How to make cloth diapering easy (and stick with it)

Want to watch instead of read? Check out my appearance on CTV Morning Live Ottawa here.

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Before my daughter was born, I walked in to a local cloth diaper shop and stared blankly at the wall of diapers.

“What are the differences? How do you know which one to buy?” I asked the woman behind the counter.

“They all work,” she replied, “you just have to find the one that works best for you.”

I continued to stare.

“I don’t know where to start,” I told her.

“That’s how I feel standing in front of a mascara display at Sephora,” she laughed.

Mascara? That’s easy, I thought. Over a couple decades of wearing make-up I knew exactly what I wanted out of a mascara. But cloth diapers…? I didn’t understand what she meant.

I walked out of the store without buying a thing and then went on to make a rookie mistake: I registered for (and very kindly received) an entire stash of cloth diapers before my baby was even born.  I based my decision on what I had read online and what I thought was cute.

We used them eagerly at the beginning but had given up before she was three-months-old.

When baby #2 came along I decided I wanted to try cloth again. This time I would do it differently.

I learned a lot this time around and we are happily still using cloth almost 10 months in.

And just know – it gets easier as you go. The first three months with your baby are so tough in so many ways. Diapering isn’t any different. They need changed more often, it’s all watery, you’re tired and busy. Nearly 10 months in, I find cloth diapering now a total breeze! And it is supposed to make potty training easier. I’ll have to get back to you on that one.

I’ll have to get back to you on that one. In the meantime, here are 10 things I’ve learned about cloth diapering:

1 – Don’t buy your diapers before the baby is born.

Most cloth diaper stores or services offer a trial pack so you can try a range of diapers for a week (or more) and decide which one works best with your child. I found some were absolutely leak free but later talked to another mom who said that same brand leaked every time with her daughter. Every baby is different and there is such and incredible range of cloth diapers – flats, pre-folds, all-in-twos, all-in-ones – you really have to take some time to figure out what works best for you and your baby. My husband and I were looking for the convenience of a disposable in a diaper that wouldn’t leak so we were most interested in trying various all-in-one diapers.

2 – The first three months are nothing like the rest.

One-size diapers (diapers you can use from birth to potty training) are all the rage now and it makes sense because you buy one set of diapers instead of a few in each size. When we tried one on baby G at a week old we hated all the extra fabric bunching around his legs. I didn’t see how that could provide a leak-free diaper. I was absolutely against the one-size diaper! We bought some newborn-size all-in-ones and were good to go. By the time he was growing out of those I decided to do a second trial and realized the one-size diapers fit much better. A lot of companies now offer a one-size and a newborn or small size. If you really want to stick with cloth diapering, take the small size to get you through the first few months (you can sell them online afterwards and get some of your money back).

3- Cloth diapers don’t have to be hard to clean.

I did a ton of reading as we prepared to try cloth with baby G and somehow thought I needed to use special soaps – only a quarter of the normal amount – and fancy settings on our washing machine to properly clean the diapers. Then there was the prepping and the stripping and the … no, no, no. I was so wrong. Check out Fluff Love University – it literally has everything you need to know about cloth diapers. It turns out the proper way to clean my diapers is with Tide and hot water. Easy.

4 – Cloth diapers really don’t add that much laundry.

If you already think cloth diapers are a bit “icky” you might want to stop reading here. I wash my diapers with other clothes. That’s right! Poop and pee and clothes. It doesn’t phase me. Listen, breastmilk poop is water soluble. You can literally toss that s*** straight into the wash. When you move on to solids you just put a liner in the diaper and when you take the diaper off you toss it in the toilet, rinse any residue off the diaper and it’s ready to wash. Washers are meant to get things clean! I haven’t had any problem of smell or anything else transferring to the clothes. I have a load of laundry ready to go every single day but  not a load of diapers so there is no way I’m going to waste the water and energy on a small wash when I can just wash it all together. You can save your diapers in a wet bag or pail until you have a full load but I have found that more problematic.

5 – Babies don’t care if they feel wet.

At least, my baby doesn’t. I remember with big G, being back in that local cloth diaper store asking how I can ensure she won’t feel wet at night. I had decided that was the reason my beautiful baby wasn’t sleeping well (not because she was two months old or anything). The woman said to me “it’s warm, babies really don’t care.” I didn’t believe her so I bought a set of fleece liners that would provide a “stay-dry” effect. My mom told me we all had cloth diapers and we all slept fine. I still didn’t believe it. With baby G I decided to have a little faith and guess what?! He slept fine with a wet diaper. That kid would fill his diaper overnight – I mean soak through every last fiber – and he still slept fine. If you don’t believe me, don’t worry because there are many diapers or inserts with a “stay-dry” option so your baby can feel as dry as any disposable-wrapped butt!

6 – It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

That seems like such a logical statement but with big G I honestly thought I had to be all in or all out and I have no idea why. With big G we were having trouble with our diapers overnight and decided to switch to disposables. As soon as we made that move, I felt like we had to give up the whole idea – day and night. A few months later, I met a mom at a baby massage class and noticed she was using cloth and I asked her how she dealt with the nights. She said, “we use disposable.” It was so simple. It struck me then that I hadn’t really thought of that. In my mind using any disposable diapers was giving up. When baby G was about three-and-a-half months old, he started waking more and eating more and soaking his cloth diapers. No number of boosters could keep him dry so we decided to use disposables at night and cloth during the day. If we are going on vacation we buy some extra disposables and use those for the duration of the trip and switch back to cloth as soon as we return. It’s so easy. We are back at a point that we can easily go cloth 100 per cent of the time, but I keep a few disposables on hand for times when we decide it’s not the best option. Baby G doesn’t care what we put on him!

A few bonus tips:

1 – Find a diaper you like and stick with that instead of building up a stash of different diapers.

When my husband changes baby G, he always grabs a disposable and I can’t really blame him; we have so many different diapers he doesn’t know what goes with what. If I made it easier for him he’d stick with it (I often put diapers together for him and lay them out if I’m leaving the house). You will read about peoples’ “stash” and think it’s a good thing, but it’s not.

2 – You might want to break that rule at night.

What works for several hours during the day might not work for 8-12 hours at night. With some diapers you can add a booster (additional insert) to get through the night but we used a totally different diaper. I had heard from a number of people that the Mother-Ease bamboo Sandy’s diaper was the best for overnights. I don’t remember trying it with big G but with baby G we paired it with a wool cover and it was fantastic! It has excellent absorbency and I liked the idea of using wool at night (but not during the day because the whole thing was a touch bulky!).

3 – You can save money by buying second-hand, recycling things around the house (blankets, old towels etc) or buying material and sewing your own.

I always tell people I go to really great lengths to be lazy. You see, we really liked the idea of the all-in-one diaper but they’re expensive! So, I decided I would sew my own (tutorial to come). And even though I’m not a really great seamstress but I have managed to sew some really cute diapers. The biggest savings for me came in buying a few meters of organic hemp and bamboo and sewing my own inserts (literally just rectangles) for the pocket-style diapers. When you tuck the insert inside the pocket there isn’t much difference between these and an all-in-one other than the fact that the insert comes right out for the wash which can make things easier. You can also make inserts (or diapers) out of receiving blankets, old towels, t-shirts, really anything that is absorbent.

One of my homemade all-in-two diapers

4 – Cloth diapers can stink – bad! But there is an easy fix.
I didn’t use cloth diapers long enough to run in to this problem the first time around, but I can imagine it would have only sent me running away even faster. I had no idea cloth diapers could smell like ammonia and it could be so bad your eyes water. If that’s happening it means you’re doing something wrong when you wash them. Apparently, this has become a bigger problem since the high-efficiency front-loading washers became mainstream because they don’t use as much water. Fluff Love University is honestly the best resource when you want to figure out what you’re doing wrong. I have also found that you can fix the problem with Rockin’ Green Funk Rock (drying in the sun can also help).
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