their snap-in soaker pads or disposable inserts.
  • Thirsties makes covers in a two-size system (Duo Wrap) as well as by size (Thirsties Diaper Cover), and their Duo Inserts' wicking and absorbent layers separate via snaps so that they wash and dry more thoroughly.
  • gDiapers are the only cloth diapers carried by Babies 'R' Us. The system includes the cotton shell, a waterproof pouch, and either reusable cloth inserts or disposable inserts that can be torn open and flushed, composted, or thrown in the garbage.

Can I choose to buy covers and inserts separately?
Sure, you can! Most covers and inserts are sold separately (as well as in sets) so you can buy whichever combinations you want even if you don't want the set. If you like Thirsties inserts and Grovia shells, for example, go for it! This also opens up options for using whatever kind of absorbent layer you like, going back to the good old-fashioned flats and prefolds, and supplementing with extra-absorbent "soakers" for heavier wetting. (Note: The following are options for the absorbent part of the diaper system, but they all still require a waterproof cover!)
  • Inserts, like the ones that come with pocket diapers and shell sets, are made specifically for this purpose. They usually have multiple layers of fabric, such as a more absorbent material like hemp in the middle, and microfiber or another material that wicks moisture away from the baby's skin on top.
  • Flats are the truly old-fashioned cloth diaper. Each "diaper" is just a large square made of a single layer of fabric, usually Birdseye woven cotton, that you fold to fit. They dry quickly and have many other uses in addition to diapering. Prefolds are the cloth diapers most of us remember. They are made of fabric "prefolded" into a convenient rectangle. They can be bleached or unbleached, Chinese or Indian, and they come in various sizes and thicknesses, too. You can use flats and prefolds by (1) folding and fastening with pins or a Snappi (2) folding and laying in a diaper cover, or (3) stuffing into a pocket diaper. When I tried prefolds on Marin, they became sopping wet very quickly, right up against her bottom. I have since used them in pocket diapers, but I wouldn't recommend them without some additional layer to wick the moisture away from the skin.
  • Contours are like prefolds that are also "pre-shaped" into a diaper, but you still need fasteners and a cover. Kissaluvs makes a one-size contour diaper. Fitteds are like contours that have built-in Velcro or snaps for fastening, but you still need a waterproof cover. One example is Bamboozle by Tots Bots. I haven't tried them, but contours and fitteds apparently work pretty well for newborns. They are bulky by nature, and whether they wick the moisture away from the baby's skin depends on the material they are made from.
  • Soakers are extra-absorbent inserts for use in addition to or in place of regular inserts during heavy-wetting periods, like naps or overnight, or for heavy-wetters. Marin hasn't needed them yet, so I don't have any personal experience or recommendations to offer.
  • Flushable/disposable inserts are designed so you can either throw them out or open them and dump the absorbent contents in the toilet and flush. They are marketed as good for travel and childcare, but I'm not sold. If you're throwing them out, you might as well just use a disposable diaper, and what childcare provider wants to bust open a diaper insert? I just keep a few disposable diapers on hand and use them when we go out or on a trip.

So which type is best?
Well, it depends. Obviously people like them all for different reasons. As for me, in theory, I liked the idea of a shell system so I wouldn't need a whole new diaper every time and I could put whatever inserts I liked inside. Less money, less laundry, etc., right? But it's kind of a pain to wipe out the shell during a diaper change, and half the time I just replace it anyway. And, like I explained, you need a wicking layer, so you can't really use whatever insert you want.

In practice, I actually prefer pocket diapers. Yes, you have to use a new one for every pee, so it costs a bit more, but I like that the wicking layer is built in. And so far, they have held poop (and poop juice) in better.

I shied away from AIOs from the beginning, but then I didn't know about the ones with semi-attached inners or space to add soakers as needed. If stuffing the pockets annoys you, or you want to keep it super-simple, AIOs might not be so bad after all. 

Wait, there are more choices to make?
Yes, even once you have picked the type and brand of diapers you want, most will still have options regarding sizing and closure. There are 3 basic sizing systems: one-size, two-size, and sized.
  • Most of the diapers I have mentioned are one-size diapers, claiming to be adjustable to fit babies from about 8-35 pounds. They usually have snaps to decrease the "rise" of the diaper to fit smaller babies, plus the obviously adjustable waistband. (FuzziBunz uses elastic with buttonholes to adjust the back and leg openings.) On the smallest settings, they can be pretty bulky, but the benefit is that you only have to buy one set. (In my opinion, this is probably the way to go.)
  • Thirsties brand has a unique "duo" system with two adjustable sizes. Size 1 fits babies from 6-18 pounds or 0-9 months, and size 2 fits babies from 18-40 pounds or 9-36 months. This is supposed to allow them to fit better with less bulk, but you have to buy two sets. (I really like the Thirsties products I have tried, but it's kind of a bummer to have to buy a double set.)
  • Several brands also make their products in specific sizes, which makes them fit better with no extra bulk from overlapping fabric, but then you have to buy several sets to fit as the baby grows. Some people say you don't have to buy every size because the weight ranges overlap some, but still...
Finally, most diapers come in 2 types of closures: snaps or Velcro.
  • Snaps definitely stay closed better and last longer, which is a huge plus if you plan to use the diapers on more than one kid or resell them, but they can be kind of annoying to fasten when you are trying to speed-change a diaper on a screaming baby.
  • Velcro (or Aplix or hook-and-loop or whatever proprietary version each brand uses) is much faster to use, so I liked it better at first, but attaching the the tabs for washing turned out to be pretty tricky when the diaper is poopy! Wear and tear is also much harder on velcro. The tabs usually end up at least curling, and they can lose their "stickiness" after a while.

I don't care what they say, one-sizers do not fit tiny newborns.
When Marin was born, I had a sampling of cloth diapers of various types and brands, and not one of them fit her. Someone told me that I should just use disposables until she got big enough to fit into cloth diapers, and their logic was that it is hard enough to adjust to having a newborn let alone figure out cloth diapering right off the bat. I think this is sound advice, and I took it. If you want to jump right in with both feet, you will probably find that you need more specialized equipment. Here are some of your best options:
  • If they make one, buy a set of newborn-sized diapers in the type and brand that you like best. This costs more money, but they are usually not as expensive as the "regular" sizes.
  • Buy this newborn sampler pack. It includes a bumGenius AIO, a FuzziBunz pocket, a Bummis wrap, a Kissaluvs fitted, and 2 Diaper Rite prefolds. That should be enough to get you through the newborn stage, while at the same time allowing you to try out several options to help you decide what you want for later.
  • Buy SoftBums one-size diapers. According to Jenny, they really do adjust to fit even the tiniest newborns all the way through potty-training. Echo is a shell system, while Omni can be used as a shell or pocket diaper, and they both work with SoftBums "Pods" or other inserts. I wish I had known about these from the start!

What else do I need?
  • A diaper pail, which is basically a trash can that seals up tight to keep odors in. Diaper Dekor and Baby Trend Diaper Champ seem to work well with cloth diapers because you can use your own pail liners. The Playtex Diaper Genie and the Munchkin Arm and Hammer Diaper Pail don't work well for cloth diapers because you have to use their plastic liners.
  • Pail liners, preferably 2, so you can use one while the other is being washed. Mine is from Planet Wise, but as long as it's waterproof and you can wash it with the diapers, any brand would probably work fine.
  • Wet bags, at least 1, maybe up to 3, depending on how often you plan to have baby wear cloth diapers out of the house. These are for storing dirty diapers until you get home. My wet bag is from Blueberry, but again, as long as it's waterproof and washable, any should do fine.
  • Diaper liners are flushable sheets that you lay in the diaper next to the baby's skin. Pee soaks right through, but poop sits on top so you can just pick the liner up and put it in the potty and flush. This sounds great, and I think it would be when the baby starts eating solids and the poop gets more solid, too. Before then, the poop is all mushy, and in my experience, the liner makes it spread around more and increases the likelihood that it will reach the edge of the diaper and escape. Besides, breastfed poop is water-soluble, so as gross as it seems, you can just throw it in the wash as-is and you'll never see it again.
  • A diaper sprayer is attached to the toilet plumbing to allow you to spray solid waste off the diaper and into the toilet. Like the liners, I think this will be more useful once the baby's poop is more solid, but I have heard that they are indispensable in the long run.
  • Cloth wipes are a natural extension of the cloth diapering idea. You can use cloth wipes with plain water or make a gentle homemade wipe solution, and you can either spray it on the baby's bottom with a spray bottle or keep the wipes soaking in it. They can be tossed in the diaper pail and washed and dried along with the cloth diapers. I originally intended to use cloth wipes, and I still might start, because it would obviously be better for Marin's baby bottom, but so far I am still using disposable wipes for sensitive skin.

What's this about prepping?
All cloth diapers and diaper parts, including covers, pockets, inserts, prefolds, etc., need to be washed prior to first use. This is for the same purpose as washing any clothing before wearing, to remove chemical starching and sizing agents used during production, and to shrink cotton products to the correct projected size. For synthetic materials, such as microfiber, microterry, polyester, PUL, etc., one wash/dry cycle is enough. However, natural materials, such as cotton, bamboo, hemp, etc., contain oils that repel moisture, so they require multiple washes before they will be absorbent.

To "prep" diapers made from natural materials, wash them 5-6 times with only a small amount of cloth-diaper-safe detergent, drying between each wash. This should be done separately from any synthetic materials, or the natural oils can be transferred to them, too. 

So how do I wash these things once they're full of pee and poop?
Every other evening, I throw everything, including the pail liner, into the washer and first run a cold rinse. Then I add a small amount of All Free & Clear detergent and run a hot wash with another cold rinse. (Some resources recommend a warm rinse at the end instead, but my washer doesn't have that option.) Then I dry it all in the dryer on medium-low heat. Only the hemp part of my Thirsties Duo inserts is still damp after that, so I hang those to finish drying overnight.

It is important to use dye-free, fragrance-free, other-extra-stuff-free detergent on your cloth diapers, and they make detergents specifically for this purpose. GroVia, Thirsties, and bumGenius make cloth diaper detergents, and Rockin' Green is another frequently recommended one. Also never use fabric softener with your cloth diapers; it adds a water-repellant residue that will decrease their absorbency.

Once the baby starts eating solid food, and therefore pooping solid poop, it must be removed before the diaper can be washed. (Hopefully you weren't going to put poop in your washing machine if I hadn't said that...) This is where the diaper liners and/or sprayer come in handy. Remember, breastfed poop is water-soluble, so you can get away with throwing that in your washer.

I understand that after a while, stains and odors will build up, and there are processes, called stripping and sunning, that can help with that, but I haven't gotten that far yet. When I do, I will share what I learn...

Additional Resources
The following websites have tons of information in the form of articles, FAQs, and blogs, as well as decent prices on cloth diapers and supplies.

Diaper Junction
Kelly's Closet
Nell's Natural Baby

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