There are so many different schools of parenting these days that it is dizzying. From my pregnancy, to my birth plan, to the way I’ve cared for my son since he arrived, I’d say I probably fall somewhere on the “attachment” spectrum, but I don’t really align myself with that movement. Yes, we exclusively breastfed until six months and we babywear. He slept in our room in a bedside bassinet for the first few months of his life and I make all of his food from scratch. But we’re a far cry from doing true attachment parenting. I personally like to refer to our parenting style as “crunchy-adjacent.”
Before we even had Emmett, my husband John was interested in looking into cloth diapering. But for me, that was a bridge too far. The mere phrase conjured unpleasant images in my mind of the diaper pins and rubber pants of yesteryear or, alternately, the super in-your-face, hippie dippie anti-vaxxer openly breastfeeding her seven year-old in the park. It didn’t appeal to me in the least and I put my foot down: if I was going to be the one staying home with our child, there was no way in hell I would be changing and washing cloth diapers. It’s funny how things work out.
BUT THE POOP
While visiting our friends in Northern California this spring, we got to see the new generation of cloth diapering in action. They use a somewhat fancy hybrid system that is known in the CD world as an “all-in-two” because it consists of a soaker pad that snaps into a waterproof, lined shell. When soiled, you remove the soaker and, provided that nothing has leaked, you can reuse the shell by snapping in a clean soaker pad. It, like almost all modern cloth diapers, works for babies weighing 8 to 35 pounds, thanks to rows of snaps that can be adjusted to make the diaper larger in rise and wider along the hips.
While observing them for the few days we were there, pee changes seemed pretty much identical to a disposable diaper in terms of the ick factor (which is to say, negligible). But that was never my concern. It was the poop I feared. I had zero interest in using the old school “dunk and swish” method of trying to wash poop off a cloth diaper by dangling it over the toilet bowl and flushing repeatedly, nor was I interested in doing what other CD moms suggested and scraping off the poop with a spatula (Why? WHYYYY??? Spatulas are for food!) So when our friends’ kid took a poop, my husband and I studiously leaned in and said “OK, we need to see how this is done.”
We were shocked to see that our friend was literally able to plop his kid’s poop off the cloth diaper directly into the toilet, flush it, and walk away. Granted, their son was 9 months old and well-established on two meals of solids per day (in addition to breast milk), but still. We were amazed. It just seemed so… easy. When we got home, I started doing some research and, unbeknownst to myself, started my journey into being a cloth diapering mama.
HIP TO THE LINGO
Cloth diapering these days is, like many things parenting-related, totally overwhelming. You have so many different options for brands and styles and everyone has their favorites. There are all-in-ones, all-in-twos, pockets, flats, prefolds, covers, woolies. Then you’ve got the land of inserts. Microfiber is a quick absorber, but many CD parents hate it with the fire of a thousand suns because it apparently holds stink and is prone to compression leaking. Then there’s cotton, bamboo, and hemp, not to mention all the blends (charcoal bamboo being a particular favorite). Your best bet for inserts will vary based on a number of factors, including if you’re diapering a girl or a boy. It can be mind-boggling knowing where to start.
When we got home from our trip, we picked up two of the hybrid shells our friends use and four soaker pads. I had a leak with the very first one and had a moment of instant regret. But once I figured out that the snaps just needed to be adjusted to the correct rise for Emmett’s height, all was well. This system (brand name GroVia) isn’t cheap, but it was definitely convenient. Over the next few weeks, with the help of some discounts and coupons, I slowly added a few more soaker pads and shells to our “stash.” I began considering if it was feasible for us to move to full-time cloth diapering.
THE NITTY GRITTY
I chatted with other friends who had been down the cloth diapering path and got their opinions on favorite brands and styles, the necessity of gear like diaper sprayers, and their wash routines. We decided to try the pocket style as well; this type consists of a cover (usually lined with microfleece) and an insert that slides into an open pocket in the back of the diaper. When they’re soiled, you simply pull out the insert and put both pieces in your diaper pail. It’s a favorite style for many parents because you can add and combine inserts as you like to customize absorbency as your child ages.
If I was going to be the one staying home with our child, there was no way in hell I would be changing and washing cloth diapers. It’s funny how things work out.
We went with a super affordable and popular brand (Alva Baby). Now, some hardcore CD parents call these and similar brands “China cheapies” and consider them to be poor quality. To each their own, but we haven’t had a problem with our Alvas. Our stash is 75% Alva pockets and we haven’t had a single leak or any stink issues with them. Plus, they come in some super cute prints!
We also picked up a few all-in-ones (diapers with fully sewn-in absorbency panels) for convenience and ease of use for babysitters and the nursery workers at our gym and church. At this point, our stash consists of 7 all-in-ones, 15 pockets with microfiber inserts, 4 hybrid shells, and 10 hybrid soaker pads for a total of 32 diaper changes. This allows us to go about 4 to 5 days between washes.
I originally assumed that with cloth diapers you’d want to use a tightly sealed pail to prevent smelliness, but it turns out that’s not the case. Ventilation is key! We have a swing top trash can lined with a waterproof, washable bag and we simply drop the diapers in there when they’re soiled. When it’s time to wash, I pull the bag out and turn the entire thing into the washer, tossing the bag in as well.
My wash routine is pretty simple: I do a pre-wash cycle with warm water and a small amount of detergent. After that’s done, I run a heavy duty cycle with hot water and plenty of detergent, plus a little Calgon to soften the water (hard water like we have in New Orleans can result in mineral deposits clinging to your diapers and preventing them from getting clean). I air dry the GroVia hybrid covers, but I toss all the soaker pads as well as the all-in-ones, the pockets, and the microfiber inserts into the dryer on very low heat.
Some people are drawn to cloth diapering for environmental reasons. Naturally, many of them want to use plant-based or “natural” detergents, but that’s a huge mistake. You’re cleaning human waste here, so you’re going to need a legit detergent to do that. Fluffloveuniversity.com is a great online resource and they break down all the pros and cons of dozens of detergent brands (they also have recommended wash routines based on washer brand and model!). We personally use classic Tide powder and it’s been great so far.
Emmett is, thankfully, not a heavy wetter and isn’t prone to quickly flooding a diaper, so the microfiber inserts work well for us right now. We may, as he grows, migrate to adding bamboo or cotton doublers (thin auxiliary inserts) to boost absorbency, but so far so good. At this point, we are down to using just one disposable diaper per day—his overnight diaper. He loathes being changed at night, so we need something that will last a full 11 to 12 hours without leaking. We’re playing around with cloth options but haven’t yet found one that works well and fits our (frankly lazy) cloth diapering style.
As far as the poops go, we caved and got a diaper sprayer. Before a baby begins solids, if they are exclusively breastfed, technically their poop is totally water-soluble and doesn’t need to be cleaned at all before going into the washer. But if you’re like me and not keen on the idea of throwing a poopy diaper directly in your washer, a sprayer is nice to have. We got one from Amazon for $30 and it’s worked perfectly, particularly during this in-between stage where he’s just starting on solids but his colon hasn’t quite figured out how to make adult poops yet.
We even made our own homemade splatter shield (the water stream on a good diaper sprayer is powerful!) from two small trash cans and two plastic clips. We cut the bottom out of one of the trash cans and when we need to spray a diaper, we clip it to the side to secure it and spray away. We then nest that can into the second can (which still has a bottom) to transport it to our diaper pail. No mess, no splatter, no dripping diapers. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.
While we’ve had quite a few helpful friends assist us in navigating the waters of becoming cloth diapering parents, we’ve gotten just as many confused stares. I get that it’s not for everyone, but I’m also of the belief that unless something is hurting a child, it’s never really your place to insert yourself into the parenting decisions of others. As per usual though, this rule will be laughed off by your family members, who will always feel abundantly free to criticize your choices. Because you have to keep loving them, even when they’re turds.
My parents were both in cloth diapers as children. My mom watched her mother diaper her little brother in prefolds with rubber pants that a diaper service dropped off and picked up weekly. She was, in no uncertain terms, totally horrified when I told her that we had moved to cloth diapering. Her repeated refrains of “Why in God’s name would you do this?” and “You don’t have time for all that extra laundry” or “You’re insane” were mostly entertaining and, to her chagrin, fell on deaf ears.
If Emmett were in daycare or staying with a family member every day, I could understand the resistance. But I’m not asking her—or anyone else for that matter—to spray my kid’s poopy diapers. Nobody else has to do our laundry. So as much as people might be geeked out by it, it’s 100% not their problem. If you’re facing resistance to the idea of cloth diapering, I encourage you to not take it personally and remember that it’s your choice and the maintenance is your responsibility, so everyone else’s opinions are just that—opinions.
Our reasoning for going with cloth diapers was two-fold: 1) we like the idea of contributing less waste to our already taxed landfills and 2) we’re cheap and the idea of throwing $50 at diapers every month from now until Emmett is potty trained seems unnecessary. Now, there are cheaper ways to do CD than we’re doing for sure. There are people who use prefolds—quilted squares of cotton fabric—and fasten them with plastic snaps and who would never dream of paying for a diaper sprayer. They have a small stack of prefolds and they do laundry every day (or every other day). Those people are hardcore and God bless them, but no thanks.
For us, it was worth it to put out a little bit of cash on the front end to find a system that worked for us and with our lifestyle. We do use cloth diapers when we’re out and about around town, but we don’t drag them along when we travel. We aren’t opposed to disposables on principle (I promise to never call them ‘sposies, which is the derogatory term for them among CD parents) but they do feel extraordinarily odd and crunchy to us now that we’ve gotten used to cloth.
Overall, the process has been pretty smooth and, honestly, kind of fun. I mean, his diapers are the cutest—from dinosaurs to Dr. Who. I can imagine a host of reasons why CD wouldn’t work for people in certain situations, but with me working from home, it’s an ideal way to save some green and feel a little less shitty about our part in destroying the planet. So I’ll gladly eat my words: we’re cloth diapering parents and we love it.
ERIN HALL | firstname.lastname@example.org
illustration VICTORIA ALLEN @vs_illlustration