This post is going to be an unabashed departure from my previous Advent reflections. First, because if I was going to make an Advent post, I’d want to give my recipes for pepparkakor and Lussekatter for St. Lucia Day…but I haven’t made them yet for this year… So, that post will have to be saved for next year! Second, this idea just popped into my head and I realized, Hey! I’ve been through a lot of trial-and-error with this cloth diapering gig, and I’ve gotten a lot of questions about it, and just maybe it would make sense for me to share my
mistakes hard-won wisdom with the world.
So first, I’m going to give you some quick bullet points for why we cloth diaper. These are my husband’s and my personal reason for why we’ve made this choice for our family. It is not a reflection on anyone else’s parenting choices, merely a way for me to share with you how we came to our own decision.
WHY WE CHOSE TO CLOTH DIAPER
- COST – Even with the superb savings at COSTCO, cloth diapering is significantly cheaper than paper diapering. This is especially true if your kids, like mine, are late potty trainers. We have never been able to train a child before the age of 3. We’ve tried. (Oh, how we’ve tried!) But it just ain’t happening. My 3.5 year old still has yet to successfully use the potty, and my 6.5 year old is not yet developmentally ready to be night-trained. Genetically, that’s just the way our cookie crumbled. So, anyway, yeah. Over the course of 8 years of continual diapering of 1-3 children at a time, cloth has saved us a boatload of cash.
- ENVIRONMENT – Add up all those years of diapering, and I cringe to think how many landfills our larger-than-average family could fill with diapers alone. I am personally very conscious of the fact that we are a large family, and that precisely because we are a large family, I want to take especial care that we are doing our best to leave this earth in better condition (or at least no worse) than we found it. One of the ways we do that is to cloth diaper. We use environmentally-friendly detergents to launder, and we since we live in an area where water is plentiful, that aspect isn’t a concern for us. In your neck of the woods, things might be very different. For us, cloth is a good way to steward the resources we’ve been blessed with.
- SANITY – I am often asked how I stay sane. For most of the day, five days a week, I am solely responsible for the care and education of four children. Add cloth diapering to the mix, and many assume I must be rocking in a corner. (Or they mistakenly presume I’m super mom, which I assure you I am NOT.) But here’s the thing. Cloth diapering actually helps keep me sane. It reduces my stress level to know I do not need to haul my crew to COSTCO to pick up more diapers or wipes. A couple of hours in my own laundry room, and we’re good to go with a fresh load of (basically free) supplies. Plus, I can relax knowing I’ve saved money (#1) and am helping to care for the earth (#2). All good things. But I still wouldn’t say no to some chocolate and a quiet corner.
Okay, now that that’s out of the way, how do we do it?
Below, I’ve laid out the nitty gritty of my favorite supplies and techniques for cloth diapering. Most of these products and tips I’ve come by through a lot of error and a few brilliant epiphany moments! (I may or may not have performed ludicrous happy dances when these rare moments occurred. Alas, there are no video recordings.)
I am not affiliated with any of the companies whose products I have listed below. I have received no financial incentive to post reviews of these products. All opinions are my own, and I am sharing them simply because I love these products, and I love you all!
- Buttons Diapers – I’ve tried it all: prefolds, pockets, and all-in-ones. I’ve done pins and snappies. I can unequivocally say that Buttons is the best diapering system I have come across to date. First: as cloth diapers go, they are run pretty middle-of-the-road on price. The nice thing is, the covers can be reused as long as they are dry and unsoiled, so you don’t need that many–and the liners are pretty inexpensive. I’ve found that for one baby, 6 covers and 15 liners is really all I need to keep my laundering down to every 2-3 days. Buttons are easy to use. The covers are durable and simple to care for. They’re resizable. I’ve used them for children 10 lbs to over 35 lbs. But the thing that really sets them above the competition is the double leg gussets. These things are genius at keeping leaks and blowouts at bay – and off your kids’ clothing! I mean, you’re already washing diapers. Who needs more laundry, amen?
- Rumparooz Newborn (for preemies and newbies) – These won’t work for micro-preemies, but any baby in the 4-12 lb. range will comfortably fit in the Rumparooz. Like Button’s diapers, they are resizable and have double-leg gussets. I can’t testify to their longevity, as we only use them in the initial weeks after birth, but they certainly do the job, and the starter set is reasonably priced and worth the investment. However, many cloth diapering parents prefer to use disposables in the early weeks, and I totally get that. We’ve done it in the past with some of our kids. We do keep a very small stash of disposables on hand for the first couple of days until all meconium has passed, as well. That stuff is like tar, and I do not want to have to deal with it in my laundry immediately postpartum. No thank you.
- Liners for Toddlers – Around 12 months, I switch my babies form the small Buttons inserts to the large. A single liner for day time (including naps) works great. At night, I can double them up.
- Liners for Night-time (Heavy Wetters) – For my heavy wetters, or once baby reaches about 15-18 months, I switch to these heavier liners. Try one at first, and if need be, use two together to prevent night-time leaks. With a toddler who is not potty trained at nap, I will use these during nap-time, as well.
- Pull-ups for Older Kids (Night-Time Only) – As I said, I have older children (ages 3-6) who have not been ready to night-train. This is perfectly developmentally normal for some children, and in fact, our pediatric urologist won’t even recommend further intervention until they have reached age 7. I know the best thing I can do as a mother is to support my children and not place my own insecurities on them by shaming behavior they cannot control. But, I’ll be honest, it’s way easier to pull that off when I’m not having to wash sheets six days a week! These training pants are the only ones I have found that completely contain leaks all night long–even for my 6.5 year old who insists on sleeping with his water bottle. I can’t recommend them enough. They are super puffy, so for sleepovers, you might want to keep a stash of disposables on-hand, as they are easier to camoflauge. It does take them a very long time to dry, so be sure to purchase enough to account for this. I find that four per child is a comfortable number so that I’m not stressed about laundry or finding myself without a pull-up when we need one.
CARING FOR THE DIAPERS
- Dirty Laundry Storage – Some people pre-soak their diapers in a pail with a lid. If you are planning to hand-wash your diapers, this is the best method. However, for those of us who rely on the convenience of a washing machine, it’s really not necessary, and it can be sloppy to deal with when it comes time to transfer diapers to the machine. I use a large lidded pail (it’s actually an old, empty COSTCO kitty litter container), fitted with this waterproof liner. The liner is made of the same materials as the Buttons Diaper covers. I toss it in with the rest of the wash and hang it up to dry, just like I would the covers.
- Laundering Technique – Using a long, gentle cycle on my washing machine works best. You want to use cold or warm wash cycles – not hot – or you run the risk of damaging the waterproof barrier on your covers. I also use a pre-wash setting, putting Bac-Out (see below) in on this precycle to cut through any tough odors. Other than that, I just use a gentle, fragrance-free detergent (we’re all about hypoallergenic in our house) and I’ve never had any problems. To dry inserts, I just put them on a hot cycle until thoroughly dry. The covers, however, need a little more T.L.C. In the summertime, I can hang them over our deck rail, with the outside exposed to the sun, and they’ll be dry in a couple hours. During our long, rainy winters here in Seattle, I prefer doing diaper laundry in the evening and leaving the covers to dry overnight on this lovely contraption.
- Bac-Out – This stuff is magic. Seriously. Magic. I can get pretty much any smell out of my diapers with this. Except fish oil (see below). That stuff is evil. Plus, Bac-Out is totally natural and gentle even on my family’s uber-sensitive skin. It’s also brilliant for accidents on the rug and all sorts of other stinky stuff that goes on when you’re raising littles. If I see it on sale, I buy in bulk.
NATURAL BOTTOM CARE
- Diaper “Cream” – I have to say, my kids are very, very prone to diaper rash. And they don’t just get rashes. They get horrible, open welts! Typical diaper creams like Desitin only made it worse (the zinc in the cream seemed to create a breeding ground for bacteria, and my kids wound up with staph infections every time.) This issue (and the ensuing regimen of antibiotics that never seemed to end) is what pushed me to start finding naturopathic remedies for what ailed us. It wasn’t the other way around, trust me. Our naturopath ended up turning us onto calendula, which is amazing at dealing with the short term effects of skin disorders. Earth Mama’s Angel Baby Bottom Balm is wonderful for your run-of-the-mill diaper rash. Bonus: it smells fantastic.
- Remedies for Tougher Cases – For more persistent rashes that won’t be cured with Bottom Balm alone, I like to make a tea of calendula petals and pour a couple cups into a shallow bath and let my babies soak for 10-15 minutes while they play. I also use a calendula spray that my local herbal store mixes up for me. There are brand name ones available, as well, including Hyland’s, but I don’t know if they work as well as ours.
TIPS + TRICKS
- DO NOT GIVE YOUR CLOTH DIAPERED BABY FISH OIL!!!! This one’s in CAPS for a reason, people. If you give your cloth diapered child fish oil, your diapers will smell of fish. Let me rephrase that. They will REEK of fish! They will STINK! There is no way to stress this enough, and I have never found a way to combat it. Since my kids hate fish oil anyway and fight me on it every chance they get, I just make sure to take a supplement when I’m pregnant and breastfeeding, and then we wait until they are old enough to swallow capsules. Problem solved.
- Cloth Wipes – I used to use unscented disposable wipes until I discovered that one of my children’s skin issues were seriously exacerbated by even the gentlest brands. Now we use cloth wipes (these are my favorites), and upon switching I discovered an added bonus. It is so much easier to just toss the dirty wipes in with the rest of the laundry than to have to use separate trash for the disposables! It’s even easier than flushable wipes, and my toddlers and preschoolers always love helping to fold them. I store my wipes in this contraption with plain tap water and, if needed, a bit of witch hazel. When I’m out and about, I put a few dampened wipes into this container and pop it in my diaper bag.
- When You Need to, Take a Break! – Cloth diapering may save my sanity most days, but there are times when it is a pain. When we took our 10-day road trip to California last summer, I brought disposable diapers. (I still used cloth wipes, as my kids just can’t handle disposables. I laundered them halfway through the trip at family member’s house.) When I was suffering from 24/7 nausea during my first trimester, I switched between disposables and cloth as I was able. It’s okay to take a break sometimes. Know your limits, and do what works best for your family. Remember, you can always switch back when things calm down.