Sunday, December 30, 2007

Cloth Diapering Systems

When you cloth diaper, there are a lot of decisions to make. The first decision on your cloth diapering adventure is what kind of diapers you will use. There are 3 main cloth diapering systems: Diapers (Prefolds, Flats, Fitteds, or Contours) & Covers, All-In-Ones, and Pockets, which I will discuss below.

Diapering Systems

First, Diapers/Prefolds and Covers. When you think of cloth diapers, the image that probably comes to mind is a prefold diaper and rubber pants. Prefolds are the rectangle pieces of cloth that our parents used to diaper us; however, cloth diapers (even prefolds and covers!) have come a long way, baby! There are several different types of diapers that are included in this system: prefolds, flats, fitteds, and contours. Each of these types of diapers is a little different, but they all require use with a cover to be waterproof. When used alone, these diapers are extremely breathable but are not waterproof (I often use a prefold diaper without a cover (and with no other clothes) on my baby when we are just hanging out at home, especially if he has a rash, because they allow excellent air circulation while still protecting my carpets! If I see wetness on the prefold, I change him.). Additionally, covers can be reused until soiled so you usually need few covers and lots of diapers (whether they be prefolds, fitteds, etc). This diapering system is good because it is cheap and easy (that is, until baby gets squirmy!), tends to hold wetness and leaks well, is very versatile, and is easy to wash. There are some disadvantages as well. Diapers with covers take a bit longer to learn how to use and take a bit longer to put on baby. They also lack the inner wicking material that pulls wetness away from baby's skin.

Alright, first let’s talk about the different types of diapers, then we’ll cover covers!
Prefolds: These rectangle pieces of cloth (cotton usually) have more layers in the middle and fewer layers in the sides. There are prefolds of many varying qualities on the market. Most prefolds you see on shelves at the store (Babies R Us, Target) will not be adequate for your diapering needs and may have polyester foam or rayon center inserts, which tend to break down quickly and add little or nothing to the diaper’s absorbency. These diapers are generally poor quality and poor absorbency (they are generally marketed to be used as burp cloths rather than diapers). When using cloth diapers for their actual purpose, you will want a high quality diaper. These are generally found online or in specialty diaper shops. When choosing a prefold, you will want to look at the absorbency. A minimum absorbency of 4x6x4 is recommended. Picture a rectangle divided into thirds, lengthwise. The absorbency 4x6x4 means that the first third of the rectangle has 4 layers sewn together, the middle third has 6 layers sewn together, and the last third has 4 layers sewn together. A 4x8x4 is the same but has an extra 2 layers sewn in the middle, and is considered maximally absorbent for a cloth diaper. Prefolds come in several different types of fabric, and bleached and unbleached. Most quality prefolds are made of cotton of some kind (100% woven cotton is probably the most common, but there are also other cotton varieties: Birdseye Cotton, Indian Cotton, Terry/Flannel Cotton, and Gauze Cotton). Bamboo prefolds and hemp prefolds are also becoming widely available and increasingly popular. Hemp prefolds are actually a blend of hemp and cotton (usually 55% cotton and 45% hemp) but still tend to be more durable and absorbent than cotton. Hemp and bamboo both have a natural resistance to mold and mildew but does take longer to dry and is usually more expensive than cotton. Prefolds are great because they are so basic that they really simplify diapering (after a learning period): easy to wash, quick to dry, very absorbent, trim, multi-purpose (can be used as inserts or doublers, burp cloths, dust rags, changing pads, blankets, etc), and maybe the best thing, they are very economical. However, they do take some extra time to get used to (learning different folds and how to pin properly), and they take extra time to put on baby (which gets difficult as baby gets older and more mobile!). Also, prefolds lack the inner fabric that All-In-Ones or Pockets have that wick moisture away from baby’s skin (however, you can use fleece liners for that purpose). Instead of pins, you may wish to use a “Snappi.” Snappi is a brand of fastener that is an alternative to diaper pins. It has three prongs shaped like a “T” that grab the diaper to secure it (one prong on either side and one that goes down the middle, in the crotch area). These are a popular alternative to pins and can be used with most prefolds, flats, and contours (although they will not grip some materials, such as terry, as well as others, such as woven cotton).
Flats: I personally know nothing about flats, but from my research I learned that flats are the precursor to prefolds. They are rectangular, like prefolds, but they are of uniform thickness and absorbency. This means that the middle portion of a flat has no more layers than the two sides do (so instead of a 4x8x4 absorbency a flat would perhaps have a 4x4x4 absorbency). Other than the difference in absorbency, these are used like prefolds. You can lay a tri-folded flat in the center of an open flat (to add extra absorbency) and then secure that around the baby, like a prefold, when using these diapers. Flats are more versatile when it comes to folding, and absorbency can be customized by folding in different ways. They can also be made easily out of old t-shirts, flannel pajamas, etc, and are therefore very economical. However, they do take more time to fold.
Fitteds: Fitted diapers are like prefolds but are diaper-shaped (or “fitted”) for ease of use. They are actually very similar to All-In-Ones (see below) except that they are not waterproof without a cover. They fit like a disposable, have snaps or Velcro and therefore do not need to be pinned, are simple to wash and dry (though some tend to take a long time to dry), and as a bonus come in a variety of cute styles, colors, and prints! Fitteds have elastic around the legs (and sometimes in the back) to contain messes (even that explosive breastfed poo) and are usually very absorbent. Some disadvantages are that they are not as convenient as All-In-Ones because they still need a cover, some covers don’t fit well over some fitteds, they can be bulky, and just as with All-In-Ones, they can be hard to get clean and dry because of all the layers.
Contours: Contours are shaped like a diaper, just like Fitteds. The difference between Fitteds and Contours is that contours do not have snaps or Velcro and therefore still need to be pinned, and they also do not have elastic. This makes them generally less expensive than Fitteds but they do not hold in messes quite as well as Fitteds.

Covers: Covers are used over Prefolds, Flats, Fitteds, and Contours to make them waterproof. They come in many different styles and can usually either be pulled on or wrapped around baby (like a disposable diaper) and then secured with either snaps or Velcro (which are sewn into the cover). Back when our parents used cloth diapers, the only option for covers were rubber pants. Covers really have come a long way! You can still buy vinyl (or rubber) pants, but I recommend against it because of the health and environmental hazards of vinyl. Instead, if you need something very inexpensive, you can get plastic pants for relatively cheap. Other than vinyl or plastic (which are usually the only covers that can be found on store shelves), there are three main materials used in covers: Fleece, Wool, and Polyurethane Laminate:
Fleece covers are, obviously, made of fleece. They tend to be cheap and breathable and so so soft! They also dry very fast. However, they can retain odors and often pill and get fuzzy with repeated washing and drying. Also, some fleece may wick under compression. They tend to be quite bulky as well.
Wool covers are made out of 100% wool, which is a natural fiber and has excellent air circulation. Wool actually keeps skin several degrees cooler than other fabrics, which is excellent for use in diapering. What makes wool waterproof is lanolin, which also keeps wool looking and smelling clean for an extended period of time. Because of this, wool only needs to be washed when soiled or when it starts to get smelly. Wool can be reused many times before this occurs. When it does need laundering, it should be hand-washed with wool wash and re-lanolized with liquid lanolin. This is often a drawback to many when deciding whether to use wool. Also, it can take a long time to dry after laundering (1-3 days), and can be expensive to buy. However, if you can knit or crochet you can make your own wool covers (If you sew, you can also make wool covers our of old wool sweaters.). Wool soakers also have a bit of bulk under clothing, but some types (longies/shorties/skirties) are worn in the place of pants/shorts/skirts.
Synthetic covers (other than fleece) are usually made of Polyurethane Laminate (or PUL), which is the same material used to make most All-In-One and Pocket diapers waterproof. PUL covers are easy to use and rarely leak. They can be reused between changes until they become soiled, and they tend to be fairly inexpensive. However, they may not be as “stylish” as other diapers or covers, and they are a synthetic material, which some people choose to avoid. Also, there are many brands of synthetic covers and you may need to try many different kinds before finding one that fits your baby at any given stage of life.

Next come All-In-Ones (AIOs). All-In-Ones are just that, cloth diapers all in one. All-In-Ones are the cloth diapers that most resemble disposable diapers (and thus often appeal especially to daddy, as well as to babysitter, daycare, grandma, etc). They have a waterproof outer layer (usually made of PUL, or polyurethane laminate) to prevent leaks. The inside of the diaper has a soft and cuddly layer (usually suedecloth or microfleece) to sit against your baby’s skin and pull moisture away. In between the waterproof outer layer and the soft inner layer there is a layer to absorb wetness (usually called a “soaker”). This is the part of the diaper that will actually soak up all the urine, and is the bulk of the diaper. All three layers are sewn together permanently. They work just as a disposable diaper does. You put a clean one on your baby, take it off when it’s soiled, and wash it. No folding, no pinning, no stuffing. There are a few downsides to All-In-Ones, however. They are generally the most expensive of the cloth diapering options. They also tend to take much longer to dry than other cloth diapers, and are often harder to get really, thoroughly clean, since the soaker is sewn into the other two layers. In addition, they may wear out faster than other diapers because they will spend more time in the heat of the dryer (which may break down PUL or other materials). All-In-Ones are also more difficult to adjust absorbency than, say, a pocket diaper. You will need to purchase separate “doublers” to lay inside the diaper to “double” the absorbency for times you need a little extra protection (such as nighttimes, outings, etc). There are also diapers called “All-In-Twos” (AI2s). They are similar to AIOs but they instead consist of two pieces: a waterproof cover and a soaker that snaps inside the cover. The soakers can be removed before washing to allow for more thorough cleaning and less drying time. Also, you can reuse covers several times before washing (and therefore need fewer covers). You simply change the soaker as needed, removing when soiled and replacing with a clean soaker (snap new soaker into same cover).

Last are Pocket diapers. Pocket diapers have a waterproof outer layer, usually made of PUL (like the AIOs) and a soft inner layer to wick away moisture, usually made of microfleece or suedecloth (also like the AIOs). Unlike the All-In-Ones, however, pocket diapers do not have an attached soaker. Instead, the space between the waterproof outer layer and the wicking inner layer forms a “pocket” with an opening (usually at the back of the diaper) into which you stuff an “insert” (like a soaker, the part that absorbs the urine. For some reason when it is in an AIO or an AI2 it is called a “soaker.” When it is in a Pocket diaper it is an “insert.” This is probably to differentiate that a soaker usually touches baby’s skin and an insert does not.). You put the insert into the pocket of the diaper, put the diaper on the baby, and when the diaper is soiled you take it off, remove the insert (I use tongs but I’ve heard others just give the diaper a good shake over the diaper pail and out comes the insert), drop both items into your diaper pail, and wash. After the diapers and inserts have been washed and dried you may wish to “pre-stuff” all your Pocket diapers at one time so they will be ready and waiting the next time you need to change a diaper. When pre-stuffed, Pocket diapers become like All-In-Ones (and disposables) in that you only need to worry about getting one piece of diaper onto a squirmy baby’s bum. However, because the inserts are pulled out of the Pocket diapers before washing, the diapers get cleaner and dry faster than AIOs. Pocket diapers are also great for adjusting absorbency. For times when your child needs maximum absorbency, it’s easy to add an extra insert into the pocket. One of the drawbacks of using Pockets is that it can be time consuming to stuff all those pockets every time you wash diapers. Additionally, Pocket diapers may have problems with “buildup” because of the synthetic materials used (AIOs will have the same problem).

Inserts are what make Pocket diapers absorbent. Most inserts are made of either microfiber or hemp (most Pocket diapers, when bought new, will come with a microfiber insert from the manufacturer). Microfiber are the most common, but hemp tend to be more absorbent and less bulky. If you choose to use hemp, I recommend also using a thin layer of microfiber (microfiber towels found in the automotive section at your local superstore are a great, affordable option!) to top the hemp insert. While hemp is more absorbent than microfiber, it also takes a little while longer to “soak up” wetness. The thin layer of microfiber atop the hemp will help “catch” the urine, so the hemp insert underneath can then absorb it all. Otherwise you may find that the urine rolls right off the hemp and creates leaks long before your hemp insert is saturated. Prefolds can also be used to stuff Pocket diapers, and can be a cheap and absorbent option. Infant prefolds work well in small and medium diapers, while regular prefolds work well in both medium and large diapers.

All-In-Ones, Prefolds, and hemp inserts, when purchased new, must be washed and dried on hot at least five times to achieve absorbency. They may then continue to increase in absorbency for up to twelve washings, but usually five washings and dryings will do the trick.

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