Thursday, March 4, 2010

Cloth diapering for busy, tired people: Wherein I sing the praises of wool.

This is a blog post that is sure to bore some of my readers to tears. Hence the inclusion of adorable photos!

Before Joseph was born, I decided that we should at least give cloth diapering a try. Steve was skeptical, to say the least. Honestly, I was a little skeptical too. I try to be as "green" as I can, as much as I can, and I do believe that cloth diapers are significantly better for the environment than disposable diapers. But I am also a working mother, so my time is very valuable and convenience is important to me as well. And like a lot of people, I was under the impression that cloth diapers were worse for diaper rash. But I figured, a couple months of cloth diapers would still be better for the environment than never trying them at all.

Now, I don't want to get into the cloth vs. disposable debates here, and I realize every family has to do its own costs/benefits analysis. As a friend of mine put it, "Diapering is a team sport." So true! The most important thing is to get both parents on board with diapering, however you do it. New parents have enough to worry about without fighting over how to diaper their baby, or going with one method solely out of guilt, or whatever. To this end, Steve and I made several compromises - we signed up with a diaper service, so that no one would have to launder dirty diapers, and we use disposable diapers when we will be out of the house for a while, so that we don't have to schlep dirty cloth diapers everywhere.  This has worked well for us.

But I'm here to say that, overall, we have been very pleasantly surprised by cloth diapers. We expected big hassle and martyr-like sacrifice, but we have found cloth diapers to be, if not just as convenient as disposable diapers, pretty much no big deal. Moreover, to our amazement, we have found that cloth diapers (plain ol'cotton prefolds, no less) may actually be better at preventing and treating diaper rash than disposables. Joe is ten months old now, and I don't see us ever switching to using entirely disposables (okay, maybe if we have twins or something - *shudders at the thought*).

These days, you can choose from a wide selection of cloth diapers, in various styles and fabrics. If you want to wash your own, I hear great reviews of several different styles of all-in-ones or pocket diapers. But since we use a diaper service, this means we use prefolds, which are just your old-school basic cloth diaper, thicker in the middle than on the sides. Prefolds require the use of diaper covers.

We've tried several different varieties of diaper covers. We started with Litewrap covers. These worked great, were relatively waterproof if not blow-out proof, and I have no real complaints about their performance. But Joe is and was a big baby, and he grew out of each size of diaper cover at light speed, so cost was an issue - every time he gained a pound or two, we would have to go out and buy five more covers. Then for the first time, around four or five months (when Joe was teething), diaper rash became a real issue. Poor kid! It was a bad scene. I wondered if I might have to give up on cloth diapers entirely. So I started experimenting with other kinds of covers hoping that we could find something that would breathe better, especially at night. (Edited to add: I do not believe that the cloth diapers caused this diaper rash. I totally blame the teething. We also tried using disposables for a spell, and it did not significantly improve the rash. I do think the unhappy bottom was exacerbated by using non-breathing covers at night.)

So here's the part of the blog where I sing the praises of wool soakers. In particular, Aristocrats wool diaper covers. On your left here, our model Joe is showing off his bulky double-diaper paired with an Aristocrat cover. People, these things seriously rock. We cosleep with Joe at night, so it's important that whatever diaper we use not leak at night. For twelve hours. Not a problem. Aristocrats are made from lanolized wool, so they breathe, yet they are amazingly waterproof (also, I think my hands are softer just from touching them). And, since we started using them at night, we have not had any significant problems with diaper rash. I know this sounds crazy, but I think Aristocrats covers actually cure diaper rash. There, I said it. I know it's a little wild, but that's my observation. Something about the lanolin, I suspect.

Although Aristocrats are pretty pricey, they are super stretchy, so their size-ranges are extremely wide, and they last a looooooong time.

So this is what I've decided: those horror stories people tell about cloth diapers? They harken back to the bad old days of my own baby-hood (and the decades before), when putting non-breathing plastic pants over cloth diapers was the norm. Eek. That does sound uncomfortable and hot, doesn't it? But, looking back just a few more generations, we discover that our great-grandmothers actually knit diaper soakers for their babies. And far from being inferior to modern waterproof fabrics, these knits were as breathable and leak-resistant as any high-tech fiber. And, unlike high-tech fibers, they don't require fossil fuels to make. Awesome.

The biggest downside to the wool soakers is this: You have to handwash them if they get soiled (as in, ahem, poopy). And you occasionally need to "relanolize" them (this is less complicated than it sounds, but it's still a bit of a pain). But the good news is that you rarely have to wash them at all if they don't get soiled (it's true: pee is fine).* Our compromise? We use them at night only. And we use the cheapest possible covers during the day (just one step up from the dread plastic pants of yore, actually), so that we can easily afford to buy lots of them and not do laundry constantly. It turns out that since we change diapers frequently during the day, the nonbreathable covers work just fine for our purposes.

This has been working for us for several months now. Cute wool diaper-butt, minimum handwashing, I don't have to give up my job, but I can still pretend to be a pioneer woman (of course, if I were a truly devoted pioneer woman, I would knit my own wool soakers: it may happen yet). Best of the old (wool!) and the new (diaper service!). Steve's happy, I'm happy, and Joe's tookus is happy (which is what really matters).

* Aristocrats covers smell strongly of wet sheep after you handwash them, and take a long time to dry. I put a ever-so-slightly-damp cover on Joe one night and found the scent to be ... well ... pungent, to say the least. Basically, it was like sleeping in a barn. I almost gave up on the covers. I'm glad I didn't. As I have subsequently learned, the covers are odor-free just as long as you let them completely dry before using them. In fact, they are actually odor-neutralizing. And have I mentioned that they cure diaper rash and never leak? Genius sheep.


  1. So glad to hear they're working well for you... I guess I'll knit up a few more and I should be all set for night times!

    My parents cloth diapered both my brother and I and said it was the ONLY thing that kept diaper rash at bay, though apparently we couldn't handle the plastic pants at all.

  2. The "Dappi" covers we use during the day are nylon, and supposedly waterproof AND breathable, but in my experience, no synthetic can be both waterproof and breathable. I'm sure they're better than the old rubber or plastic covers, but you still need to change the diapers frequently.

    (In the early days, babies poop all the time, so you'll be changing at night. After a certain point - four months or so, maybe? - you don't have to change diapers at night at all because it's just pee.)

    I would use wool all the time, except for the washing hassle and how bulky they are - it's hard to fit pants over them!


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