How to make cloth diapers work for the modern parent (& why if done right you will come to love them)
I have met hundreds of parents and almost all of them are curious–and confused–about cloth diapers. As one student asked looking at my display table, “That cute thing is a CLOTH diaper?” Indeed, cloth diapers aren’t the ugly, bulky things held together by safety pins that many of us grew up with.
Your baby is likely to use over 7,000 diapers before he or she is (cross your fingers) potty trained. Diapering (though in part about fashion) does also have a major impact on the health of the planet and on the health of your child.
Most of the friends I know that are using cloth diapers did not, actually, choose to use them to be green. Of course, they liked this aspect of it, but they chose to use them in most cases because they wanted to 1) save money or 2) protect the health of their baby.
Indeed, over the course of a few years, cloth diapering will save you about $2,000 versus using disposables. (And, if you use your cloth diapers again for another child you will be saving an additional $2,000 to $3,000 with each child). Babies who wear cloth diapers versus disposables also get fewer diaper rashes without having to use barrier creams, thus you can save even more than that by not buying diaper creams and using reusable, cloth diaper wipes. Cloth is also way better for the environment. And is better for your child’s health. (Read the Dirt on Disposable Diapers to learn more.)
Make Cloth Diapering Work for You
Cloth diapering, like just about every new aspect of parenting, can be made easier by finding a “system.” Other parents are a great source of information for tips that work and for advice about what you really need. The following are some commonly asked questions and ideas to help get your started.
- Which cloth diapers are right for you? These are not your Grandmother’s or mother’s cloth diapers. Cloth diapers today can be more beautiful and easier than ever. But keeping them all straight isn’t easy. Read this article to Demystify Cloth Diaper Types to understand what prefold, all-in-one, pocket, hybrid, and all the other terms mean and what might work for you.
- Where will you change your baby? For our first baby, my husband built a beautiful wood change table and diaper storage system. By the time we had our second, that piece of furniture had been repurposed as a buffet, so we simply changed the baby on the bed. Diapers, wipes, and all the other accoutrements still need a home, and the closer to the bathroom the easier in most cases. My new favourite system is one my friend built: similar to those plastic ones that fold down from the wall in a public restroom. Only, this one is made of wood. It’s convenient and hardly takes up any space.
- Learn to wash YOUR diapers. Different kinds of diapers need different care. If treated well, cloth diapers can serve multiple generations of children. Indeed, I’ve known families of four that used the same diapers for all four. There are tips for conserving water, energy, and time. Read this article on How to Wash Cloth Diapers.
- Have a pail for the dirty diapers. My friend Barry used a stainless steel compost pail for soiled diapers. We used a small garbage can with a foot pedal. I’ve tried a large wet bag with a zipper too. Cloth diapers aren’t as stinky as disposable diapers because there aren’t added chemicals and fragrances to react with the pee and poo.
- Have a strategy for poo. Some people use flushable liners inside the cloth diapers so the poop just falls into the toilet; others use a hose attached to the toilet to wash the poo out of the diapers. We just do it the old-fashioned way and dunk the diaper in the toilet until the poo comes off.
- Have a strategy for bum cleaning. Avoid chemical-laden disposable wipes. Instead, create a cleaning station wherever you change your baby. For our first, we kept a coffee carafe of warm, sudsy water on our change table and used cloth wipes. For the second, we just washed her in the bathroom sink and had clean rags piled nearby to pat her dry.
Have an on-the-go strategy. Changing a cloth diaper when you’re out isn’t any harder than using a disposable as long as you have the right tools: wet cloth wipes in a baggy, a waterproof diaper bag for the dirty ones, and a few clean diapers. Put all of these in a bag (like a Ziploc or a wet bag made especially for the job) and you can throw it into whatever diaper bag, backpack, or purse you are using that day.
Want the text book that will help you become the expert on greening your baby’s bum or others related to caring for your family? Or, if you just want the source material cited in this article or other great reading lists, get the Green Mama book.