So, here's the 411 on how we did/do the cloth diaper thing:
For the first two weeks or so, we were in survival mode. We didn't use cloth diapers during this time because we wanted to allow ourselves time to get used to life on little or no sleep :-) Plus, we didn't want to have to worry about folding the diaper to leave room for her belly button stump. And, we didn't buy newborn-sized cloth diapers because we knew she'd grow out of them quickly. So, we used Pampers swaddlers.
When we switched to cloth, I found it much easier than I anticipated it would be. We used mostly prefolds and covers at first because they are so cheap. We didn't want to invest in newborn pocket diapers or AIOs because we knew she would outgrow them quickly. For babies pre-rolling over, I think prefolds and covers are the way to go. Buy yourself some good prefolds (not the ones at Wal-Mart and Target that you use for burp cloths), covers, and a snappi and you're ready to go. They are the cheapest route and are also super easy to wash, dry, fold, etc. They also make great doublers in pocket diapers. Plus, once you're finished having babies, you have a great set of dust cloths!
Cady began outgrowing the infant sized prefolds around the time that she was wanting to turn over and play at every diaper change (that is, she was getting a little wiggly for the two step process of cloth diaper with snappi followed by a cover) so we decided to transition to all pocket diapers. They're pricier, but still cheaper than disposables as you can see from the cost comparisons I posted yesterday. Ideally, we'd like to return to a mixed system so that we don't have to use, and therefore wash, our more expensive diapers so much, but so far they're holding up to the challenge quite well. Thus we have used our size medium prefolds very little. I'm still hopeful that we'll be able to use them as she settles (if she ever settles) a bit, but even if we don't use them on her bottom, they've definitely been great burp cloths.
For awhile, we used disposable diapers at night because we thought they'd hold more. Then we began having to change the disposable diaper when we got up to feed her in order to avoid leaks. We decided to give cloth another try and found a wonderful solution. Cady now goes to bed in what her father refers to as "a super diaper." We stuff two extra inserts (called "doubling") into the pocket (yet another plus of the pocket diaper in my opinion) to create an extra absorbent diaper for overnight. It works great for us.
This is what trips most people up about cloth diapering I think. BUT, I promise it's not that bad. Really, it's not. I will admit that it was easier the first 6 months than it is now, but it's still not difficult. Cloth diapers pre-solid-foods is so easy.
We have a diaper-changing station set up in Cady's room. To the left of the changing table, we have a kitchen trash can with one of those step pedals that is lined with a diaper pail liner. We also have a basket of cloth wipes (specially marked wash cloths :-)), a spray bottle with water in it, and some Burt's Bees diaper rash ointment. During the pre-solid-food period, we used cloth wipes mostly. Spray some water on the wipe (or the bottom), wipe the baby, and then throw the wipe with the diaper into the diaper pail. No rinsing required. Yes, I'm serious. Breastmilk is watersoluble so there's no need to presoak them. Using cloth wipes meant that we didn't have to try to remember to throw the disposable wipe away in the trash can and the cloth diaper into the diaper pail. It saved a step. I should also note that since urine is sterile, you don't have to wash the diaper cover every time. I usually laid it out to dry until the next diaper change. But, obviously, when it gets some poop on it, it needs to be washed.
We usually washed diapers every third day. During the summer, we hung the diapers out on drying racks in our backyard. This was great for (at least) two reasons: 1) it saved on our electricity bill and 2) the sun bleaches out the poop stains (again, I am serious). Then, we threw the prefolds in the dryer to fluff so they wouldn't be so stiff, folded them, and put them back on the shelf to use again.
Now, we usually wash diapers every other day (sometimes it's still every third day). This is mostly because Cady's diapers smell a bit worse now that she's eating more and more foods. And, now there's no dumping a soiled diaper directly into the diaper pail. For wet diapers, we pull the insert out of the pocket diaper and put them both directly in the pail. For soiled diapers, we take it to the bathroom, shake the poop into the toilet and flush. Then we pull the insert out of the pocket diaper and put them both into the diaper pail. We use mostly store bought wipes now. We've also recently invested in a BumGenius diaper sprayer. Since Cady's diapers are sent home from school just as they come off her body, they were not always easy to just "dump" into the toilet. We were having to dunk and scrub a little too much for our tastes. The diaper sprayer is wonderful. Kudos to Chad for convincing me it was worth $45. But, I must be quick to add that we made it almost 9 months without needing one.
As for the actual washing of the diapers, we throw all the diapers directly from the diaper pail liner to the washing machine. We then (obviously) throw the diaper pail liner in too. We run a cold rinse cycle with no detergent. We then run a hot/cold cycle with Allens detergent. We used Charlie's soap at first, but then we decided to try Allens and I like it better. We use half a scoop of the Allens for each load. You may need to use a little more or a little less depending on how hard or soft your water is. It's expensive, but it lasts forever. We've used one small container of Charlie's soap and we're still slowly pecking away at the Allens in 9 months. When we've found ourselves without our trusty detergent (sometimes it has gotten left at someone's house during one of our southern world tours), we've used a free and clear detergent. Here's a great detergent comparison chart.
Now that it's winter, we dry all of the diapers in the dryer with NO dryer sheets. Dryer sheets are a no, no because they leave build-up on your diapers that will make them less absorbent. In fact, we've stopped using dryer sheets completely because we don't want the build-up in our dryer that can transfer to our diapers. We use those static ball things.
How many diapers?
When we were registering, they recommended that we get 3 dozen prefolds and 5-6 covers, I think. We registered for 2 dozen unbleached Chinese prefolds in the infant size and 12 in the medium size. Because we eventually invested in some small pocket diapers and a few one-size pocket diapers, this number worked well for us. I think that if I was going to use prefolds exclusively, 36 would be a good number to shoot for, but it's definitely doable with 24. It just depends on how often you want to do laundry. I can't remember exactly how many covers we had, but I think 5-6 is a good number. I think we had 1-2 in the newborn size and about 6 smalls, but I may be miscounting (they're packed away now that she's outgrown them).
We got several different kinds to try. I highly recommend this as babies are all shaped differently. What works for one does not necessarily work for another (here I must insert another plug for prefolds - they can be folded differently to accomodate different shapes and sizes). We have prefolds and covers, one Mother Ease one size, a contoured diaper of some kind, some Bum Genius one size pockets, some Fuzzi Bunz pockets, a couple of Happy Heinys one size pockets, 1 Swaddlebees pocket, and 1 Swaddlebees All in One. I think that's all...maybe, but I'm constantly tempted to buy and try more :-)
Now that Cady's not using the potty quite as much, we don't go through as many diapers so we don't need as many in our "stash." I don't know our official count, but I'd say you would probably want to shoot for 18. The more you have, the less you have to wash them, and the longer they'll last, but 18 should get you through about 3 days. Again, prefolds hold up better in the wash because they don't have velcro and/or snaps to worry about, but I'm still all about the pocket diapers now that Cady tries to stand up as soon as you take her diaper off!
Our favorite diapers
Our absolute favorite diaper is the BumGenius. They are a one-size adjustable diaper that are well worth the money in my opinion. They are so simple that even our daycare was willing to use them. They're also easy enough for grandparents, babysitters, etc. Of course, we haven't tried some of the more expensive diapers like the Blueberry or the GoodMama so I might like them better, but I haven't been able to bring myself to pay that much for a diaper!
Anyway, as mentioned above, we invested in unbleached Chinese prefolds. My favorite cover is made by Imse Vimse. I actually found our one at a consignment shop in Chapel Hill (new with tags!) and decided to try it out. Love it, wanted more, but didn't really need any more covers. My second favorite is the Bummis super whisper wrap. A great cover to boost your stock without breaking the bank is the Pro-Wrap classic. We had at least 2 of them and they worked great for us. In fact, we didn't have trouble with leaks with any of our covers, but these were really easy to put on and fit Cady really well. The Thirsties covers are supposed to be really good too, but I haven't tried them.
As far as pockets, we really like all of them, but we've had some leaks with the Happy Heinys. I like them all for different reasons, I suppose. The Bum Genius are SO easy with the velcro closures and we love that they are a one size diaper. The FuzziBunz fit Cady well too though and there's something to be said for being able to snap the leg opening and around the waist. The Swaddlebees pocket is by far the most trim diaper we have and sometimes you can find them on clearance in the outlet section of their website.
Other things you might want to think about getting include: a diaper pail liner (we have two so that when one's in the wash, one's in the diaper pail), a Snappi (again, we have 2), and a wetbag for when you're out and about and need a place to store the dirty diapers. We have several different types of wetbags/diaper pail liners. For wetbags, we have a Wahmies and a Goodmama. I also bought a large hanging Goodmama for trips (it's so pretty :-)) since it zips. For liners, we have a Tiny Tush and a Wahmies. Both of the wetbags work fine, but we prefer the Tiny Tush pail liner.
We still keep disposables on hand. We don't ask the folks in the nursery at church to deal with the cloth diapers. Cady does wear a cloth diaper to church a lot of times, but we always provide disposables for the nursery workers to use. Same goes for babysitters. We also use disposables if we forget to wash or if we're going to be out of town and not have access to a washing machine. I watch for Pampers and/or Huggies to go on sale and use coupons to get them as cheaply as possible.
We did try chlorine free diapers (Seventh Generation), but we had some leaks with them. It could have been a sizing thing, but we haven't used them in awhile. It seems like there was another chlorine free brand that we've tried, but I'm blanking. Melissa, do you remember which one I told you it was?
Look absolutely adorable on
Better for the environment
Less diaper rash (we have still had some diaper rash, but since my mom said that I broke out from disposables, it could just be that Cady has sensitive skin)
No chlorine or harsh chemicals touch baby's bum
We can use the same diapers on any/all future children
Up-front costs (we avoided some of this by receiving cloth diapers, covers, etc. for gifts - some of them from you, my wonderful friends - and using money folks gave us to build up our stash)
Extra laundry (though you do get into a rhythm and get used to it)
Take up more space in the diaper bag
Having to take the time to clean poopy diapers (Again, this is post-solid-foods, pre-solid-foods is a piece of cake. Also, you're supposed to dump the poop out of the disposable diapers too. It's not supposed to head to the landfill.)
So, as you can see (since I qualified many of my con statements), I'm hooked on cloth diapering. I love it!
Don't worry about all the jargon or where to buy all this stuff. I posted some links so you could see some of the things I referenced, but it's not necessary "the" place to buy the particular thing. I just posted links that I found quickly. I promise to put more information than you could possibly want about where to search, look, and research this stuff in the third cloth diaper post, which I hope to finish this weekend. We've found some great sites during our adventures with cloth diapering! Do let me know if you have any questions though. Sorry I wrote a book!
Cloth Diapers, Part 1
Cloth Diapers, Part 3