Make Just One Change Series: Cloth Diapering
Amanda currently lives south of Boston with her husband, toddler son and a rambunctious hound mix. She volunteers with Cotton Babies-Share the Love Program as the Boston host and is a volunteer and educator with Babywearing International of Greater Boston, where she serves on the board as President and VP of Events. When she is not volunteering, you can find her on the trails and paths of the South Shore with her son and dog or at one of the many local breweries around town. Amanda is my go-to person for all questions related to cloth diapering, and I'm thrilled she's sharing the basics with you here!
Every expectant parent falls down the inevitable registry rabbit hole. What does a baby need? What will make my life easier? Oh geez, those cost how much?! Scrolling Amazon, Pinterest, Instagram, and more may make you feel overwhelmed.
While I might not be able to help you with all your new baby gear decisions (sorry!), I can help guide you a bit with some information about cloth diapers. You might be asking yourself now: “But wait, cloth diapers are a thing? Didn’t my grandparents do that?” Yes they probably did! And while the diapers today may resemble the diapers your grandmother may have used, a lot has changed.
Benefits of Cloth Diapering
Families choose to cloth diaper for various reasons. For most, it’s to lessen their ecological footprint on the environment. Using cloth diapers decreases the amount of trash you send to the dump significantly. And yes, you do need to wash them, so you will be running your washer and dryer. But that amount of energy and water is still less than what is found in the production of disposable diapers. A cloth diaper service exerts even less energy due to the large load sizes. If you wanted to minimize your environmental impact even more, you could wash your diapers in a tub and hang dry. (We lost power for a few days, and this was my only option and actually not a difficult chore!)
Families may also choose to cloth diaper to ease the pinch on their wallets. The diapers are generally one size, and you can adjust the fit as your child grows-- meaning you only need to purchase one set of diapers. You can buy gently used cloth diapers from local cloth diaper boutiques in your area, via yard sales, or on local cloth diaper Facebook groups. For newer cloth diaper options, you can simply start with prefolds and some covers. The cost basically goes up from there as you gain convenience or purchase diapers with designer prints.
The cost of diapers also goes down with each child that wears them, so if you are thinking of having more than one child, cloth diapering may be a great option for you. You buy most of the diapers for Child One, and a couple years down the road those then become the diapers for Child Two and so on.
Types of Cloth Diapers
There are a variety of diapers from which to choose:
Prefolds- One of the most economical of the choices, this is the type most similar to what your grandmother may have used. It involves folding a piece of multilayered hemmed cloth, securing it (modern diaper fasteners are super safe and convenient), and covering it with a waterproof cover.
Fitteds- These use waterproof covers similar to the prefolds, but instead of folding the cloth, the fitted comes in the shape of a diaper with multiple layers of absorbency and elastic around the legs, it and has snaps or hooks.
Pockets- This waterproof cover has a pocket in which you stuff pads of absorbent inserts.
All-in-Ones- The simplest of cloth diapers, All-In-Ones have built-in absorbent layers and a waterproof outer layer. They look most like disposable diapers.
A quick view of some diaper styles
Starting at top left: Prefold, Fitted, Waterproof Cover
Bottom Row: Pocket Diaper with insert, All-in-One
With my son, we decided to have a mix of diaper styles. We have some prefolds, some fitteds and some All-In-Ones. This allowed us to keep our cost down but have some convenience. When we are home, we use mostly prefolds and fitteds, and we use All-In-Ones when we are out and about.
We love to go for hikes with our son, and we travel out of town fairly often. Cloth diapering can still fit into that. If we are out of the house, like I said above, we use All-In-One diapers. This means I just need one or two extra diapers in the diaper bag or car, a changing mat and a wet bag. With disposable diapers you probably have all the same gear minus the convenience of throwing out the dirty diaper in a trash can. And with cloth diapers, there is significantly less of a chance of a mid-hike poop blowout! Cloth diapers have elastic around the leg and waist openings that is stellar for keeping in those explosive newborn poops.
Cleaning Cloth Diapers
Speaking of which, let’s talk poop! I may have almost convinced you to try cloth diapering, but then you will be reminded that babies poop (and yes, they poop a LOT!). As a person who gags at the thought of someone else blowing their nose, I can say I have been able to handle cloth diaper poops for two years now with nary a gag or mid change session barf! Early on before the child is eating solid foods consistently, you do not need to rinse the diapers of poop. This is where a good laundry routine comes into play. (There is plenty of information on how to launder cloth diapers, so I will skip that and link some resources below.) And once they are on solid foods you literally just knock the poop into your toilet or swish or use a sprayer attached to your toilet. It really is easy and not as gross as expected. (I mean, disposable diapers don’t hide the poop any more so, and you still need to wipe that cute little butt clean!)
If you choose to cloth diaper, it is still okay to still use disposable diapers now and again. If I am away from the house for more than two days I will utilized disposables. When my son was hit hard with Hand Foot Mouth Disease last fall he also presented with a yeast diaper rash, so we had to use medicated cream and sterilize his diapers. While cloth diapers have been shown to minimize the chance of diaper rashes, yeast infections can hit anyone and everyone unfortunately! And yes, I’ve used them out of sheer laziness when all the diapers are still drying and my son needs to head to bed. In two years we have used about 150 disposables during the course of trips or sicknesses-- still far less than if we used them daily.
I could go on and on about cloth diapers, but maybe we should take a breather? Here are some links to some great resources regarding cloth diapers if you wish to dive in a little bit more. Remember, those first few weeks with your child will be overwhelming and amazing all at the same time. Enjoy it, and if you do choose to cloth diaper make sure to document that cute little fluffy butt while they let you!
Can’t afford diapers?
Cotton Babies-Share the Love program has hosts throughout the US that provide cloth diaper loans free for families who qualify. The program provides the families with diapers that will fit a child until they are 3 years of age or potty trained. They also accept donations of cloth diapers.
Fluff Love University is where I usually end up when I am searching for laundry help with my diapers. It is an extensive resource!
If you are in the Boston area I recommend stopping by the stores mentioned below. They will guide you in your cloth diaper journey and you will be supporting local women-run businesses! The internet can be overwhelming, and it’s always helpful to have a helping hand.
The Diaper Lab offers workshops and assistance in store to parents interested in learning about cloth diapering. They also offer a newborn diaper rental program that allows you to try out different styles and brands of diapers in those first few months to get a sense of what works for your family.
Instinctive Parent is another great local shop that offers workshops and in store assistance to parents South of Boston. They offer a rent to own program and a full cloth diaper laundry service.
Amanda and I shared our cloth diaper basics tips LIVE on the Mountain Mom and Tots' Facebook page- check it out.
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Which change will you make to help the earth this month? We challenge you to make just one change! Read the rest of the "Make Just One Change" series here.