Just weeks before my first child was born, I was feeling superstitious and refused to buy or have any baby things in the house. Luckily, I ran into an old friend at an organic farming meeting who already had three children. She offered me some of her cloth diapers and “a few other things” I might need.
Within a few days, her husband arrived with a minivan stuffed with pretty much everything I needed from birth to age 3. There were baby carriers, hundreds of adorable outfits, toys, and more. We stored everything “outside” on the screened porch. But the only things I allowed myself to sneak inside before the birth were a few cloth diapers. My excuse was I needed to practice my folds and see how the covers and clips worked. I remember sitting hugely pregnant on the couch, folding diapers around a doll with more hope building inside me than I could hold.
What I learned from my experiment was that there are lots of options. There is so much information and many competing types of cloth diapers, so it’s easy to get lost in the weeds and not wind up making a choice at all. I wound up using cloth diapers for my two children and even went so far as to make some of my own diapers and wool covers on my sewing machine. I learned a few things along the way.
1. There are lots of options and tons of confusing marketing. Even the niche world of green baby products can be big and overwhelming when you have a newborn at home and no time for Google. There is even a whole kind of annoying cloth diaper lingo. You can spend lots and lots of time and money searching for the best, but like most things, it is better to keep it simple.
2. The old fashioned “pre-folds” which look like fluffed-up burp cloths are affordable and work great. They are just squares of quilted fabric, which all mothers need even if the cloth diapering doesn’t work for you. They are basically super absorbent, layered cotton fabric, priceless during potty training. You will need some type of cover with these, and again, there will be lots of choices. I bought mine from Green Mountain Diapers, whose website also explains it all.
3. With cloth diapers, you get to control all the ingredients next to your child’s skin. I chose all organic and/or unbleached 100% cotton fabric. You rarely get that kind of control using disposable diapers.
4. Cloth diapers usually come in two parts: an absorbent inner liner and a waterproof cover. Wool works great as a cover because it is breathable and naturally waterproof if you wash them properly. You can also choose fleece and laminated cotton covers. Most just Velcro in place with no need for pins.
5. There a many kinds of “all-in-one” diapers (AIOs for the cloth diaper in-crowd) available now, made with various fabric types and colors. They tend to be pretty expensive and because there are so many layers of fabric they may not wash as clean. Also, since they are pre-fitted, they are more likely not to fit or not to fit for long, which seems cost prohibitive. They are the most like disposables so they can work better in day care or babysitter settings, and many of them are super cute.
6. You will do more laundry, so you need a good working washing machine and dryer if you can’t line dry. I was doing lots of laundry anyway during the baby years, so it didn’t make a huge difference. Of course there is an environmental impact on laundry as well so there is no perfect choice, but reusing feels a lot less wasteful.
7. You will probably change diapers a bit more often, especially if you use cotton because they get wet! As a plus, many parents say cloth helps with potty training because babies and toddlers can feel the wetness. Also, changing more is just cleaner. I was just in a pharmacy and saw some disposable diapers advertised as working for 12 hours—gross!
8. Babies go through thousands of disposable diapers a year. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “Disposable diapers last centuries in landfills. An average baby will go through 8,000 of them!” I worked on recycling and landfill issues before I had children and was well aware of the environmental impact of disposable diapers, especially when they are wrapped in extra layers of plastic.
9. There is a national cloth diaper lending service called “Cloth for all” and Kveller’s Mayim Bialik is one of their supporters. I love this idea because everyone is not lucky enough to have a giant stash of cloth diapers dropped on their porch, and disposable diapers are very expensive over time. According to their website, “We provide clean reusable cloth diapers to those families who cannot afford the continued cost of disposable diapers or the initial start up cost associated with switching full time to cloth diapers.” How cool is that?
10. Cloth diapering parents are not judging you if you choose disposables. It is not a perfect system; we still need to use energy and water to wash our diapers. Most cloth diapering families will use disposable diapers while traveling, etc. As with all things parenting-related, you just need to find what works best for you.