Pregnant, I was on a mission. A mission to save as much money as possible.
I am talking driving around the military base looking for curbed baby items I could take and wash up, buying bundles of baby clothes for as little as 10 cents a onesie, setting my Facebook app to notify me whenever someone posted a new item for sale on my baby yard sale pages, etc. I was in deep. No one could stop the madness. My baby girl would have the best for less.
With this penny-pinching hysteria, I decided we would cloth diaper. The average new parents will spend anywhere from $378 to $675 on disposable diapers in the first year of their child’s life alone, according to What to Expect. Ridiculous, right?
Looking back, I had no idea what I was doing. The cloth diaper industry has changed so much since my mother did it with her kids she was just as clueless as me; my husband didn’t even know cloth diapering was something people still did.
Despite the odds, we prevailed. Months of getting pee and poop all over yourself changes a person. Lessons learned to share now so hopefully no one else has to go through the same *shudder* experiences my family did beginning their cloth diapering adventure.
The most important tips I have learned for beginning cloth diapers:
Learn to Change a Cloth Diaper First
There are two kinds of cloth diapers: those you fold n’ pin and those you snap in place. Before wasting your money on high quality prefold cloth diapers, you may want to make sure you actually have a talent for folding origami around a wiggling newborn and pinning it in place without sticking yourself… or the baby.
I do not possess such a gift. Thankfully, the snap-on cloth diapers can be done by someone even as uncoordinated as myself. After a little practice, of course.
Many natural baby stores (some organic grocery stores too) will hold classes to teach proper cloth diapering techniques, including actually getting the diapers on your baby. If you can’t find somewhere close to you that does this, YouTube also has some great tutorials.
I have seen people practice cloth diapering on their cats or dogs for a more realistic feel, but a baby doll or stuffed animal can work too if you want a less eventful experience. If you are lucky, maybe you can find a friend willing to let you practice with their baby.
Whatever you do, make sure you know how to put the diapers on correctly before changing your baby for the first time. A cloth diaper that is incorrectly snapped or pinned will leak and be uncomfortable for your child to wear.
Diapers Need to Be Prepped Prior to Use
Do not, I repeat, do NOT put a new diaper on your baby and expect it to hold anything. You will be left with a huge frustrating mess.
Since I bought the majority of my cloth diapers from other military moms, I figured everything to get them started working would have already been done. I remember sitting on my couch crying because I thought I had wasted all this money on worthless diapers. I started Googling what I was doing wrong, and discovered in order for cloth diapers to be properly absorbent they must first be prepped with a hot wash in the laundry machine.
How they are prepped depends on the material used. Microfiber products need one to two washes to be ready for use. Most snap-on diapers are made from microfiber/polyester. Organic fabrics such as bamboo, cotton, or hemp will not be completely absorbent until four to six hot washes. While detergent is not needed for prepping, it is recommended for the first wash.
Pocket Diapers – Pocket Diapers – Pocket Diapers
Did I mention pocket diapers? These diapers are by far the easiest cloth diapers to assemble in my opinion. They are also the most common type of snap-on diaper.
There are snap-on diapers available which are just the cover for you to lay an insert on. These, I have found, leak more than pocket diapers while the leg holes tend to be a lot tighter (probably to make sure the inserts do not slip out). This can be an issue if your baby is blessed with thunder thighs, as mine is. Others come with more complicated, specific inserts that snap like the diaper itself. I do not recommend these either. If you lose the special snap-on inserts, the diaper becomes virtually useless. I like knowing no matter what diaper I pick up the inserts will all fit the same.
Pocket diapers look similar to the covers except the inside has – you guessed it – a pocket for the inserts inside. Some come with flaps to help prevent the inserts from escaping, but this is more of an extra precaution as all the pocket diapers I have found are made with the fabric bunched at the top of the bottom to hold everything inside.
I am lazy, so I use the pocket diapers like covers because I don’t want to take the time to fit the inserts inside the pockets or dig them out while soiled. It’s easier when cleaning poop as well since the inserts rinse faster than the diapers.
Doing this when my daughter was a newborn caused problems because the insert would get moved around or fold up due to her keeping her legs crossed. It would be like she wasn’t wearing a diaper at all. Pee (or worse) would go straight through, usually when we were about to go out. Moral of the story: use the pocket at least until those little legs start getting more active. It keeps the insert flat.
Do not put a diaper meant for older babies on your newborn. No amount of pinning will get the diaper to stay. Your spouse will give you weird looks as you try to tug and tuck the diaper into place.
I am not sure why I thought the sizes were suggestions that day, although it probably had something to do with the fact I had gotten no sleep the night before…. or that whole week…
Anyway, be aware sizing is a little more complicated for cloth diapers than disposables. Dependent on weight (same as sposies), brands can sometimes effect how the diaper fits. The smallest prefold diapers go from about 4 to 10 pounds, while the largest size is from 30 to 45 pounds (approximately). For snap-on diapers, there are 5 main sizes to know:
Newborn – Made to fit newborns and premies. 4-10 pounds.
Small – 10-17 pounds.
Medium – 17-27 pounds.
Large – 27-35+ pounds.
One Size – Made to fit babies 8 to 35+ pounds. (Birth to Toddler)
Not All Inserts Are Created Equal
Most diapers will come with an insert at the time of purchase. These inserts are usually microfiber. There is a reason these come free.
They stink. Literally.
Don’t get me wrong, microfiber inserts are extremely absorbent. This fabric is used in a lot of athletic gear specifically because of it’s ability to suck up moisture and dry quickly. They are also the cheapest inserts. However, since microfiber fabric is made from polyesters the material is not as breathable as other types of inserts. This can cause rashes in babies with more sensitive skin. Being less breathable and quick to dry also means it is bad about clinging smells.
There is nothing worse than opening what should be a simple wet diaper and getting blasted in the face with the stench of death… Okay, maybe not death, but it comes close.
All inserts will need a special wash every once in a while to remove the build up of ammonia in the fabric, but microfiber seems to need this significantly more.
Other insert materials include cotton, hemp, and bamboo. You can also get inserts that have layers of different fabrics, such as bamboo inserts that have a couple layers of microfiber inside to give the insert some extra absorbency. This keeps costs down, as 100% organic inserts are more expensive.
I have not tried hemp inserts, but I am very interested in how comparable they are to the other materials. If anyone has any experience with this using hemp, please leave me a comment!
I do have cotton and bamboo inserts. Both of these are more breathable than microfiber. Cotton inserts can still cause diaper rashes in babies though because they do not dry as well. Since cotton is not as absorbent as other fibers they need to be changed more frequently. Bamboo inserts are not only absorbent and breathable; they also naturally keep your baby’s area drier to prevent rashes.
I wish I had invested in more bamboo inserts than microfiber. As it is, I use my limited supply of bamboo at night or during big outings where I know Peach will have to wear the diaper longer. I have also learned that as a baby grows they pee and poo more (duh), so I put two inserts in her diapers at a time now.
There is Nothing Wrong With An Emergency Disposable Stash
I felt so guilty about wanting to buy disposables for those hard days, but there is no denying they are much easier than cloth diapers. Traveling via airplane or long road trips are stressful enough without dragging around a bag of wet/dirty diapers. Using disposable diapers on occasion is still saving money. Don’t feel like less of a parent for needing a break.
Cloth diapers have been such a wonderful experience for my family. Really. Not only have they saved us a big chunk of money, but since we kept a hold of all our newborn sizes we now have to spend $0 on diapers for our upcoming star.
Well, I may get some more organic inserts… and a couple new pocket diapers. The designs are so adorable! Cloth diaper companies make the snap-ons so cute I don’t have to feel guilty about letting Peach walk around without pants on in warmer weather.
Cloth diapers have other benefits besides being money savers, too! They save your baby’s sensitive skin from the endocrine disruptors found in disposable diapers: harsh chemicals causing hormonal imbalances linked to cancer, infertility, respiratory issues, developmental disorders, obesity, and cognitive disorders. Dioxins, highly toxic by-products of the bleaching method disposable diapers use, in particular have been linked to Toxic Shock Syndrome, a deadly condition, in women from tampon use as well as being a known carcinogen. Other chemicals such as dyes and inks used in disposable diapers have been linked to allergies. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want those things on my baby if I can help it.
An approximate 3 million tons of disposable diapers are added to landfills around the United States each year. These do not decompose over time; can you imagine how many tons of diapers are in landfills in the United States right now? Talk about a massive stench.
The best part about cloth diapering though, I have to admit, is how they give babies the funniest, most precious bubble butts I have ever seen. My husband and I always get a kick out of watching Peach toddle around with her cloth diaper on. It reminds me of those vintage cartoons of the little babies with big tushies. Now I know: it was their diapers.
Gilbert, Steven, and Nick Thorp. “Diapers.” Toxipedia, Atlassian Confluence and Zen Foundation, 2 July 2010.
Heid, Markham. “The Truth About Tampons.” TIME, Time Inc, 27 July 2016.
Murkoff, Heidi. “What Babies Really Cost.” What to Expect, What to Expect, 4 Oct. 2016.