Everything I Wish I Knew Before I Started Cloth Diapering
Cloth diapering can seem like an overwhelming undertaking, especially for new parents. There are so many different kinds, many price points, fabric differences and of course people's opinions about which one is the best. However, with a bit of research and preparation, it can be a rewarding and eco-friendly alternative to disposable diapering and really not as hard as I thought it would be at first. As a family who has cloth diapered all their children, I have compiled a list of everything I wish I knew before I started cloth diapering in the hopes that it might make it easier for you.
There are different types of cloth diapers: When I first started cloth diapering, I was unaware of the different types of cloth diapers available. In fact, the first cloth diaper I learned about was a pocket diaper and I thought that's all there was. But I learned about the others along the way and with some trial and error figured out which ones you use for what. You may decide that something other than a pocket diaper is what suits your lifestyle best or you may like to try a bit of everything like I did. Besides pocket diapers, there are also all-in-ones, all-in-twos, fitteds, prefolds, and flats. Or if you want a quick video overview of each of those to get a visual, I've got one here.
Have enough diapers for how often you want to wash: If you are diapering a newborn you'll need 10-12 diaper changes per day (24 hour period). Initially I thought I'd just wash diapers every day, but that was a little ambitious of me as a first time parent who had no idea what it was like to have a newborn. Most families prefer washing every second day, which is much more manageable, so having 24-30 diapers on hand makes washing more realistic and gets you a full load of diapers each wash day so they agitate and wash properly too. Pro Tip - Invest in two large wet bags so you always have one ready to collect dirty diapers while the other is in the wash.
Finding the right fit is important, but not hard: Cloth diapers come in various sizes and shapes, and finding the right fit for your baby can be a trial and error process. Don't be discouraged if it takes a few tries to find the perfect fit or if you get a leak here and there while you're learning the ropes. It is a little different than just slapping on a disposable. Be flexible and keep in mind that how you diaper will change as baby grows. You might need to add a booster for absorbency, let out a rise snap, adjust how the inserts sit if baby becomes a tummy sleeper or tweak your wash routine along the way. Use your common sense. I learned along the way that cloth diapers really only leak for one of 3 reasons: poor fit, poor absorbency, or buildup. Here's more on each of them and how to fix them. Also beware that microfibre fabric can be prone to compression leaks. But really that's only an issue if you let baby go too long between diaper changes.
Invest in the best quality diapers your budget can afford: Lots of people purchase cheap diapers on Amazon or elsewhere that don't have much absorbency, are made of materials that don't last and a have a fit that isn't ideal. If you have gaps at the legs and the elastics don't fit snug against the skin all the way around the leg and waist, leaks will happen and you'll get frustrated. Invest in quality diapers with good absorbency that are ethically produced and you'll have fewer issues with getting a good fit and ultimately have a much better experience with diapers that will last through more than one baby. I cannot stress this enough.
Washing doesn't have to be hard: Don't let people scare you away or discourage you from cloth diapering because the washing is 'hard'. It's only hard if you make it hard. Use a real detergent, not a homemade one or a soap based one and stay away from most plant-based options. Choose a good quality mainstream detergent and read the directions on the back of the package. Use the amount of detergent that it recommends for the size of the load of diapers and you're good to go. Skip the dryer sheets in the dryer (use an alternative like wool dryer balls if you like) and stick to diaper rash creams that are cloth safe if you need them. More washing tips here.
A diaper sprayer is a game-changer: It's certainly not mandatory, but if you plan on cloth diapering exclusively, a diaper sprayer can really make things easier. It attaches to your toilet and allows you to spray off any solids before washing the diaper, making the cleaning process simpler especially once baby starts solids. For more tips on dealing with the poo with or without a diaper sprayer, check this out.
Cloth diapers can be a significant money-saver: While the upfront cost of cloth diapers can be expensive, in the long run, it can save you a significant amount of money compared to disposable diapers. Not only can you reuse cloth diapers for multiple children, but you also don't have to continuously purchase disposable diapers and the electricity and detergent really doesn't cost that much to wash them at home. I didn't do the math when we started out with cloth, but now that I have I know we've saved thousands while diapering our four kids in cloth.
Get the cloth wipes: Totally do it. I went a long time using cloth diapers, but still using disposable wipes, and that's ok, no judgement at all. But oh my goodness when I finally tried them out I was kicking myself for not having been doing it all along. Heck I was already washing cloth diapers, why not be doing cloth wipes too?! I don't know. I had visions of a cloth wipe and a handful of poop. But that just isn't how it works. What surprised me most about cloth wipes was how few I had to use. You know how with a really dirty diaper you need like 50 disposable wipes because the wipes just smear it all around? Well cloth wipes actually clean it up, properly and well with just one wipe, maybe two. Really, it's totally amazing and baby actually looks and feels clean. You'll be hooked. GroVia wipes are my favorite in case you were wondering because they're nice and big and thick and soft and they're just right.
Follow the manufacturer's instructions: Before using new cloth diapers, it's best to follow the manufacturers suggestions for prepping and washing that you find on the tag. They know their product and how to use it best, so follow that - not stuff you find on the internet or in Facebook groups etc. If your diapers have warranty, bleaching them, soaking them in cleaning solutions etc. can void your warranty, so if you ever have issues with your diapers, check with the manufacturer first. They often have a washing specialist on hand specifically to help you troubleshoot and you can access them totally free of charge as part of their customer service. Having this kind of support is one of the biggest benefits of purchasing high quality diapers like what we have in stock here at Cloth Diaper Kids.
You will make mistakes: It will happen and it's ok. It doesn't mean cloth diapers aren't for you. Solve the problem and carry on.
Nighttime diapering will be different: I really wish I had realized this one sooner. I got very discouraged when our daytime diapers were no longer working at night. I thought I was doing something wrong and we started using disposables at night when really baby was just sleeping longer stretches and was getting bigger which meant more absorbency was needed. So obvious when I think about it now. Anyway, here's what you need to know about cloth diapering successfully overnight.
Cloth diapers can be stylish: Gone are the days of plain white cloth diapers. There are now numerous cute and stylish options available. No more pins and no more plastic pants! So don't be afraid to have a little fun with your diapering choices or to go pants-less once in a while too. Cloth diapers are beautiful pieces of reusable clothing just as much as they are functional pieces for your baby's needs. I wish I knew sooner that it was totally ok to go pants-less in public with a cute cloth diaper on the bum.
It's ok to do it part time: Last but not least, I used to have this notion that people that cloth diapered were hard core tree huggers and it's totally not true at all. So many people cloth diaper part time too. So many. One parent can cloth diaper and the other can use disposables if they aren't comfortable. You can cloth diaper only at home and not out of the house or when travelling. You can use cloth yourself, but Grandma or the babysitter can switch, no problem, it's all good. Start out with disposables on your newborn and then move to cloth once you have the hang of the whole new parenting thing or once you're recovered from a c-section or difficult birth. That's ok. Each parenting journey is different. Every cloth diaper you choose to use helps our environment, your pocket book and baby's sensitive skin. So choose what works for you and your family. And that goes for everything with a new baby by the way because people around you will have opinions about all your parenting decisions.
At the end of the day cloth diapering certainly isn't for everyone, but it can be a great option for those looking to reduce their environmental impact and save money in the long run. While it may take some time to adjust to the routine, the benefits can be well worth it and knowing what to expect in advance can definitely help with the learning curve when you're starting out. With a bit of preparation and patience, and a little trial and error while you find the sweet spot for you, cloth diapering can be a rewarding experience for both you and your baby. That's ultimately what I wish I knew when we started out in cloth.
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