Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Cloth diapers: a brief (HA HA) manifesto

I haven't posted here in so long; I've just been enjoying reading about Cameron's amazing journey. Let's all give the lady a hand, hear hear! (Clap, clap, clap, etc.)

OK, let's talk about cloth diapers.

Science will tell you that cloth diapers are better than disposable for the environment. This is a fact; look it up. If you find research to the contrary, keep in mind that it was, with absolute certainty, funded by diaper-making companies. This is also a fact.

Now, I know this, and yet I myself have used (and still do, sometimes) disposable diapers. No one is perfect. And the kind of diapers you use has nothing to do with whether you are an excellent mother. But if you are interested in cloth diapering, I thought I’d share what I’ve found out through personal experience (especially since a few people have been asking me cloth diapering advice lately).

Fending off the well-intentioned
I’ve heard a lot of stories from other mamas and friends of mamas about well-meaning family members trying to dissuade them from using cloth diapers. It makes sense when you think about it: everyone wants a new mom to be well-rested (HA HA HA) and happy (HO HO HO), so they encourage her to keep things easy, uncomplicated. Something these folks might not realize is that cloth diapering is a totally different story from the days of our mothers and grandmothers—or even diapering moms 10 years ago. It’s positively easy these days. The level of ease varies depending on what kind of diapers you use (keep reading!), but all in all, it’s not so hard when you get the hang of it.

A rainbow of butt coverings
If you get into cloth diapering to save money (as I did), stick with the basics: cotton pre-folds and covers. Pins aren’t necessary any more with the invention of the blessed Snappi; and that might not even be necessary with certain snap-on/Velcro covers (as opposed to pull-up covers; think underwear, more or less).

If you have a bit more dough and are primarily interested with ease, consider pocket diapers (with removable inserts, such as Fuzzi-Bunz) or all-in-ones (just what it sounds like – no inserts, just one solid piece of diaper, such as bumGenius).

Personally, I scored a small army of Fuzzi-Bunz second-hand, which is a great way to ease into cloth-diapering. But (maybe because they were second-hand), Tommy would get more rashes with them, and so I generally stick to pre-folds. For covers, I’ve both inherited and hand-knit a few pull-on covers (sometimes called “soakers”) that I use with a Snappi. I also use Bummis Super Whisper Wraps, no Snappi needed. (Don’t you love those brand names?)

What about poop?

Ah, yes indeed, what about it. Well, my friends, once babies start eating solids, their poop correspondingly gets solid. Shake that mess in the toilet, man. I keep a small bucket next to the changing table to facilitate trips to the bathroom. Easy-peasy.

If money is no object, consider a diaper service near you. The one where I live supplies diapers (but not covers) and a handy diaper pail (for, like, $12 extra or something). It’s so easy: once a week, you leave the dirty diaper pail outside near your door, they come by and empty it and leave a pack of clean diapers. The price is comparable to buying name-brand disposables.

I choose to wash diapers at home, again to save money. It is not nearly as gross as you think. I use Charlie’s Soap for this (and for all of our laundry – super cheap when you work out how many loads you get from one bag). The diapers pre-soak in cold water, go through a hot/cold cycle, and then an extra rinse. Some people add baking soda and/or vinegar for extra freshness (or to get rid of yeast); recipes and methods abound online.

I happen to live in an area that’s been hit with a historic drought. We save water like insane people preparing for the apocalypse otherwise, but that does bring me to…

Drought: A word on composting and E.C.
I’ve tried and enjoyed gDiapers, which are basically cloth covers with a plastic liner, in which you snap inserts that can be flushed or composted (the ones that aren’t poopy, and don’t have diaper ointment on them). They’re too expensive for us to use them regularly, but the upside is I use those cloth covers constantly with regular cotton pre-folds.

I’ve never had the gumption to try Elimination Communication, which involves no diapers at all – but I personally know women in real life who use and swear by this method.

My own experience
To be honest, I hated cloth diapers at first. I just didn’t get it, and part of it was my hang-up in those early days of parenting that there was a Right Way to do things and a Wrong Way. I couldn’t figure out how to fold the diapers the Right Way or use the covers the Right Way. Later I realized that there is no Right Way or Wrong Way, just Your Way. I have since come up with various ways of folding and snapping that suit our needs well. Learn to embrace deviation and invention, if you can. That might be the hardest part of all.

We still use disposables, as I mentioned — Tommy seems prone to eczema and other rashy episodes, so putting them on at night and while traveling really helps. There are days where we use only cloth diapers, and days where I go through far too many disposables. I figure that anything we can do to reduce waste is helpful, and the goal is to do your best.


Cameron Clark | baby business blog said...

This is a great column Mary Jessica! I appreciate this wisdom. I am going to shoot some cute photos of Owen in his cloth diapers. I love my wool covers from organic caboose. My friend Aurora has a great cover from Lana that has little arms that go down the legs...I am also enjoying the organic caboose snap on size newborn. GREAT GIFT! THANKS SARAH (my super mother-in-law) My advise is to make sure those cloth diapers are snug around the leg...
Also, Let's hear it for snappi! Pins are scary. I saw a good site called and ordered some good stuff from them: wool wash, waterproof cloth diaper holder (for the diaper bag) and they have most brands you mentioned.

Pauline said...

Hi Mary Jessica!
I love this column. As a reviewer of mom and baby products for (Five FAbulous Finds column) I get to try a bunch of cool stuff, and this is how I was introduced to the world of cloth-diapering.
Like you, I do it mainly to save money. I'd like to say the enviroment is my motivator, but the bank account would prove me a liar.
Either way, I love that you suggested using the gDiapers cover with a pre-fold. I am a Fuzzi Bunz user myself, but scored two gDiaper thingies for review and well, the cost is just not worth it for me. So I think I may try your pre-fold suggestion.
And is it weird that I have never tried using a pre-fold yet? hmmm...