Month 27: Question–What are the EC Essentials?
Question (From the DiaperFreeBabyGroup):
I’m 19wks pregant and I’m trying to put together my registry. I don’t understand the difference between prefolds, non prefolds, Indian cloth, outer covers for cloth diapers, the snappies, and why. What I’ll definitely need for EC, what’s negotiable? Is there a list that explains why you chose that specific brand, how to use that specific piece of prefolded or nonprefolded cloth, what happens to it, how to change it, how to clean it, what do you use to clean it, how does it fit into your EC routine. Just need a bit of hand holding to steer me in the right direction for adding the proper things to the registry (on amazon, unless you have a better choice?) and why, how, how many, and when to use (what age or size or day/night.) — S.F.
The Short Answer:
For EC you need a baby, toilet, whatever old bowl or similar container you have on hand, the thousand receiving blankets, towels and baby wash cloths you have lying around the house. Everything else is negotiable.
The Not-So-Short Answer:
Wow. That is a lot of processing. I want you to remember that with EC diapers are optional and when they are used they are a tool. Anyone can EC or cloth diaper a baby without spending a dime if they so chose. Try not to get seduced by the cloth diaper culture which will suck you into using diapers rather than potty places and you will establish a diapering habit rather than using EC. You want to protect your clothes and floors with the least amount of fabric to do the job, you do not want a wearable toilet. This means that you probably want to avoid brands and styles of cloth diapers that “wick away moisture” from the skin — because you want the baby to feel wet (though if your baby has exceedingly sensitive skin, a stay-dry wick feature can reduce but not eliminate diaper rash). I suggest keeping it simple. It is all up to you, and if you so choose you could use disposable diapers, though I am not an advocate of the disposable. Even EC specific accessories are options not necessities (those details will have to wait for another blog entry, though.) The hardest part of EC is weaning yourself from diapers, because the more you use them the more you teach your baby to use them.
But as they say, knowledge is power, so read on:
We live in modern homes and are used to diapers, so to make things easier, in my not so humble opinion, the optional bare essentials for an ECer are:
- Old school flats, prefolds and covers for the early stages (for those with a bigger budget and/or desiring a little more
fancy an All-in-Two cloth diaper or hybrid system with some prefolds). Why do I suggest prefolds? You can lay a naked baby on a prefold, you can’t do that with a fancy diaper. For EC you’ll need a Snappi and/or Prefold Belt – Diaper Pins are not EC friendly.
- Cloth wipes of your choosing. Rough cut them, sew them, or buy them. Disposable wipes only seem more convenient, in reality, they are wasteful for a wee and far less effective for a poo mess.
- Worried about cold? Baby leg warmers or cheap regular socks in a size to fit to the baby’s thigh. Much easier to potty a baby without pants and miles cheaper than buying specific EC clothing.
- Graduation ASAP to training pants (thick waterproof ones only for night, thinner non-waterproof for days). I am totally against “bigger diapers, more stuffing” for a baby that leaks at night due to volume — that calls for more night potty breaks!
And of course, at least 2 plain, no frills potties or other appropriate bowl receptacles if you find that the toilet isn’t enough for your comfort and a travel insert for public toilets for toddlers.
Everything else is negotiable, but may have appeal for some: split crotch pants or chaps, sewn cloth wipes rather than wash cloths, diaper pail liner, prefold belt instead of a snappi, potty covers/cozies, and wool diaper covers.
Let’s break this diaper issue down, because there are other options out there besides my suggestion.
Cloth Diapers: What You Need to Know
Cloth Diapers 101: Old Fashioned
Let’s start with the old style non-waterproof cloth diapers that will need covers. If you are on a tight budget, need to hand wash or desire to hang up your diapers to dry rather than using a drier, these are your best bets (you can hang all diapers to dry, these just dry fastest). You first put on the diaper and then put a cover over it if you desire.
What you know as “receiving blankets” are actually flat diapers. These are simple squares or rectangles of cotton fabric that your great-great- grandmother and her great-great-great-great grandmother used, and you can use them the same way. They must be folded into a diaper shape. When folded different ways they can be placed on a baby of any size and body type and pinned or Snappied (which hold the fabric in place without pins). They are the cheapest ($0.75-$2.00), fastest drying, easiest to launder, most versatile for other non-diapering uses, and one-size fits all. They need a diaper cover if you desire waterproofing. Just about every one has a few of these on hand. As a general rule, if the item is a “receiving blanket” it is usually is colored or has a pattern and often made of flannel or terry, if the item is marketed as a “flat diaper” they come in either white (bleached) or natural (unbleached) and in two main types “Chinese Birdseye Cotton” or “Indian Birdseye Cotton” –Birsdeye is a cotton that is woven in a way that makes it durable and absorbent. They also come in “Gauze” which is a much looser weave, much lighter, cheaper, softer and very absorbent, but no where where near as durable. “Brand” is unimportant — what matters is the quality of cotton.
Every one has or should have this basic or equivalent (towels, similar fabrics, and re-purposed t-shirts work fine too). Even the most hard-core cloth diaper user with a collection of the most expensive cloth diapers on the market will have a few flats in their stash. I prefer large, unbleached Indian Flats. Mine are 27×27 — quite a huge and a hard to find size. If desired you can double up the diaper before folding, and they really do fit from birth to potty learned. The trick to keeping the newborn poop in is to get a rolled fit around the legs (tucking after it is on helps) and making sure there is a little poof of fabric at the butt — a poo pocket. The mistake disposables make is having a too-snug fit at the butt and the poo has nowhere to go but out.
In the old days they used rubber pants as waterproofing (or likely wool if they had it), today we have something much better if we don’t have or want wool. My covers of choice are Thirsties Duo-wraps because they are affordable, adjustable and have a feature I find incredibly important — leg gussets. But there are plenty of other brand options out there. Different brands offer various fit options, fabrics, and features. Covers can be aired out (wool, waterproofed cotton or fleece) or wiped and reused (nylon, PUL or TPU) while the fabric diaper part is the part that get’s laundered. Because they can be hand washed and hung dry easily it isn’t often necessary to throw them in the wash for a small poop soil.
Covers run from $5 to $15 each depending on the brand and style you get and especially if you get wool covers you can easily run into the $20-$50 range. The good news is that you can get away with only buying 3 covers (especially with wool), though 4-6 is a more comfortable number.
You can choose pull-on styles, Velcro/Aplix/HookNLoop, snaps, or drawstring ties. Wool, like modern PUL diaper covers, also comes in an array of colors, patterns, and even with applique. You can purchase modern styles with Aplix/snaps, long wool with legs or short wool like shorts, hand made crochet, felted, or up-cycled from old wool clothing. As for snappis or pins, if you tend to lose things you may want to buy quite a lot. If you are good with keeping track of things you can do perfectly fine with 3 snappis (one for your on-the-go bag, one to wear, and one spare in your diaper area) or a half dozen diaper pins if you like those instead.
When you don’t want to fuss with a lot of folding, pre-folds are the next step from flats (also cheap like flats $1.00-2.00). Essentially they are a flat diaper already folded and sewn into a smaller, layered rectangle. This means they take longer to dry tan flats, but washing isn’t a problem as long as you don’t over stuff your washer. They need some simple folding at the legs for fit–the folds can be complicated or a simple tri-fold. Snappi or pins are needed as well as a diaper cover if you desire waterproofing. Don’t forget the all-important simple leg tuck and poo pocket! They come in different sizes such as premie/xsmall, newborn, regular, x
-large/premium–it varies by seller. There are standard sizes and specialty sizes depending on your needs. There are two main types: Chinese and Indian. Indian prefolds are softer, and more absorbent but smaller and harder to find in stores (easy online). Chinese prefolds are more common, are larger, and less soft and absorbent by comparison–but are more durable. It’s not that the either are bad, it is just that the Indians are better if you want soft and absorbent, and Chinese are better if you need larger and extra durability. You can get them bleached (white) or unbleached (natural color) and you can even find dyed and fleece and bamboo and embellished ones if you like. The more special you want them to be, obviously the more expensive they become.
When you get either of them new they are flat and they must be washed in hot water and dried 5-7 times before theyare fluffed and ready to use. Indians take less preparation before use than Chinese. Prefolds tend to be bulkier than flats, and they will not give you the trim look of a disposable like fancier cloth diapers. However, they will be used short term with EC, are more versatile than fancy diapers, will last the longest, and take the most abuse. “Brand” is really irrelevant with old fashioned diapers. It depends on what is important to you and what the particular brand offers (colored thread for size identification like Green Mountain Diapers, odd size availability, dyes, no-dyes, organic, not organic, gently used, exceptional price deal, special fabric) though I have heard the most complaints by far from the Gerber brand prefolds — its just a cheap cotton and not made to be durable. Of course, someone always tries to re-invent the wheel. If you are interested in a “modern prefold” and are willing to spend $8 each, you can get yourself a Hemp Prefold with an “open design” for laundering.
I prefer natural/unbleached Indian Prefolds. I find these to be very economical, useful, and easy to launder without the need to fold them like a flat (though they need a little bit of easy folding at the legs for fit). The longer drying time compared to a flat isn’t a concern–they still dry quite fast. These are my mainstays and think every one doing EC should have at least a few of these because they, like flats, have more uses than just diapering. I am not really “into” the other styles that model the shape and style of disposables. I used premie and newborn sizes, though if you tend to have larger than average babies you may want to skip the premie size and go newborn and/or regular. Premie size is not useless they fit newborns quite well without extra bulk and make very nice burp cloths and general wipe cloths and even inserts for the fancier styles of diapers. I would not get more than two sizes, you are not likely to need a prefold larger than regular since you are ECing and outgrowing regular probably means you should switch to trainers anyway! Again, I personally use Thirsties Duowraps. Snap closures last longer than velcro tabs but are less adjustable. Covers can be reused several times before washing as long as they didn’t get pooped on.
Cloth Diapers 102: Old Fashioned with a Modern Twist
Some people just don’t want to fuss with folding even a little bit, but still want the economy of an Old Fashioned Diaper and a separate wipeable cover. Keep in mind that I’m a minimalist when it comes to diapers and I personally have no use for even the simple fancies–but you might. Always keep in mind that the more “features” you desire, the more expensive the products become. Apples are cheap; organic gourmet heirloom apple pie made by a world famous pastry chef is not.
One step above a prefold a contour diaper requires no folding at all. They are shaped like an hourglass to reduce bulk–the same reason why disposable diapers are shaped that way. Some have extended flaps that overlap at the waist. They are generally made simply but can be gathered at the legs to fit and a few brands may have some elastic at the leg for fit. They also Snappi or pin to hold in place without a cover, or a diaper cover will hold it into place without any fastening at all. They come in different colors and sizes; they are not one size fits all but are “one size fits quite a while”. This style has more “easy on” convenience, but much less adjustability than flats or prefolds, so one brand will fit a bit differently than another. Some brands have special features, like a sewn in soaker in the center to enhance absorption and reduce bulk. Check their size recommendations carefully. They are about $8-$12 each with colors, prints, special features, organics and particular fabrics higher cost than plain standard.
The cousin of the contour, the Fitted, is one beyond and moving towards the style of modern disposable diapers. You still need a cover for waterproofing, but they come with Aplix/Velcro/HookNLoop fasteners or snaps. You do not need pins or Snappis. They are usually gathered at the legs and/or waist with or without elastic. Some styles are one-size with snap adjusters and others come in the standard small, medium and large. Because there is more put into making them prices range from $10-$18 dollars depending on fabric type, prints, colors, other embellishments, and how much “convenience” is sewn into each. For example, some have an added visible soaker sewn for faster drying or there is an added soaker sewn between layers. Organic and special fabrics might go above $18.
Cloth Diapers 103: Modern Marvels that are Fancy Schmancy
I don’t find the fancy diapers necessary and I think they are the hardest to launder, longest to dry, the most fussy, and a waste of money. But many people love them because they are on/off exactly like a disposable and come in endless pretty colors and patterns.
The Grand-Poobah — or Grand Pooma — of the modern cloth diaper the All-in-One is. Known as also as the AIO, these are the most like the modern disposable diaper in style and shape and also the most expensive. Unlike disposables they come in an array of colors, patterns, and fabrics. You can get them in sizes or one size fits all (er…most). There is no separate diaper and cover. Everything is built in together — Aplix/Velcro/HookNLoop/snaps and waterproofing. The hardest dry styles are the ones that are the most disposable-like and all sewn together like a sandwich. The ones like Grovia that have layers sewn that separate partially in the wash (like flaps) dry faster and wash better that the sandwich style. Some handmade or factory made styles may have special features that may make them unique or appealing such as leg gussets, double stitching, or other embellishments. AIOs tend to have more synthetic fabrics but some are in all natural fibers.
The ones that do have synthetics rather than naturals tend to get a stink as the fibers age–so laundering instructions that come with the product are extremely important. Unlike a two part system, once the diaper is soiled the whole thing is washed. Brands fit each child differently depending on their body type. So while Brand A might be very popular with one group of people, another group will say they do not fit well and recommend Brands B thru Z. These can run on average from $18-50 each (and even more)– the fancier the product the higher the price.
I’m pretty sure that someone decided that AIO style didn’t have enough absorbency or versatility and were too hard to wash and dry. Thus, the pocket was born. Essentially it is the same diaper with all the same features that are available, except it is a two part system that has taken a step back closer to the cover and flat/prefold system. They have the outward style of the All-in-One but have a pocket in the top that needs stuffing with a special insert or prefold to give it absorbency. This feature makes them customizable for absorbancy and much easier to launder than an AIO since the two sections come apart, by design, in the wash (there are a few styles still floating out there that must be manually un-stuffed during the wash cycle–a feature not loved by even the die-hard pocket lover–rather than agitating out). The drawback is the stuffing itself (after washing the pocket must be re-stuffed) and the fact that the cover needs to be washed every time, unlike a separate cover that can be air dried and reused. Mother-ease brand has a side-stuffing style that makes them unique to most pockets and you can find some that stuff by a center slit, but that of course may have its own drawbacks. These types of diapers also come with some synthetic inserts or all natural fibers. They price $15-$25 (or even more) depending on fabrics and embellishments.
A lot of ideas for cloth diapers run into the realm of disposables to try and make cloth like disposables and disposables like cloth. The Hybrid is the strange child born of the “modern cloth diaper modeled on disposables” and the disposable itself. I guess, you could say that the Hybrid parented itself? It attempts to combine the less wasteful aspects of cloth with the throw-away convenience of disposables. It is actually a three part system: the cover, the liner that holds the pad, and the pad. The idea is that the cover is separate, reusable, and washable and the insert is a disposable, flushable, and biodegradable pad. Like disposables, the pads must be purchased, but like cloth the cover is not wasted. The main difference is that there is a separate liner that is meant to protect the cover from becoming soiled — liners do wear out and need replacing. Cloth diaper users decided to use prefolds or reusable fabric inserts in the covers rather than always buying the disposable pads–instead saving the pads for special circumstances. Cloth inserts made specifically for the hybrid are found in two types — sandwich style is sewn all together and the flap-style is sewn only enough to keep the layers in place but allow them to flap freely in the wash for thorough washing and quicker drying. Hybrid covers can sell for $10-$20 and the disposable pads on average about $0.50 each (or approximately $15 for 30). The liners eventually need replacing and cost about $6-8 a piece. Once the original companies realized that customers were using cloth inserts and buying them elsewhere they came out with their own lines and they can sell for $5-$8 each. The latest hybrids have done away with the original three part design in favor of a “back to basics” two part cover and insert design just like the old fashioned cover and prefold, but still allowing the user to choose the type of insert they prefer to use: disposable, cloth soaker insert, or prefold. Many hybrid systems can be used with other covers, especially ones that have “flaps” on either end of the cover as seen in the hybrid covers. One size systems are available also.
And then came the All-in-Two (aka. AI2) such as Best Bottoms which is an irony. The three part system of the hybrid seemed overkill and pocket stuffing is a prepping task that some folks would rather not deal with I presume, but they still wanted something easy to launder, adjustable absorbency, and a cover to reuse. Instead of stuffing a pocket, you lay-in or snap-in a pre-made insert or even a regular prefold into the cover. Most AI2 covers are wipe-able but a some brands are not. The snaps inside the cover allow the accompanying special insert to snap into place. The advantage over the pocket is that you can remove the insert and put in a fresh one and re-use the cover part as long as it is not soiled with poop. Inserts come in natural fibers or synthetics, or you can eschew the inserts and use small prefolds just like the hybrid diaper cover. You can even get all wool AI2s like LoveyBums.
Herein is the irony: This product has come back full circle to the old fashioned prefold and cover!! In fact, it is exactly like using a prefold and plain cover with no snappi or pins — which people who use that system have done too. The only difference is that the insert is half the size of the prefold — more like a pad — so needs no folding and is less bulky for that trim diaper bum that seems to be popular. The notable drawback with any lay-in system is that poop is more likely to soil the cover. They will run from $13-$25 each with usually 1-2 inserts included with each outer cover (though not always). Separate inserts run $8-$12 each depending on fabric type. Some are one size and others are not.
There is also the ALL-IN-THREE which is basically an AI2, it is just that the soaker inserts can also be snapped to each other, but since the cover is separate like the AI2 it can be used with other systems also with the exception that if you want to use the snaps to hold the insert, different diapers have different number and sizes of snaps. The major difference between the hybrids and the AI2/AI3 is the fact that they are not meant to be used with disposable pads and are not designed to hold them in place.
Remember ALL diapers started from great-great-great-great grandma’s folded flats.
Cloth Diapering 201: How Many Do I Need?
You’ll need 2-3 dozen diapers depending on how often you want to wash or how often the baby goes. If your baby is a “trickler” you’ll go through more diapers in a day than a “holder” and need fewer diaper covers. Though a “holder” type uses less diapers in a day, they will tend to leak more so you’ll need an attentive eye and more covers (particularly covers with leg gussets).
The rule of thumb is 10-12 diapers a day up until 6 months and then usually drops down to 6-10. Three dozen Old Fashioned Systems with 4 covers should be a comfortable number, while a fancier system you’ll have to work out to find your own comfort level. Exclusive cloth diaper users can have AIO systems from a tight 20 with some prefold fillers, to a multi-style system of more than 50. It can get more than a little — out of hand! Of course, being an ECer you won’t need a bus load of diapers :) Less is more! So start off with a smaller amount and if you feel you need more to be comfortable or to go longer to be washes, then add what you think you need. For example, if you want to wash once a week and your baby is a “trickler” then you will need more supplies than a person who washes 2-3 times a week and has a baby who is a “holder”.
I have more than I need to be more than comfortable, but I used them for more than just diapering and I didn’t spend a lot because I went old-fashioned. My 3 dozen flats were not only my “backups” if I happened to run out of prefolds (which was rare), but I also used them as reusable chux pad for my homebirth by stuffing them into a 27×27 flannel square pocket I made that later served as a lap pad and bed pad. They were used as loose swaddles for a naked baby in a blanket, they cleaned up spit up and leaking milk. I used them every day in those early months. I have 3 dozen premie sized prefolds (what you can consider an extra small) that I used for 4 months on my slender girl — just by changing how I folded them around the legs I increased their use until I was just laying them in the cover during the transition to the newborn sized prefold, of which I also had 3 dozen. Once she was beginning to outgrow the new born size (small) I just switched to training pants. I saw no reason to buy the next size. Thirsties DuoWraps (one size fits most) were unavailable at the time I first bought covers so I had 4 extra small covers, and then 4 DuoWraps that I bought with the intention of using them with a second baby also, especially since the extra smalls were showing quite a lot of wear (beginners tend to be harsh on covers!). You can see the cost breakdown of the supplies I bought here: Supply Cost Breakdown
As for Snappis or pins, if you tend to lose things you may want to buy quite a lot — say a dozen. If you are good with keeping track of things you can do perfectly fine with 3 snappis (one for your on-the-go bag, one to wear, and one spare in your diaper area), 2-3 prefold belts, or a half dozen diaper pins if you like those instead (but pins, obviously, are not EC friendly).
For training pants, I started off with 6 Gerber (they were the only ones I could afford and find in 18m size — xsmall) and then increased to 1 dozen and 2 thicker, pricier night waterproof trainers (for those deary eyed misses). You may want or need more or less depending on your needs. I found 6 to be a real squeeze and a dozen to be a comfortable number for us and they were easily hand washed and hung dry also if needed. I never needed size 2T in trainers, by the time she was beginning to outgrow the 18m size she was already in too big boy short style regular 2T underwear (only now at 2y 3m is she ready for the 3T size of underwear). Don’t be afraid to switch to training pants very early, they are your assets to staying focused without having to consciously pay attention as you go through the levels of potty learning and they will also help you go through the normal growing process of changing signals and misses.
Cloth Diapering 202: What Size!?
I’m afraid you are on your own here. Unlike Flats and to some extent Prefolds, with all the other cloth options your sizes and mileage may vary greatly. Flats and prefolds are like sarongs; because they wrap and aren’t tailored, they have the most versatile fit for all body types. For other diapers, it is like trying to find one style of jeans that fit you and all your friends just right. Check recommendations and sizing charts. Ask cloth diaper users who have children built like your own and ask them about their experiences with brands they’ve used. It really depends on how the diaper is made and the shape and size of your baby. Some brands are unsuitable for chunky thighs and those that fit the chunk do not fit slender babies well. Some diapers have high rise at the waists and if they aren’t adjustable may not fit a baby with a short torso. If you are concerned with elastic leaving marks on your baby’s thighs, then you may favor brands in which the elastic is encased in soft fabric. If your little one is a leaker, you may want to look for leg gussets. Snap closures are less adjustable than Velcro (Hook and Loop Tape). Though One-Size styles that adjust are nice, you may run into the imperfect fit because one size fits most…not really all. Sometimes it may be to your advantage to go with a separate size rather than a one size. Before you invest all-in with the pricey styles, you may one to trial out one first. The same goes for diaper covers and the pricier training pants.
And remember, you are an ECer so you can be much less fussy. If your fancy diaper or cover is imperfect — oh well, you won’t be using them much or very long anyway, right!?
Cloth Diapering 203: Laundering
Simple Diapers with Natural Fibers and Separate Covers:
Hands down, Old Fashioned Diapers can be laundered the easiest. Throw dirties in a garbage pail (I used a cheap 10 gallon rubbermaid trash bin) with a reusable washable liner — pre-solid food as is, after solid food you’ll have to dump solids in the toilet (you should do that even for disposables! No solid poop in the trash people!). A diaper sprayer is not a necessity, nor is toilet diaper dunking (sorry, but…eww)–a 99 cent flat spatula works fine. I only used diapers for the newborn and beginning crawler stage (I got rid of diapers at 9m when I got training pants) and we had very few poopy diapers because of EC.
You’ll find any number of complicated wash routines for cloth diapers, but if you go simple diaper styles the wash is simple. As a general rule do NOT use fabric softeners and do not use diaper cream without a liner. These products will ruin the absorbancy of your diapers. Pretty much the smellier your detergent and the more bang, pow, advertising deception it has — the worst it is for ALL your laundry.
I used 1/4 of the recommended amount of a fragrance free, dye free, earth friendly detergent and boosted with good old fashioned washing soda with sodium percarbonate (Ecover non-chlorine bleach) OR you can use oxyclean or some other oxygen “bleach” product, and white vinegar for the rinse cycle. Cold wash and a once or twice a month a hot maintenance wash. I see no need for complicated wash routines unless you have seriously hard water and a serious stink problem. It’s not complicated. I’d rather do diaper laundry than regular laundry!
I washed my diaper covers with my diapers if they were seriously pooped on, otherwise an air dry and wipe rinse was fine. Usually, you do not want to use vinegar when your product has elastic, but I machine washed the covers so infrequently that it had zero effect. The Velcro (hook and loop tape) wore out faster. Remember, that if you have Velcro you must fold the tabs down to lengthen their lifespan.
Fancy Diapers and Synthetics:
Natural fiber inserts are fine to launder simply, however, synthetics are much more fussy when it comes to stank — so follow your brand’s directions for washing. Some items, like washing soda can make certain synthetics hold on to reek. . Keep in mind that if your diapers have Velcro be extra sure you tab them down so they you don’t end up with a daisy chain in your laundry and this will also extend the life of the Velcro. Some two part systems may need a separate wash for their inserts and one for their covers — again, this entirely depends on the fabrics used. Wool for example, has very specific laundering instructions to be sure it stays lanolized, functions as it should, and has longevity.
All up to you, but less is more! And when done with diapering, use old fashion diapers around the house (they do windows). Or pass on your personal diapering system to someone in need, sell, or trade them.
All photos are googled. Click on them to visit the original links.
Posted on December 27, 2011, in Parenting, Potty Training, Toddlers and tagged diaper free, ec, elimination communication, month-27, natural infant hygiene, nih, potty learning. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.