Sunday, March 1, 2009

cloth diapers: easy, green, fun

I got this message about cloth diapering in my inbox a while back. It is from a young woman who is interested in attachment parenting and environmental protection:
I am planning on using cloth diapers with my newborn. I never have before. What are the best brands? How many should I start with? Where do I buy? Any washing tips would be great. I would also love ideas on "transporting them". She will be with granny during the day and granny stay in an apartment with no washer and dryer. We do have a washer & dryer at home.

I have been cloth diapering since my two year old daughter was born. I work full time and my daughter stays with either daddy or my mother during the day, so I have the transport issue, too. Let me give you some tips on what works for us. Seriously, CDing is a joy. I love it, my hubby and older daughter love it, baby loves it. The new styles that are out there are absolutely adorable, too. Cloth diapers are so much softer than paper diapers, cost effective, good investment (good return on selling used diapers), and they are great for our Mother Earth, too. Of course, you already know all this! When my youngest daughter was born, for our newborn diaper stash (from birth through 15 pounds), we went the inexpensive route and invested in two dozen prefolds (flat diapers to fold and fasten) and four waterproof covers (which can be reused between diapers unless soiled with poo—just set the cover over the side of the bathtub to dry for an hour), one dozen fitted diapers (like disposables, but need a waterproof cover) for outings, and six inserts/doublers for overnights. I use Snappis (left, rather than diaper pins) to fasten the prefold diaper on baby. This was the best way for me to stretch my modest budget, and the stash last between 2-4 days, depending on how often your baby needs to be changed. When you are shopping for diaper covers and fitted diapers, make sure to get diapers that have laundry tabs for diapers that fasten with hook-and-loop closures. The laundry tabs make it so the tiny hooks will not attach and ruin the cloth of other diapers during the wash cycle. I also invested in three dozen cloth wipes. I like the style with a cute flannel fabric on one side and a layer of extra soft cotton velour or cotton fleece on the back, but baby wash cloths work well enough, too. I make my own wipe solution, too. I pour the wipe solution in a little spray bottle and wet a wipe or baby's bum as needed. Be wary of using any commercial diaper ointments to treat diaper rash, though, as they may permanently prevent absorption of the diapers. I highly recommend buying or making some stay-dry liners to put inside the diaper, between the diaper and baby's skin. Fleece has worked wonders for us as it wicks away moisture so her bum stays dry until her next diaper change. The liner also helps with poo clean-up as poo is usually contained in the liner and will not stain the diapers. I got 1/4 a yard of fleece from a fabric store and cut it into rectangles to set inside the diaper before I put it on baby. There are also several brands and styles of liners on the market, in both natural and synthetic fabrics. You can even get disposable/flushable liners, but to me, they defeat the purpose of using cloth. This original newborn stash worked well enough for us, but the prefolds were challenging to get the hang of at first. If I had to do it over again, I would stick with one dozen prefolds for overnights and at-home use. I am a big fan of fitted diapers, too, especially for daytime, but two dozen in quantity, and I would find a One Size Fitted Diaper to last from birth to potty training. But for going out, I would have invested in one dozen One Size Pocket Diapers. They are more of an investment up front, but think of it this way: they last from about 8-35lb and are totally convenient, extra-cute, and attract a lot of positive publicity for the cloth diaper movement. Here is how a pocket diaper is designed (image above): there are two pieces to the diaper, an outer cover and the insert. The cover and attached liner create a pocket; inside the pocket go the stuffin', or an insert. Once the diaper is soiled, you, you remove the insert for washing. Dry time is very quick, and when you are out and about, you only have one diaper piece to fiddle with (since you just put the stuffin' back inside the pocket after it has been laundered). They are also daddy and grandma friendly--but keep in mind that grandma probably used cloth on your bum. As for laundering, I washed every third day when DD was newborn, though now that she is older, needs fewer changes, and thus a smaller stash of 25-30, wash day is about every five days. Invest in one or two Wet-Bag Pail Liners, which are washable diaper pail liners that are made out of a waterproof fabric (like that of a cover). You might get one for home and two for grandma's house, and a smaller size for your diaper bag. After you change a diaper, just drop it into your diaper pail, lined with a wet-bag liner (remember to separate your insert from your pocket first, if needed, and heed laundry tabs). On laundry day, I grab the Wet Bag from the diaper pail. Since I separated all pockets and set laundry tabs before I tossed the diapers in the pail, they are ready for the washer and I do not have to dig through smelly, wet diapers to make sure everything is washer-ready. I just turn the wet bag upside down and empty it right in the washer. I set the washer on a preliminary cold soak and add a scoop of baking soda; the cold soak will loosen any clinging poo particles and prevent stains from setting. For the wash cycle, I add a shot-glass amount of laundry detergent (there is some debate over what type of detergent to use--check out this cloth diaper detergent chart from Diaper Jungle for more information). Do not use a lot of detergent because detergent is prone to building up in diapers and preventing absorbency. I wash on hot and then rinse on cold. I do a second rinse cycle, and I add some white vinegar (to balance the pH from the baki,ng soda used on the soak) and a drop or two of tea tree oil to the cycle for sanitation purposes. As for drying, I usually hang my covers and pockets to dry, but machine dry my diapers for about 15-20 minutes to get some of the moisture out. Especially if it is sunny out, I like to hang the diapers on the line outside; the sun will naturally disinfect the diapers and remove some of the stains, too. If I need to dip into the newly laundered stash before the diapers have time to air dry, I machine dry them on low. When the baby goes to grandma's house or to a sitter for the day, I take along a hanging wet bag for dirty diapers. I really have the sitter do the same thing as I do at home--just have her toss the diapers into the wet bag. At the end of the day, I take the wet bag, full of soiled diapers, home with me and wash them with my normal load of diapers. Next time, I bring fresh diapers and a clean wet bag back. The sitter (or grandma) does not have to do any laundry or extra work. You may want to keep a few extra emergency diapers at grandma's house, too, maybe 3-6 extra and a spare cover or two--or 3 pocket or All In One diapers (a style similar to a fitted diaper, but with a waterproof outer layer; no cover is needed--I do not care for AIOs because of how long they take to dry). A few extra points on cloth diapering:

  • I cannot say enough about breastfeeding, especially when it comes to breastfed baby poo and cloth diapering. You do not have to worry about cleaning Breastfed Baby poo off the diapers, as it comes right off in the washing machine.
  • Be sure to wash your natural fabric diapers several times before using them for the first time; this will make them fluff up and become more absorbent. Wash cotton diapers a minimum of three times, hemp three to five. You may notice that even after 10 or 12 washings, the diapers are still becoming more absorbent!
  • If you are starting out in Cloth Diapering, find a store that carries a variety of styles, so you can actually be hands on. You can see and feel the diapers before you put any money into your stash, figure out if you like snaps vs. Velcro, cotton vs. hemp vs. bamboo, prefolds, fitteds, if you prefer organics, natural fabrics, synthetics, etc. Every major city usually has at least one natural parenting store. They usually have a variety of diapers in stock, as well as breast pumps and parts, slings and other babywearing devices. Seeing the diapers in person gives you a better idea of what you want and what will work for you and your baby.
Over the months since I built up my newborn stash, besides having to build up a medium size (15-25lb) stash and again a large size (25-35lb), I have collected about a diaper (or lot of diapers) a month, depending on what deals I find. Now, our toddler stash consists of a half an dozen premium size prefolds, a dozen one-size fitted diapers, a dozen pocket diapers, and five covers.
Here is a list of good cloth diapering resources:
  • Diaper Pin A cloth diapering website that has a ton of tips, reviews, and more. On their Sales and Announcements page, you can find a ton of great sales and coupons from various cloth diapering and natural parenting retailers.
  • The Diaper Jungle One of the best cloth diaper resources, with information galore, listings of WAHMs and patterns for do-it-yourself-ers.
  • Diaper Swappers A community of cloth diapering parents sharing tips, experience, and support. The For Sale or Trade forum is a great place to find good deals on used diapers.
Online retailers that I frequent:
Links to my favorite brands:
  • Bella Bottoms One-Size Fitted My favorite fitted diapers, which just happen to be One-Size Fitteds that fit from birth to 35 pounds. Bella Bottoms are absorbant, trim, and economically priced! Check out Faith's eBay store for great deals!
  • Happy Heiny One-Size Pockets David's favorite pocket diaper, which fits from birth to 35 pounds. We like the snap closures (which are toddler proof--no naked toddlers around here), but their hook-and-loop closures are durable and have laundry tabs. Comes in wonderful colors and patterns that do not fade over time!
  • Thirsties Diaper Covers My favorite day-time diaper cover, which comes in a variety of colors and has happy little laundry tabs.
  • Bummis Diaper Covers David's favorite day-time cover. We like the Super Whisper Wrap and the Super Brite for their adorable patterns. Also has laundry tabs, though I do not think these covers hold true next to Thirsties.

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