Sunday, November 6, 2011

My Take on Cloth Diapers

Bum Genius One-Size Pocket Diapers

A friend of mine, knowing that Jeff and I use cloth diapers on Alexa, sent me an email not too long ago. It was relatively long, and quite humorous to someone who’s “been there/done that,” but it really all boiled down to the first two sentences:

Okay, so I just spent HOURS reading through sites about cloth diapers.  I took pages of notes and am basically just as confused and uncertain as I was when I started.
After I finished laughing at her—and at myself, because I remembered feeling exactly the same way—I typed a long response. I didn’t really answer her underlying question (“Which diapers should I buy?”), because no one can answer that question for someone else, especially when the baby hasn’t yet arrived. But I told her about my experiences, and I think she found it helpful.

I do not by any means claim to be an expert in cloth diapering—those of you who truly are experts will laugh at the limited wisdom I have to share—but it’s possible that my experiences may provide a useful starting point for someone else who is considering cloth but who feels a bit overwhelmed by all the options. For that potential someone out there, I present my response to my friend. Here is my take on cloth diapering.


I'm sorry but when I read this email ... I just had to laugh! I remember feeling the same way.

There are so many different opinions out there because no one system works well for every mom, or for every baby. For some moms, the convenience of all-in-ones (AIOs) outweighs the price; for others, the flexibility of prefolds and covers trumps the less-bulkiness of pocket diapers. And for some babies, one-size (OS) diapers work great, but for others, the leg openings just can't be adjusted quite right. It's trial and error, definitely with each mom, and to some degree, with each baby.
Diapers drying

I would suggest that to get started, you do one of two things:

(1) Based on your research, make a list of different options that you want to try. Then get on eBay, Craigslist, wherever, and find them used (lots of new-diaper stores also sell used). Buy one of each at really good prices, and try them.

(2) Buy a pre-packaged "trial" set that includes a variety; you don't usually get to pick what's in it. The one from Jillian's Drawers is the one that I would have tried had I not ended up buying a bunch of used Bum Geniuses (BGs), because it's the only one I've seen that will let you return what you don’t like. You can order up to 3 months before the due date so you have time for prewashing, and you can keep them for 21 days after the birth--or, in case of adoption, presumably 21 days after the baby comes home. If you like them, you keep them. If you don't, you send them back and get a refund, minus shipping costs and a $10 fee. The link is for the newborn pack, but they have a similar package with larger sizes. Jillians Drawers also has a sample pack of diaper covers if you decide to go with prefolds and covers, and a trial pack of 2 or 3 detergents—we like Charlie's Soap; it's cheaper than the other one we tried (Allenby's, I think), and the only complaint is that it causes some babies to get a rash, but not Alexa, so we're fine with it. (FYI, it is possible to find better prices elsewhere, but I think Jillians Drawers is particularly good for the "don't know what I'm doing, need samplers" phase.)

A third option (not recommended) is what I did: pick something, buy a bunch of them, and hope and pray it works!

Because I went with option #3, I can't tell you much about most of the brands you've looked at. What I can tell you is my experience:

We bought several used Bum Genius (BG) one-size (OS) pocket diapers before Alexa was born. We also bought a lot of unbleached Indian prefolds and the newborn diaper cover sampler from Jillians Drawers, because so many people said that the BGs didn't fit newborns well. Alexa came early; nothing was ready, and nothing was washed. We put her in disposables. By the time we switched to cloth, she'd outgrown all but one of the diaper covers. The BGs didn't fit her well—I thought it was because of her body shape; I realized later that the elastic needed to be replaced.

Imse Vimse Cover: Jungle print
So we ordered the cover sampler pack in the next larger size. It included a Prowrap Classic, an Imse Vimse organic cotton cover, a Thirsties cover, and a Bummis Super Whisper Wrap. At that stage, I liked all of them except the Prowrap. It just didn't fit her well. The Imse Vimse was great because (1) it fit the largest weight
range and (2) it had a huge velcro section on the front, so you could adjust it the same way you can a disposable, by simply putting the tabs wherever they need to go to make it fit well. The others had just a strip of velcro across the front, so they weren't as adjustable. But the Imse Vimse (not 100% organic cotton, BTW, because it has a PUL—polyurethane laminate—waterproof layer in between two cotton layers) was really thick, and a really thick cover on top of a really thick prefold ... way bulky. And urine tended to wick through more than in the others. The Thirsties was great (it eventually became our favorite) because it was a single, thin layer of PUL that didn't add much bulk but that did the job of keeping the mess in. The Bummis also was great, a single thin layer, but less flexible and it didn't have the double leg gussets that the Thirsties had, which for us meant that it was a little more likely to leak ... especially the runny newborn poop. Yuck.

When Alexa outgrew those, we ordered a bunch of Thirsties covers in the next size up, and the next larger size of prefolds.

Throughout most of this, we used disposables at night, because the prefolds and covers just didn't seem
absorbent enough for nighttime use. At some point, I figured out that the elastic on the used BGs was the problem with those and not the BGs themselves, so we ordered two new BGs, and we used those as night
diapers--using the regular insert and the newborn insert as a doubler. They worked great. (Later, when she started wetting more at night, that wasn't enough. We switched to disposables at night again; I still haven’t figured out the best nighttime solution for us, but I’m considering trying a wool diaper—those are very expensive but are supposed to be excellent.)

Around that time, I got really tired of dealing with prefolds. With prefolds, you have to decide how you're going to fold them (there are approximately 1.3 gazillion options), get it on the baby, and then get the cover on too. With a wiggly baby, it can be difficult. I just got tired of it and wanted something simpler. So we ordered more BG OS pocket diapers, and I started using them full time, doing laundry every day. During the evacuation, my mom replaced the elastic on my used ones, so now I have enough to wash them only every other day.

I love my BGs. They fit well, they aren't too bulky, they're simple to use, and they’re easy to wash.

I also have a few BG AIOs that came with the used set. I can use them but don't prefer them. The newer ones may be different, but mine do not have a soft, wick-the-moisture-away-from-the-baby inner lining like the pocket diapers, so they’re less comfortable. They also take approximately ten years to line dry. The pocket diapers have inserts that can go in the dryer, and the covers line dry overnight ... actually less time than that, at least in dry climates.

Bottom line pros and cons of what I've used:
BG4.0 pocket diapers, and an extra insert

Prefolds and covers—PROS: least expensive; most flexible; easy to launder and dry. Although prefolds are sized, so you'll have to buy more, there's a big range that they'll fit. Covers can be sized or OS. CONS: no moisture-wicking layer against baby's skin, annoying to use, especially for babysitters.

Pocket diapers—PROS: super easy to use because they're put on like disposables; the BGs and probably most others have a moisture-wicking layer; dry relatively quickly. Middle price range. Can be sized or OS. CONS: ... let me think ... oh, yeah, don't always fit newborns well, and you’ll have to remember to remove the insert before it goes in the diaper pail, unless you use something like the GoGreen model that has slits in both ends so that the insert agitates out in the wash. (Never used those but read a glowing review here.)
All in ones—PROS: easiest to use; no remembering anything about inserts other than putting a doubler in for nighttime use or if baby's a heavy wetter. Can be sized or OS. CONS: most expensive option; they take approximately ten years to
dry—seriously, overnight didn't cut it, not even in dry-as-dust Egypt, although two nights on the line usually worked. But it felt like ten years when I didn't do laundry frequently enough and I was running low on diapers!

BG All-in-Ones
I understand wanting to get one kind and stick with it, so as not to confuse yourself. That's pretty well what we've done, with the exception of using both prefolds/covers and pockets. (The AIOs function so similarly to the pockets, and are the same brand and everything, that I don't really count them as "different" for learning curve purposes.) I'm really tempted, though, constantly, to buy others. For some reason, I always read the reviews that Mary Grace posts on Books and Bairns. Don't know why, because it always triggers the "grass is greener" response--I really want some of those diapers she's reviewed!  And I think that both Jeff and I could keep a lot of different diapering systems straight ... except that I know Jeff doesn't want to. So I'm sticking with BGs, since that's what we're used to. BUT, I'd say make that your goal for after you've decided what type of diaper you like best. You may even find multiple brands that function similarly enough to be interchangeable—from what I've read, I bet there's little difference between BG and FuzziBunz, for example. It'll be confusing at first. That's just how it is.

But if it's too overwhelming, especially at first, remember that it really won't kill you, baby, or the planet to use disposables for overnight or to give yourself a break to figure things out. Give yourself permission not to be a purist; it's a real sanity-saver!
I think that's everything for now ... probably information overload :) Take your time; digest; if you have questions, ask. Many communities have groups that meet regularly where you can learn about cloth diapers from moms who use different systems. Some doulas, although their primary function is to help moms during birth, also offer classes on cloth diapering. So, if you feel the need, schedule meetings or classes ... but for before baby's born; you won't have time or energy after.

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