One of the decisions parents have to make is how they want to approach diapering their new baby. Generally, the choice comes down to two options: reusable (cloth) or disposable?
If you go with cloth, how many do you need? Where do you get them? How does sizing work? Do you use a diaper service? (And what exactly is a diaper service?) Do you wash them yourself and how do you do that without getting poop everywhere? And the list goes on!
If you go with disposables, you’re not off the hook either. What brand and type do you get? Can you go with the cheapest option? Does your baby need special ones for sensitive skin? Do you need different ones for nighttime? Are there better ones for once they’re crawling?
Anyway, good luck with that!
No, we wouldn’t leave you hanging like that!
Like most things for new parents, diapering can be a lot of trial and error to figure out what works best for you and your family - sometimes you just don’t know until you try a few to see what works. If you’re thinking cloth, there’s more to do upfront, though, so let’s talk about that first.
The idea of using cloth diapers is appealing to a lot of new parents: they can be less expensive, are arguably better for the environment, come in some super cute patterns and styles, and are typically more adjustable than disposables. On the downside, they are less absorbent than disposables, mean you have to scoop out the poop and give them a good clean in the machine, which uses a lot of water and electricity. Because of that, they can be less convenient for traveling or night times, so some cloth diaper families also supplement with disposables.
DYK there are also 2 different types of cloth diapers (and even more options within these two types)? This is news to a lot of parents new to cloth diapering.
Two-part diapers basically have an inside piece and an outside piece. The inside part also has options: flat (just a big ol’ piece of material you’ll need to fold into diaper shape), “pre-folds” (have a thicker area down the middle, but still need some folding) or fitted (no folding required and come with closures).
The outside part is the waterproof cover (or wrap). You can choose between thin plastic, fleece or wool and from a ton of different patterns and colours. You can also choose what type of closure you want for your diapers - most common is snaps either in the front or on the sides, velcro or hook and loop.
Covers can be used for multiple changes because you should only need to replace the inner piece at each change, meaning you don’t need as many covers.
The typical recommendation for this type of cloth diapers is to have a set of at least 24 pre-folds or other inside pieces and 5 covers.
A newer option within the two-part diaper arena is pocket diapers. These are a great option for people who don’t want to deal with the folding of cloth diapers but want to avoid disposables. The pocket of the diaper is between the outer and inner layers and holds an absorbent insert. You can use inserts of different thicknesses, so these are also a great option for being able to adjust how absorbent the diaper is for longer times between changes.
Unfortunately, these do require washing after every use so they don’t have the benefit of reusing the cover multiple times like the other two-piece diapers.
All-In-One diapers are exactly what they sound like - they are the closest thing to disposable diapers as they are single diapers that don’t require folding or adding a separate cover for waterproofing. Like the pocket diapers, they also need to be washed after every use so in that way they’re also similar to disposables.
You get the same options for closures and a wide selection of styles, patterns and colours to choose from.
To make things even more confusing, there are also hybrid diapers that some people call “All-In-Two”. This type of diaper that has the option of adding a reusable or disposable inner liner that can be changed to get more use out of a single diaper.
For All-in-One diapers, you’ll want to have about two dozen diapers on hand so you can do a wash every other day.
Obviously, the biggest obstacle to cloth diapering is the washing. If you decide to do it all yourself, you’ll probably need to be running your washing machine every other day. Cloth diapers need to be pre-washed several times before use, and then regularly washed with a hot water cycle and additional rinse.
If you don’t want your diaper duty to include washing, there are diaper services that will take care of the yucky part for you. A diaper service will pick up your dirty diapers and drop off clean ones every week. It’s more expensive than washing at home, but better for the environment because they are able to wash in bulk and use less water and energy.
Not every area will have diaper services, so it’s worth checking to see if this is even an option where you live. Another consideration is that using the service also means using their diapers, so you don’t get the choice you do when you’re buying your own.
Tip: Thrifty parents can cut down on the upfront cost of cloth diapers by looking for second-hand covers and pre-folds through local Mom’s groups and online marketplaces. Thrifty AND skilled parents can also take on the challenge of making their own cloth diapers (there are tons of tutorials online for any brave souls wanting to take this on).
Disposable diapers are more expensive than cloth (in the long run, they are cheaper upfront), harder on the environment and aren’t as customizable, but they can’t be beaten for convenience. They are more absorbent and don’t require any washing or care.
Most parents will have their preferred brand of disposable diapers, and that comes back to that trial and error I mentioned earlier. Our daughter leaked through every kind of Huggies and never had an issue with Pampers. My BFF’s daughter had a skin reaction to Pampers and had to use Honest Company diapers. Another friend could never find an Honest Company diaper that fit her newborn properly. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to use any brand, any style and just shop for whatever is cheapest. Just in case, though, it’s a good idea to have a couple of small packs on hand to try out.
Tip: Another great way to try out different diapers: samples! Most baby companies offer samples of their products if you sign up - you should be able to put together a pretty nice stock of diapers of different brands before baby arrives just by registering for samples.
If you go the disposable route, try to buy diapers in bulk to keep the cost down a bit. Places like Costco or Amazon (check out the family subscription discounts) can keep you well-stocked and have a lower unit price per diaper. Keep an eye out for coupons and rewards offers too.
Tip: Leaking overnight? Try sizing up for nighttime diapers to keep your little one dry ‘til morning.
There is no one right answer when it comes to diapers. The only truth about diapers that I can give you is that you’re going to go through a LOT of them. :)