Since I’ve started cloth diapering, a few of my mom friends have started, too, and they’ve been asking a question repeatedly when they get started: How many of what kind of diaper do I buy? With that in mind, here is a (hopefully) concise and thorough explanation of the five major diapering systems, meant specifically for new cloth diaper-ers.
(Okay, I need a better name for people who cloth diaper. Perhaps I will run my first poll soon. Leave ideas in comments?)
Before we classify the diapering systems, some quick beginner’s shopping pointers:
Get a variety to start. Buy a few waterproof diapers, one cover, and a few non-waterproof ones. Buy at least two brands and know which brand you’re getting, so that you know whether or not to buy from them in the future (and whether to recommend them to friends!).
Another thing: eBay. It’s more than worth it to buy at least your first diapers used. This gives you the financial freedom to try a few options. A brand new pocket diaper will cost you at least fifteen or twenty dollars; a used one is only five to ten dollars.
Start with 4 to 6 diapers total. Use those diapers, wash them, and while you’re washing leave your baby in disposables. If and when you decide to cloth diaper full-time, you can buy a big enough stash to leave your baby in cloth while the laundry’s going. By then you’ll know what species you’re fond of and can buy accordingly.
There are five main kinds of diapers. And before buying any diapers, I seriously recommend knowing them.
Group A: Not Waterproof Alone
These diapers are the more economical option, but they take a little more work than the cushier waterproof options. They all require covers. You’ll only need a third to a half as many covers as diapers, since the covers don’t get soiled easily and can be reused. Covers are almost always made of polyurethane laminate or PUL.
These are the diapers that our grandmas used. They are square, flat, absorbent pads which you fold and fasten in place. (You could use pins, but the Snappi is much better.) Most people are turned off by this option because it seems like a lot of extra work. The truth, though, is that putting this diaper on is as simple as folding the back edge down, pulling through and laying in place.
A contour diaper is just like a prefold, except that you don’t have to prefold it. It’s thinner in the middle to fit between Baby’s legs, and wider at the front and back for extra coverage. Downside: with a contour, you can’t add folds meant to catch any poo attempting escape.
Fitted diapers are a lot like contours, except that they have elastic around the edges so as to catch any runoff that a contour would idly let by.
Group B: Waterproof Alone
This second kind of diaper is, basically, a Group A diaper with the cover sewn on. These function the most like a disposable diaper, and because of that I recommend owning at least a few of them for babysitters and lazy days.
As the name suggests, AIOs are meant to make diapering as easy as possible by eliminating all the extra pieces. They are diapers meant to slip on and off in one piece. There is an outer layer of PUL, and an inner wicking layer, usually fleece or polyester. Sewn into the soft wicking fabric is an absorbent pad (made often of cotton, hemp, bamboo, or other materials). The downside of AIOs is that over time, the inner part is more and more difficult to get clean. Many AIOs now have an opening in the back end of the diaper to allow water and detergent into the diaper, getting it much cleaner, thereby avoiding this problem. I don’t recommend these diapers without that opening, as they will collect stink.
Pocket diapers are the most expensive and arguably the nicest diapers on the market. They’re also the most common (which makes sense despite being the most pricey, since over time they’re still only a third of the price of disposables). They’re mostly the same as AIOs, but they have a removable insert in order to combat the stink buildup I mentioned previously. Sometimes they’re called AI2s, since they’re all-in-two, but this always makes me chuckle since the same is true of any non-waterproof diapers (excluding Snappis, I guess).
My number one tip: Don’t worry. If you aren’t totally sure what you want to buy in the long run, start small. Ask questions. Take your time. Have fun.
In a month or two, you’ll be dispensing advice to your new cloth diaper-er friends.
Okay, seriously, guys, I need help with that.