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Today's Cloth Diapers

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Congratulations, on your decision to go cloth!  By now you have heard the plethora of benefits that cloth diapering has to offer your pocket book, the planet, and your precious one’s behind.  After making the decision to go cloth I felt empowered; that is until I actually had to buy the diapers. There are a multitude of styles, variations, and brands that can be quite overwhelming.  Ask fellow cloth families, and you get contrasting opinions. I spent months combing through websites and visiting specialty boutiques before I was able to understand the differences and choose the right system for our family.  So before you get hooked on the adorable prints and solids, make sure you understand how the diapering system works and what that means for your family!   The following guide will explain the modern cloth diaper and its variations.

All cloth diapers consist of two main parts, the soaker and the shell. The soaker which can also be referred to as an insert or pad, is an absorbent layer to collect waste.  The shell is an outer layer that keeps clothing dry. How these parts are constructed and subsequently assembled is where the major differences appear.  In general there are four major categories of diapers to choose from: 1) prefold and cover,  2) pocket,  3) all in one, and  4) hybrid.

1) Prefold and cover:   This is the cloth diaper that most people are familiar with and the one your mom or grandmother will assume you are talking about.  It consists of an absorbent layer, which can be a prefold or a fitted diaper, and an outer shell or cover (your Grammy will call these “plastic pants”).  The prefold is a square of fabric that is sewn so that the center panel has the greatest absorbency.  A fitted diaper can also provide absorbency in this duo.  Fitted diapers are a sewn garment that resembles a disposable diaper that will either snap or Velcro around your baby’s bottom.  In either case a waterproof cover is needed to contain the moisture.  These covers, called shells, secure the waste using man-made (ie. TPU/PUL) or natural (wool) water repelling material.  The shells adjust to your little one’s body by Velcro, aplex (a much nicer Velcro), or snaps. Depending on how you choose to secure the prefold, you may need to use pins or a less scary tool called a Snappi to hold it in place.  There are Better Fit Prefolds that require only a trifold without the use of pins or Snappis.
2) Pocket:   Pocket diapers are essentially a shell that consist of a waterproof outer layer and a soft, usually fleece, inner layer. These two materials are joined together on all sides except one to create a pocket. Pocket diapers require an absorbent layer be stuffed in the opening. Often the shells come with a soaker pad, however you can also use a prefold diaper in the pocket.

3) All In One:  All-in-one diapers are the cloth version of a disposable diaper. There is nothing to stuff, fold, or secure. They consist of an outer waterproof layer and an inner absorbent layer sewn together.

4)  Hybrid:   Hybrid systems are unique in that they allow you to use a waterproof shell with either a cloth insert or a disposable insert option. Usually the disposable pad has been made to be more environmentally friendly than a traditional disposable.

Keep in mind that there are many variations of these diapers on the market. So once you have decided on a few to try, explore the options that each brand has to offer. Each company has its own methods to make your cloth diapering experience easier, more pleasant, healthier, and better for the environment. For example there are organic varieties, natural fibers vs. man made, fabrics with antimicrobial properties, snaps vs. Velcro, American made, and the list goes on!

So how do you decide which system is right for your family? Each system has its merits, and you may find that different systems work for different purposes in your family’s life. I would suggest trying several out to see which works best for your individual situation. You may find that a certain system works well for you, but your neighbor didn’t like it at all. To help you determine which to try, read through the following list of pros and cons for each system.

Prefolds/Inserts and Covers:
-Cheapest of the systems to purchase new, so you are able to get a large stash
-Absorbency of natural fibers increases with use
-Many folding and pinning options to meet the needs of your baby’s body
-Covers can often be used multiple times before washing
-Prefolds are very absorbent, easy to care for, and dry efficiently
-Large variety of shell material
-Wool shells don’t need to be washed frequently due to the natural fibers and are super soft
-Man made shell material can often simply be wiped out after use
-For one child you can easily function with a small number of shells
-Requires the purchase of multiple sizes of prefolds, fitted layers, and shells to meet the needs of your growing child
-You will need to experiment to find the right folding method unless you use Better Fit Prefolds
-May require the use of securing devices such as a snappi or pins
-Tend to be more bulky
-Lack the newer “stay dry” technology
My favorite cover/prefold system is Thirsties Duo Wrap Cover with OsoCozy Prefolds

-Easy to use, especially for dads, grandparents, and day care
-Inner layer often exhibits “stay dry” feature as moisture is wicked through the fleece layer to the absorbent layer below
-Usually provides a trimmer fit when compared to prefolds
-Most require the purchase of at least two sizes to meet your child’s needs through potty training
-You have to stuff the diapers
-You have to un-stuff dirty diapers
-Each shell can only be used once before needing a wash
-Need to have enough pockets and inserts for about 2 days of diapering (approximately 18 to 24)
My favorite Pocket Diaper is the bumGenius Pocket Diaper

-Very easy to use, functions just like a disposable
-Easy for dads, grandparents, and day care
-Don’t have to un-stuff the diaper, just throw the whole thing in the wash
-Trim fit, not bulky like prefolds
-Many brands offer a “one size” option that adjusts as your baby grows through potty training
-Diapers are on the high end of the price scale
-Need to have enough diapers for about 2 days of diapering (approximately 18 to 24)
-Take longer to dry
My favorite All-In-One Diaper are bumGenius Freetime.

-Easy to use, cloth pad snaps in and disposable pad has sticky tabs
-Convenient choice for on the go or when a disposable may be more desirable
-Shells can be used multiple times before washing, just replace the inner pad
-Trimmer fit
-Many brands offer a “one size” option that adjusts as your baby grows through potty training
-Diapers are on the high end of the price scale
-Disposable pads may be pricey
My favorite Hybrids are Best Bottoms and GroVia.

Lastly there are a few other items that will enhance your cloth diapering experience.  Doublers are an additional absorbent layer that can be added for increased absorbency. Think about your own needs, at certain times of the day you visit the restroom more. Your little one’s body works the same way, so doublers are great to have on hand for added over night protection or whenever you find you need a little more absorbency.   My favorite doublers are Thirsties Cotton Doublers.

I highly recommend that you find and use a cloth diaper safe ointment or balm such as GroVia's Magic Stick. Using traditional diaper rash treatments can lead to decreased absorbency of your cloth due to build up on the fabric. In the same regard, I suggest a cloth diaper safe detergent as regular detergents can also lead to decreased absorbency due to build up. While it may cost a little more than a regular detergent, you will still be saving money using cloth.   One of our favorite cloth diaper detergents is Charlie's Soap.

Lastly wet bags are a must have for cloth. Gone are the days of soaking diapers in a pale, in fact this is often discouraged by manufactures. Wet bags are generally constructed of the same waterproof materials as the shells. They come in many sizes and can be kept in your diaper bag or nursery to collect dirty diapers. When it is time for laundry, simply dump diapers and bag into the wash!   Many retailers offer these, but our favorite are GroVia's Zippered Wetbags.

There are many options and styles that can meet your needs. Start slowly and choose a few styles to try!

Contributor:  Alexis B. works part time as a science instructor and is the mother to a beautiful baby girl. She is enjoying her exploration of everything “mama” and “baby”. Currently she is delving into the concepts of attachment parenting, baby wearing, and baby lead weaning. She has a wonderfully supportive husband who loves science just as much as she does and is most importantly her best friend.


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