Ask Amma

How many / what kind of cloth diapers?

In What on 27 October 2011 at 3:41 am

Have you used cloth diapers? Which brands did you like? There are so many that it is hard to make a choice. How many will I need if I plan on washing every other day?

– mom-to-be in Connecticut

Diapers drying on the line.  Source:  Mother Nature Network

Diapers drying on the line. Source: Mother Nature Network

Babies get so many adorable outfits – but is there time to wear them before they outgrow them? And what about the eyebrow of grandma, poised to rise sharply if anything spills on them … and hence the cute bibs, some hand-embroidered by the same grandma, and equally guarded by her glance.

Along come cloth diapers. Will baby wear them? Yes! Definitely! Many, every day! Can they get wet / dirty? yes! They certainly will! Many times, every day!

Cloth diapers have become a cottage industry among moms and dads ready to share the love, their skills and earn some income while keeping the bottoms comfy (and pretty!) and the planet a little greener.

In India the baby stores generally sell the simple flat, contoured cloth that has either a drawstring or velcro closure. These are the simplest and best, in my experience. The closest thing widely available in the US is the prefold – Gerber and Sesame Street brands were there in the store last time I looked. There are dozens online too and that is where things get fancier – contoured, fitteds, all-in-ones, etc. At my breastfeeding support group I met a woman who made and sold these for a little income. You might meet someone locally as well.

Diapers on the Line.  Source:

Diapers on the Line. Source:

Advantages of the simple flat diaper: cheap and easy to wash/dry.  Without a second thought, can change every time it gets wet. Because these diapers are not too thick, one will easily know when they get wet. So baby quickly associates bodily function with expecting a clean diaper. 2-3 dozen of these and you are set. If they don’t have velcro or drawstring, then to close them you need the snappi (goodbye, diaper pins) and/or a pair of underpants pulled on over them.  Some baby clothes come with matching underpants that can double as covers for flat diapers as well.

Fitteds are cute (and pretty!), so you may get tempted 🙂 The thicker ones can get more wet before you have to change them but this just means that baby stays in them longer. If you think they would be useful when going out, keep a few in the stash.

You can use waterproof diaper covers along with the diapers or you can get all-in-ones that have the cover sewn right in. I found these handy when we stayed overnight in a new place. Of course I also had a rubber sheet for the bed.

If you are practicing elimination communication, your diaper use will start to come down after a few months, though it will still have ups and downs. See, for example, Back Up Diapers- HELP! .  Generally, cloth diapers facilitate communication since unlike disposables they do not hide the wetness or delay the change. For better results, try not to use the diaper cover at home and let baby go diaper-free at least part of the time.  Get waterproof sheets for the bed, rug, carseat, and anywhere else the baby hangs out. Carter’s sells flannel lap-pads that you can use while handing baby around to protect visitors’ laps.

So back to the question – how many to buy: If you are in a place where the floors are easily mopped and leaks are accepted – like most of India and a small yet growing part of the newly diaper-free community in the first world (including first-world pockets of India), then 2 dozen simple flat diapers should be plenty.  You can just cut and fold old T-shirts, saris, bedsheets, towels etc and wrap them around baby’s bottom.  Or you can buy them ready made for about Rs. 50 each.   These come with velcro or drawstring closure.  You can also get infant size underpants to pull over the cloth.  These aren’t strictly necessary, and will be too hot in summer.  In winter though, I found the extra layer useful, and it also looks neater.

If you are in a place with carpets or low tolerance for leaks, then you will need some waterproof diaper covers.  To resist the pressure to use disposables, you should also get fitteds.   Some people enjoy browsing through the endless varieties of cloth diapers on the market, but if you want to buy it all at once and be done with it, get 2-3 dozen flats, 6 covers, 6-8 fitteds and 3-6 all-in-ones.  Or get half that to start, see what you like and build the stash over time.

Offer plenty of bare-bottom time, and you will use fewer diapers each day.  This will naturally give you some idea of timing and maybe even signals and cues that go with the big and small jobs.  If you follow these timings and cues and allow baby to relieve himself or herself accordingly, baby is likely to use diapers for fewer months/ years than s/he would otherwise.

See also:  Decommissioning the Diaper

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