Saturday, January 2, 2010

Choosing Cloth - aka, Has Bibliosaur Lost Her Mind?

I never planned on using cloth diapers. I remembered them clearly from when my younger brother was born, as I was old enough to help change him. Nasty fabric and horrid safety pins that made me worried I'd stab him, not to mention the aftermath of dealing with poo covered squares that had to be sloshed around in the toilet. (Yes, I'm one of those people who don't like getting their fingers dirty.) Disposable diapers? Sign me up!

Until now. Because now I, Bibliosaur, the greatest fan of disposable diapers on the planet, am planning to go with cloth. I'll give you a moment to recover.

Back with me? OK. I wish I could say that we're planning to go with cloth for ethical environmental reasons, but the truth is: I'm cheap. And twins are expensive. A quick calculation of the difference in costs between cloth and disposable diapers nearly gave me a heart attack. You see, if I bought enough cloth diapers to last from newborn to potty training, it would cost $2,000-$3,000, which is admittedly a lot of money. But in that same period of time, it would cost us around $7,000 to use disposable diapers on twins. Seven. Thousand. Smackeroos. To catch poo. (One of the common criticisms I've read of cloth diapers is that you end up spending extra on water and electricity to wash them, which is true - but I strongly doubt I'll spend $5,000 more!)

I've spent the last week researching cloth diapers online - there are sooooo many options and variations that it's somewhat intimidating and confusing when you start out, so here's a little primer on the different types of modern cloth diapers. I created this for Mr Bibliosaur so we could discuss what we'd be willing to use - after all, he's going to be pulling diaper duty as well, so it was only fair that I got his opinion on the matter. Oh, and I'm still learning about this stuff, so if I've made a mistake or you have some additional info to add, please share it in the comments!

If you're like me, these are probably what you think of when someone says "cloth diaper". They are made of a flat rectangle of fabric that gets folded into shape and pinned in place. They’re by far the cheapest option but also a pain in the neck, so I didn't even consider them - although I want to save money, I also need a relatively easy and fast option considering we'll be changing two babies. I'm also utterly inept at folding things. Seriously. You should see me trying to do origami.

These are similar to the traditional flat pieces of fabric, but are smaller, thicker, and require less folding. They do still need to be folded into the diaper shape and then pinned together (or, as shown in the image, fastened with a Snappi). They will also need an additional cover to help contain any leakage/poo blowouts. Next to flats, these are the cheapest choice, even with the extra expense for covers.

These are shaped just like a disposable diaper, so there isn't any folding required, and are fastened in the front or on the sides with velcro or snaps. Like the prefolds, they need a waterproof cover to hold any potential leaks at bay. They're often made of highly absorbent material like bamboo (the picture on the left is the bamboo fitted from the super popular BumGenius range). They're easy to use and quick to change. Of course, they cost more than the first two options. Newborns are generally put in these or prefolds.

These are also shaped just like a disposable and velcro or snap in place in the front or on the sides. They're basically a waterproof shell/cover, and you slip an absorbent cloth liner inside the "pocket" in the crotch area. They dry relatively quickly since since you wash the shells and liners separately, and have the advantage of allowing you to easily change absorbency (e.g., thinner and lighter liners during the day, thicker and heavier ones at night). The disadvantage is that you have to pull out the soiled liner, so you run a chance of getting pee/poo on your fingers. These are more expensive yet again.

All-In-Ones (AIOs)
These are the mac daddies of cloth diapers, and by far the simplest to use. They're pretty much like a disposable diaper - they don't need separate covers and have the liner already attached. You just put them on and take them off, so if you want convenience, this is where it's at. They do usually have an area to put an additional liner insert (aka "booster") for extra absorbency if required - a lot of people do this for overnight sleeps, or if their baby is a heavy wetter. The disadvantages are that they're more expensive than the others and also take a long time to dry, as they're fairly thick.

One Size
These are a spin-off of the AIO, designed to fit babies from newborns to toddlers. They use a special snapping and stretchy tab system that adjusts them to the height and size you need. The downsides are that the diapers are bulkier than other styles when your baby is smaller, and obviously, these are the most expensive option. That said, some parents consider it a worthwhile investment if you're certain you'll be using cloth for a long time, as it can work out cheaper than buying multiple sizes (most children will go through at least three different sizes of diapers).

You might notice that I haven't recommended any brands - this is because different brands suit different babies (for example, a design that suits a chubby baby wouldn't work as well on a baby with slender legs), so a lot of parents end up doing a bit of trial and error. That said, if you have a favorite brand, feel free to post it in the comments for others to read!

I also haven't included prices, simply because my information won't be of much use to anyone outside of Australia. In the USA, cloth diapering, like virtually everything else, is much cheaper; brand new diapers are approximately half the cost that they are in Australia (the exact same brand of AIO here is $25-$35 for a single diaper, while in the States they average around $12-$15). Additionally, the States have a thriving secondhand cloth diaper market (try Diaper Swappers, if you're interested) that Australia doesn't have. I have found several websites that have secondhand sale forums, but it's still on a very small scale.

So what's our plan? Well, after discussing all of the options with Mr Bibliosaur, we've decided to go for a combination of fitteds and AIOs, divided among three different brands. Neither of us wanted to deal with folding of any kind, and he just couldn't wrap his head around having to pull out a pee-soaked insert from a pocket diaper (although to be honest, I don't think he understands that he'll end up with pee and poo on him anyway...but since fitteds + covers work out to be much the same price here, I didn't mind conceding the matter).

Now that I've said all of this, I have to admit: we are still planning on using disposable diapers when our twins are newborns. You see, the average twin birthweight is 5lbs 5oz. This puts them in the "extra small" size for cloth diapers for the first 6 weeks to 3 months, depending on how quickly they gain weight. For such a short amount of time, it's not financially worth it to buy the number of fitted diapers and covers that we'd need (for a 3 month period, disposables actually come out slightly cheaper here).

You could argue that we could buy the extra smalls and then resell them - but the hitch is that, as I mentioned before, there simply isn't the secondhand cloth diaper market available here to resell them on. Plus, since most babies start out in either prefolds or a size small, the extra smalls wouldn't be in much demand (in fact, I haven't seen any secondhand extra smalls for sale). Of course, I'm basing all of this on that average birthweight that I mentioned before - so if our babies are born larger, then they'll be in disposables for even less time. If they're born smaller, then we may reconsider, since the extra smalls may then present more significant savings.

And there are still some kinks to work out. For example, I don't know if we'll be able to use the cloth diapers when our boys are in daycare - child care centers in my area generally won't allow them, but in-home carers (which we may end up going with simply because it's hard enough to get one place in a child care here, let alone two) are often more flexible and open-minded. And since I'll be home for the first six months, and then only working three days a week for the next seven months after that, we'll still get our money's worth out of cloth even if we have to provide disposables for those three days that they're in daycare.

Whew! This was a long one, sorry! I never thought I'd say it, but I'm actually excited about using cloth diapers!


  1. That's awesome that you are deciding this and sticking to it! Being a single mother, I have decided that cloth diapers would be just another added task on the already very long list of tasks to complete on my own. I respect women who do that though! I wish I had that determination! :)

  2. Hey Biblio! We're doing cloth and laundering ourselves too. Some people think we're on crack, but I do agree it's cheaper in the long run and I personally think it's better for baby too. I worry about the chemicals they put in the disposables.

    We're going with mostly AIO's and pocket diapers. The brands we've invested in new are Fuzzibuns (not the one-sizes, but size small) and (one-size) BebeBums (only available for sale in Canada, unfortunately). I've then bought an assortment of used diaps from a CD-ing friend, many of which I haven't really washed or gone through yet, as they are providing Pampers for our little lady at the hospital right now.

    I think your plan to use disposables for the first little while is a good one. Not just because of the twins' small size, but also because many mothers are VERY overwhelmed for the first 6 weeks, and that's just mummies of singletons. So you're going to have a huge adjustment period when your boys first come home. So give yourself a break and not add all that crazy diaper laundering on top of all the other challenges you're going to have, like BF-ing and just getting some sleep.

    Have fun diaper shopping!

    (Oh, and it might totally be worth it to you financially to get one of your US friends or relatives to buy all the diaps for you, and then ship them to you. Just a thought!)

    Take care,

  3. You are going to love your decision. I have been using cloth diapers with my son and it is so much easier then I ever espected. We are using the gDiaper system. And yes you will save tons of money.

    If it isn't too late trying doing what I did to save some up front money. I just loaded my baby registry with all the cloth diaper supplies. He's four months and I think we have spent less than $100 of our own money. My friends and family really supported our cloth diaper decision.

    Visiting from SITS

  4. My coworker is using cloth, the kind that have inserts (which you can get either disposable or coth inserts, disposables are easier if they are at daycare). I only know this because I was in charge of her shower gift and she had registered for them. I about fell over when I found out how much organic cotton handmade diapers are! Good luck to you :-)

  5. This is so informative! I was totally confused when I first started reading up on all the options. I'm sure many others will be inspired now that you've broken it down so simply!

  6. I respect women who do that though! I wish I had that determination!

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  7. Thanks for the info! I hope I need it someday soon :) Congrats on your decision to go with cloth - as usual, you've done your research!

  8. Good for you! I agree, it doesn't have to be an all or nothing decision...sounds like you've figured out a way to make it work for you! I have to admit, I am super excited to see my LO in a fluffy cloth diaper. Too cute! And as a budgetzilla, I feel 100% secure that this route is the right decision for us.

    My mom used cloth diapers with me and my twin brother. She had a diaper service though...but back then the cloth diapers were not as high tech as they are now. So, it totally can be done!