Google+ Authentic Parenting: Cloth Diapering: The Options

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Cloth Diapering: The Options

Originally posted at Good Goog

Image: MissMessy
So you have made the decision to use cloth! Congratulations! Nature and your baby’s bum will be thankful. But how do you start? What do you buy? Where do you buy? And how much do you need? With all the choices modern cloth offers, it is easy to be puzzled.

There is a vast choice in diaper formats, this post will try to explain what each kind of diaper represents.

Paper Insert or Liner
Paper inserts are thin sheets of paper (or other material) that you can use to put inside your diaper - no matter the kind you are using - closest to the baby’s skin. These are used to make poo clean up easier, they are not a necessity. When they are soiled with feces, you can just flush them away or compost them, when they are just soaked with urine, they can even go in the wash (some brands several times).
Some babies always poo at the same time, so they an be used selectively too. It’s up to you and your preferences.

Inserts can be made out of different fabrics, most commonly fleece, flannel or jersey. They are used inside a pocked diaper or on top of a prefold or fitted diaper (on the inside). They can be thick or thin, used single or double. They can come with snaps to keep them in place or just loose. Some babies just pee a couple times a day, large amounts, and others do several tiny pees. Find out your baby’s rhythm and experiment.
Unlike Disposables, cloth diapers do not keep your baby dry. These layers are there to prevent your diaper from leaking and to evacuate some humidity away from their bum, not to have them sitting in their urine for hours.
When you first start diapering, you may have to check your baby very frequently, by touch or looking inside the diaper, after a while, you will get comfortable with using cloth and will be able to see they have soiled their diaper just by sight or weight (and sometimes smell) of the nappy.

Silk Insert
When your baby has a rash or very sensitive skin, you could opt for silk inserts. They are all natural, but a little more expensive then other types of inserts. When you are using silk, you won’t be putting a paper liner on top, as you are using it to protect and heal your babies skin.

Image: Tiffanywashko
AIO stands for All In One. It is basically the closest CD option to disposables when it comes to learning curve. The name already says it: you’ll have to put on just one diaper and your baby is ready to go. Generally, AIO’s are made of a PUL-outer layer - which is waterproof to prevent leakage, fleece or flannel or jersey inside and padding. It can be a pocket variation or you can use an insert. Some AIO’s are indeed just the one piece diaper, but they are rare, and not very handy. 
AIO’s are a great thing to have for when third parties care for your child, when they re not used to loth diapering, since it is the same action as putting on a disposable (the inserts can already be put in the pocket beforehand, or snapped in), or for outings, since it makes for less stash to bring along.
AIO’s can be fitted with velcro, snaps or used with a diaper closing system (read Nappi Nippa’s and Snappi’s).
If you want to protect the inside of your AIO from discoloring, and make cleaning up after poo easier, you can still use a paper insert, it makes cleaning up after poo a little easier.
I wouldn’t recommend AIO’s as your day-to-day diaper, because the whole thing has to be washed every time, so the PUL-layer will wear rapidly. For small babies the AIO can be a less comfortable option, because - given that they’re just one big thing - they’ll adjust less easily.
As they are made of a big number of layers, they dry rather slowly.

Diaper Cover
No matter the diapering option you go for, you will need some covers (except with AIO’s). Now covers come in different shapes and sizes too. The two big options are wool or PUL. Your cover will be washed less frequently then the diaper, as it won’t get soiled very often. If needed it can just be rinsed.

  • wool
: They are breathable and natural, whereas PUL covers are synthetic. They hold 30% of their weight in liquid before feeling wet. They need to be treated with lanolin every so often to remain waterproof. The fun part about wool covers is that you can easily knit them yourself and you can go wild with the colors and the designs and you can knit long covers for wintertime (no pants needed). Or you can up-cycle shrunken sweaters for this purpose. Patterns are found for free online. They do have to be hand washed, but are naturally antimicrobial, so this is only when they are soiled.
  • PUL
: There are again several options within the PUL-cover. You can have them custom made at several businesses. They can come with snappi’s or nappy nippa’s, snaps or velcro.Velcor wears quickly, but is easily adjustable, whereas snaps only offer you the positions in which they are attached (less adjustable).

Flat diapers resemble what our grandmothers used. They are just a flat piece of cloth that you fold for size and secure with a safety pin (only use special pins for babies with a security cap)or diaper closing system (read below). You could reuse your family’s old diapers and throw a cover over it. Given the available options, I think this system is a bit dated. You can find some picture on how to do the folding here. Obviously, the learning curve for flat diapers is rather high.
The advantage is that they’re really cheap, you can easily make them yourself out of old sheets and they can serve other purposes when they are no longer needed as diapers (cleaning cloth...) and they dry really fast.

A prefold resembles a flat diaper, in that they are just rectangles of fabric, however, here they come in different sizes, and they do not need to be folded and wrapped around the baby. Basically, you could see it as a big liner you put in your cover.
Again, this is a very cheap option and can easily be a DIY thing with materials you already have at home. By using prefolds or Flat CD’s you don’t need to invest in inserts (you can still use paper liners if you like to) and they take very little time to dry. I also wrote and article on additional ways of saving money while cloth diapering.
See how a prefold works here.

A pocket is a diaper that - as the name indicates - consist of a body shaped diaper with a pocket/bag where you can put the inserts. They can be contoured or fitted. With a pocket, inserts don’t need to be attached to the inside (some systems use snaps for this, which can create irritation on the baby’s skin). They are just put inside the pocket, so you can easily adjust the amount or thickness of the insert.
Pockets take the most time to dry out of the diaper options where you need a cover.

Contour diapers are hourglass shaped diapers. they can come with snaps or velcro or any other diaper closing system. The difference between contour and fitted diapers is minimal, and most sites will mix these terms up. For me, contour diapers are without elastics at the legs and are a little less leakage proof.

Fitted diapers come with snaps or velcro, they fit closely to the body and generally consist of two layers of fabric, with some padding in the middle. They generally have elastics around the inner leg. They can be made out of a number of fabrics. Use of fitted diapers is vary easy and similar to disposables.
Both fitted and contour can either be pocket or not pocket and take longer to dry than prefold or flat diapers. Both require a diaper cover.

One size or Grow-diaper
Some brands have one size diapers. This is less expensive if you’re on a budget, as your diaper will go from newborn to potty trained. However, on a small newborn these can be inconvenient. If you tend to have big babies, they can be a good idea.
They generally offer a range of two to four sizes, adjustable by snaps.

Trainer or Pul-Up
Similar to disposable diapers, there are now trainer pants available for potty training your baby. Usually they are in pull up version, a bit like waterproof underwear. I am not particularly fan of trainers, but they can be handy if you have a child that has the occasional accident.

Diaper closing systems: Nappi Nippas & Snappi’s
Image: Jillian's Drawers
Nappi Nippa’s and Snappi’s are special diaper devices to close them. The advantage here is that you don’t need snaps (who can be difficult to perfectly adjust) or velcro (that wears pretty quickly). You can use them on old diapers where you took the velcro off. They go on any diaper (except prefolds) and you wouldn’t need many, because you reuse the same one over and over. They don’t get dirty, because they are on the outside, and if they do, you can just rinse them.

When you are making your choice in diapers, keep the fabric in mind too. Depending the climate of where you live, you will need warmer or more breathable fabric. Your kid will be sporting a big package on their bum, so if you live in a tropical climate, like I do, you’ll have to opt for the very airy breathable materials like cotton or hemp, whereas if you live in a cold climate, flannel and fleece are more appropriate. If you live in a region with a big seasonal difference in temperature, you could get a variety of materials.

I hope that this list made things a little clearer for you to make your choice. Remember, you don’t have to buy everything at once. A lot depends on your baby and your lifestyle. You can’t predict your baby’s habits and you can’t know his size in advance. Get a few samplers to start off before your baby is born and go from there once you get into the routine. You can easily order cloth diapers online, so you don’t have to worry about shopping for them during your babymoon.



  1. Thanks for this really easy explanation! I've now added it to the 'All you need to know' post :)

  2. I should really continue on my cloth diaper posts. I have one I want to write about quantities and how to buy... sigh... so much to do


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