Photo Credit: www.tulamama.com
A core common denominator of the human race? We all eliminate. That's right. Every human being - rich or poor, young or old, famous or obscure - poops and pees. And new babies, despite having stomachs the size of peas, go to the bathroom a lot! In fact, newborns go through about 8-12 diapers per day. Between birth and potty training (around 2.5 years old), an average child will go through 6,000-7,000 diaper changes. Which brings us to the next topic in the Bringing Home Baby Series: diapers and all things associated.
Some Backdrop (😉)
How humans have addressed infant potty has varied through the ages. Not to bring up cigarettes in a baby blog, but as Virginia Slims once famously campaigned, "You've come a long way, baby!" Centuries ago, many cultures carried their babies in fur bags filled with moss or grass. When the moss or grass became soiled, they changed it. In northern China, babies were placed in bags filled with sand. The sand kept the baby safe and absorbed urine. By the mid to late 1500s, Europeans used cloth diapers - but only changed them after several days of waste accumulation. That remained true in Europe and, later, the United States, until the 1800s. Imagine the diaper rashes. And the smell!
By the early 1900's, washing diapers more frequently became common. Diaper services took off during World War II when more mothers began working outside the home. In 1946, an American housewife named Marion Donovan invented the "Boater", a waterproof covering for cloth diapers. She also pioneered the use of plastic snaps that replaced the more widely used (and dangerous) safety pins. By the 1960's, disposable diapers were all the rage. Today, over 18 billion disposable diapers end up in landfills every year. In fact, according to one source, they are the third largest contributors to landfills in the world. And cloth diapers are making a comeback.
Diapers - whatever their form - are a definite need. You will want to have at least a week or two worth of diapers ready for when baby gets home. How many of what size, however, is not as easily forecasted. Diaper sizes are based on weight, not age. Some diaper manufacturers offer diapers specifically for babies born prematurely. Newborn diapers fit up to 10 pounds, and newborns usually outgrow them within a few weeks. Size one fits babies weighing between 8 and 14 pounds. Most babies move to the size after that around 4 months old.
But before you register for or stock diapers, there is an important decision to make. (Don't worry. Your decision is not irrevocable.)
Disposable or Cloth, That is the Question
1. The Pros and Cons of Cloth Diapers
Cloth diapers come with a greater initial investment (between $500-$800, with each diaper ranging between $1-$35, depending on the style and brand, plus special transport bags, laundry costs, and the cost of the accessories). However, they’re way less expensive over the long haul than disposables (which, for two years of use, will run between $2,000-$3,000). As they can be used for subsequent children, the cost-saving multiplies with each additional child. Moreover, there is a re-sale market for the cloth diapers and accessories, so you may be able to recoup some of the initial investment. Unlike disposables, they do not have chemical additives, dyes and gels and they are more environmentally friendly than disposables. Additionally, because they can be less absorbent and thus less comfortable when soiled, many cloth-diapered babies take to potty training faster.
On the “cons” side, they are less absorbent than disposables and messy! What this means in practical terms is that they are more likely to leak, require more frequent changes, and can cause diaper rashes if not changed promptly after soiling. Although some come with disposable liners that make them easier to clean, they are often more cumbersome to change (unless you use the all-in-ones, which are more expensive). If you don’t use a cloth diaper service, you will have to do more laundry (on average 3-4 extra loads a week), and that has attendant costs, including time and utilities. Also, unless you use disposables when you’re out and about, you’ll need to transport soiled cloth diapers home with your from time to time. Lastly, several diaper creams are not compatible with cloth diapers, requiring you to be more attentive to ingredients when shopping than you might otherwise wish to be.
There are four main types of cloth diapers: flats and prefolds, contoured, fitted, and all-in-one. Flats and prefolds are the least expensive and most basic option. Flats are a square or rectangular piece of cloth that you fold into a diaper shape to fit baby. Prefolds are presewn pieces of cloth with three sections - the middle being the most absorbent. You fasten both with a safety pin or snap, cover both with a waterproof diaper cover to keep baby's cloths dry after the diaper is wetted, and both can be difficult to put on until you get the hang of it. As with all cloth diapers, flats and prefolds come in a variety of materials: bamboo, cotton, wool, fleece, and polyester and other synthetics. For more information, click here.
Contour diapers have an hourglass shape. They are easier to use and use less material than flats and prefolds, which means they dry faster. Like the flats and prefolds, you will need diaper pins or snaps and waterproof diaper covers.
Fitted diapers are shaped to fit around baby’s bummy and have elastic leg holes. Although they can take longer to dry because of their many layers, they typically leak less, are easier to use than flats, prefolds, and contoured cloth diapers, and come with built-in snaps or Velcro fasteners. You will still need a waterproof diaper cover, though.
All-in-one diapers are much like disposable diapers, except they get washed. They have three layers - inner, outer, and wicking to make them more absorbent. They have elasticized legs openings. They are the most costly, but also the easiest to use.
Whichever type you choose, you will need 30 to 36 in your baby’s size. Unless you opt for all-in-ones, you will also need at least six waterproof covers. Click here for in-depth information on the types of cloth diapers available and the pros and cons of each. Click here for a list of best cloth diapers in 2021.
2. The Pros and Cons of Disposable Diapers
Disposable diapers are convenient and easy to change. They include strips attached to the back panel that fasten in front. They minimize your exposure to baby's waste as there is no need to scrape the waste from the diapers and can, in fact, sometimes be used, prior to removal, to wipe excess from baby's poo-covered parts. They don’t require you to do laundry. They don't require you to transport soiled diapers back home when traveling. Because they are more absorbent, you can technically change a baby less often (this is not advised), and they don’t tend to leak.
On the “cons” side, disposable diapers cost substantially more in the long run. Also, although there have been no studies that show that the chemicals (like dioxin and sometimes pesticides), dyes, and gels used in disposables cause harm, they are present and in close proximity to baby's tender skin. With some babies, these agents can cause irritation and allergic reactions. Some disposables have tabs can easily rip when pulled too hard, making the diaper unusable. Also, they are not environmentally friendly. In addition to creating 3-4 million tons of landfill waste per year, they don’t decompose.
There are a wide variety of disposable diaper brands. Although I fully intended to use only cloth diapers, had bought them, and had a diaper service lined up and paid for, we ended up using (and guiltily loving) The Honest Company's disposable diapers. I was hospitalized multiple times in the weeks following our little man's birth. (I had preeclampsia in the last month of my pregnancy, and my blood pressure stayed dangerously high for three weeks post birth.) Washing and drying cloth diapers while caring for us both was something Hubs didn't want to deal with. I picked The Honest Company disposable diapers because they were organic and chemical-free, better for the environment than many other brands, and could be delivered to our home as a subscription (together with wipes). Plus (though let's be honest, it was a driving factor as well), The Honest Company had the cutest patterns and designs! For a list of other recommended disposable diaper brands and why, click here.
Needs and Wants Associated With Cloth Diapers
Some of what you need for cloth diapers depends on the style you choose. For example, some cloth diapers need exterior diaper covers, pins or fasteners, and/or insert liners. Consequently, be sure to research the style you select and stock up on what those styles require. Click here to learn more.
Diaper Service. Diaper service is a want, but definitely not a need. How do diaper services work? Essentially, they deliver clean cloth diapers to your door and pick up the dirty diapers for laundering, all for a monthly fee plus the cost of leasing any diapers and accoutrements. For a list of the pros and cons of using a diaper service, check out this article.
Diaper services are generally local-based companies. To find a diaper service in your area, Google "diaper services" and the name of your town. Not all services are alike. They can vary in terms of what they require of you (pre-rinsing v. not), how frequently they collect dirty and provide clean diapers, how environmentally friendly they are, laundering methods, and the style of diapers. Some have add-ons that inflate the price beyond what is advertised. Consequently, you may want to shop around.
Laundry Detergent. If you do not use a cloth diaper service, you will need a baby-friendly laundry detergent that is effective for washing poo and pee. That said, you do not have to use detergent marketed specifically for cloth diapers. Factors to consider: whether baby has sensitive skin, price point, the type of washer you have (front v. top loader), and environmental factors if they concern you. For more information about detergents and a list of top diaper-friendly detergents in 2021, click here and here.
Drying Rack. Another item you might want if you do not use a diaper service is a drying rack. While most cloth diapers can be dried in the dryer, drying them there can affect the diaper's absorbency.
Diaper Creams. Diaper creams are a need. When stocking diaper creams, you will need a barrier cream, which protects against rash. There are also creams specifically designed to treat rash. While not all babies get diaper rash (my son only had it once), when they get it, it can be painful and it is best to have something on hand to address it.
Cloth diapers (in particular cloth diapers made with synthetic materials) require diaper rash creams specifically made for cloth diapers. Why? Because petroleum-based creams will not wash out and some ingredients stain.
Another consideration when selecting your go-to brands is baby's sensitivity to fragrances and ingredients. You will also need to factor any "adverse" reactions the creams may have with the diapers themselves. For example, zinc-based creams may stain (but not otherwise compromise) some cloth diapers, but they are very effective as a barrier cream.
For a list of top cloth diaper diaper rash creams (and lots of useful information about diaper rash), click here.
Diaper Sprayer. If you don't have a utility sink where you can spray poop off the diapers before you throw them in the wash, you might want to invest in a diaper sprayer. Diaper sprayers attach to the toilet so you can spray that c@*% where it belongs. For a list of top diaper sprayers in 2021, click here.
Baking Soda. Some say sprinkling baking soda on smelly dirty cloth diapers helps alleviate some of the stench. It's worth a try!
Other Diaper-related Needs
Baby Wipes. You need these. A lot! Before you buy bulk of any one brand, try a few to see what works best for you. Texture and level of wetness can vary, as do price points and baby’s reaction to them. Some factors to consider:
- Price v. value. Cheaper brands may cost less per wipe, but if you have to use several instead of one, a cheaper brand may cost more in the end.
- Environmental impact. If environmental impact is a factor, look for wipes that are reusable or biodegradable. Or consider making your own.
- All store-bought baby wipes are non-toxic, but not all are chemical-free, fragrance-free, hypoallergenic, or all-natural.
Diaper Cream. General information regarding diaper creams - their uses and considerations - is discussed above. If you aren't using cloth diapers, we used (and recommend) Dr. Boudreaux’s Butt Paste. It contains 40-percent zinc oxide for maximum rash protection and is free from dyes, parabens, talc and preservatives. There’s a petroleum jelly-free version (good for cloth diapers) made with Aloe vera. That said, go with what works! The time my son had diaper rash, it was severe. His tushy and private parts were bright red and inflamed, and it was clearly painful. (Thank you acidic salsa! Before you give up spicy foods, note: According to the National Institutes of Health, infants rarely react to a food that mothers eat and not all babies react to the same foods.) I tried several different organic and natural brands, but ultimately the only cream that helped was Desitin’s Maximum Strength formula. For a list of other top diaper rash creams, click here.
Changing Table. Changing tables make life so much easier that they should be considered a need. However, so long as you have a surface to safely change a diaper, you really don’t need one. If you plan on getting a changing table, look for one that can double as a dresser with a removable changing pad fixture with safety harness. It will grow with your child. Don't forget to secure it against tipping over! Another useful attribute for a changing table is having a place to keep diapers, wipes, and rash creams easily and readily accessible. Other than that, it's all about price point and esthetic.
Diaper Bag. Chances are you will need to change your baby's diaper at some point when you are not home. Having a properly stocked diaper bag with you makes that so much easier. However, you can technically just toss everything into a large tote or backpack, so we'll call it a want.
Like most things baby, in addition to price point and esthetic, there are various things to consider before buying. For example, size. You will want to carry several clean diapers, wipes, creams, bottles, changes of clothing for baby, and a clean shirt for you (in case baby spits up). You will also want space to store dirty diapers, little toys, burb cloths, and hand sanitizer. Many modern diaper bags have a changing pad feature. I used ours. A lot. It felt much cleaner and safer than using the plastic baby changing trays in public restrooms. You will also want to find a diaper bag that can attach to a stroller easily and that you can wear comfortably. Pockets where you can easily store and access your phone or car keys and ID are nice as well. And, of course, it needs to be something you can clean. For a list of top diaper bags in 2021, click here.
Diaper Pail. Diapers stink. A good diaper pail can keep the scent of dirty diapers destined for the wash or the trash from permeating the nursery (or your whole house). Thus, for people easily bothered by scent, they may be a necessity. However, you can also just throw them in any old container or garbage can. If you are interested in purchasing a diaper pail, we recommend the Ubbi. Although more expensive, you can use your own bags, which saves cost in the end, and it really seals off the smell. It is also durable and easy to open and clean. And, for me at least, it had good resale value. For a list of top diaper pails, click here. Note: if you use a cloth diaper service, the service may provide you with the pail they want you to use. Consequently, you may want to hold off on buying one until you decide whether you will use a service and which service you will use.
Diaper Pail Bags. Some diaper pails require you to use bags specially manufactured for their pails. Some allow you to use whatever bag you wish. You can use disposable bags or washable, reusable cloth bags. If you go the reusable route, stock at least 2 so you have a bag available when you wash the one previously used.
Travel Bags for Storing or Disposing Used Diapers. When traveling or out and about, baby will almost certainly need a diaper change. You will need to either bring the dirty diaper(s) home with you or deposit it in someone else’s trash. Under either scenario, a used diaper bag comes in handy. For bringing diapers home, you can use a reusable bag. However, if you intend to dispose of a soiled diaper in someone else's bin it is courteous to place the soiled diaper in a disposable bag first to seal off smells and germs. I started with the Munchkin brand as it had a useful restockable dispenser that could attach to my diaper bag. Pro tip: You can buy disposable bags intended for baby diapers for an inflated price, or use bags intended for dog poo. The bags are essentially the same, but those marketed for pets cost a fraction of the price.
Diaper-related Items You Can Live Without
Wipe Warmers. Most houses aren’t cold enough for wipes to be jarringly cold. Moreover, potential safety issues, dry wipes, and other issues can make wipe warmers more of a hassle than a help.