Cloth Diapering

In Singapore, seldom do you see people using cloth diaper. It’s is almost natural that parents will head straight to the nearest supermarket and grab a pack of disposables for their babies, without even stopping to consider other possibilities.

If you were to ask any parent on the street why they do not use cloth diaper, the typical answers that you will be getting are ‘too much trouble to wash’, ‘cannot last’, ‘troublesome to go out with’, ‘disposables are so convenient, why use cloth’, etc.

Frankly speaking, I do not blame them. The only other option we have in Singapore is the old muslin diaper that is thin and not durable. Terms like All-in-One (AIO) diaper, diaper services, prefolds, soakers, doublers, etc, are like Greek to most people in Singapore. Another reason for Singaporeans to rely so much on disposables is also because so many of the kids are taken care of by people other than the parents. These caregivers will certainly not support using cloth diapers, which means more work for them.

Welcome to the World of Cloth Diapering!

My friend, sit tight and be prepared to enter the world of cloth diapering! To begin, you need to get acquainted with the language of Cloth Diaper (CD) World. The following are adapted from www.diaperpin.com :

Flats or Square Diapers

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Flats are square shaped diapers that resemble the diapers our mothers and grandmothers used. I find them most useful NOT as a diaper but as burp cloth or layering on the bed to prevent ‘accidents’. However, they can be folded to be used as inserts (soaker) in AIOs.

All-in-one Diapers (AIO)

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All-in-ones are fitted diapers that have an outer waterproof layer. They are basically like disposables but made of cloth, washable and re-usable. The down side is that they often take longer to dry. However, the good ones usually dry quite fast in our weather. Thank God for our sunny days!

Diaper Covers

Like diapers, covers come in many forms, most commonly using velcro, and definitely waterproof. They are used outside cloth diapers to prevent your floor, your furniture, etc, from getting wet from a soaked CD.

Currently, there are a lot of covers available in the market but they are usually the ones made in Taiwan or PRC. I personally find them ill-fitting and not too useful.

Prefolds

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These are diapers that are, well, pre-folded and sewn down so that the middle layer is thicker to increase absorbency where it is needed. The high quality prefold diapers are used by Diaper Services in the US. What are Diaper Services? They are companies that regularly deliver supplies of CD to their customers and pick up soiled ones back for laundering. Hence, the CD they use must be able to withstand the extensive use and industrial laundering.

Among prefolds, the most ‘recognised’ one is the Chinese prefolds. There are basically 2 types of Chinese prefolds that I have come across – the 4-8-4 and the 4-6-4. 4-8-4 means 4 layers of cotton fabric at both sides and 8 layers in the middle. Likewise, 4-6-4 means 6 layers in the middle.

For Chinese prefolds, as they are rectangle in shape, you still need to fold it a bit to fit your baby.

Doublers

Doublers are thick, long pads that can be placed between your baby’s bottom and the diaper to provide extra absorbency. These are great for heavy wetters or for night-time use.

Fitted Diapers

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Fitted diapers are shaped like disposable diapers, without the waterproof layer. Hence, when using a fitted diaper, you will also need to use a diaper cover. Instead of tape, they are fastened with either velcro or snaps or pins. Fitted diapers are more expensive than pre-folds and a little bit easier to use because you don’t have to fold them to use them.

Liners

Liners are thin material used between a baby’s bottom and the diaper itself, usually to keep stool away from the diaper for easy washing. They also serve the purpose of keeping the baby’s bottom dry by wicking away the moisture. There are disposable options in the market. I used disposable liners with CD.

Another type of liner which is fast becoming popular among serious cloth diapering folks are polar fleece liners. These are thicker and are great for keeping the baby’s bottom dry. If you still don’t know what is fleece, well, it is your (synthetic) sweater material. A lot of people are skeptical about using fleece because it is perceived to be hot and only suitable for temperate countries. However, rest assured that many people, including myself have tried fleece and can vouch that it is suitable even in our climate.

Fleece’s ability to wick moisture away from the skin makes it a great fabric for covers. Also, since fleece has the ability to allow a jet of water (such as pee) shoot through it and not penetrate back, it works as a wonderful stay dry liner. It can be washed and used again and again just like CD. And it dries fast too!

In Singapore, you can get fleece from Spotlight. Cut them to size to use as liners.

Hemp

Hemp is a course fiber made from the inner bark of the hemp plant. It is becoming increasingly popular for use in diapers because of its durability, absorbancy and natural anti-microbial properties.

Soakers

The term soaker is used for two different things. First, this word refers to the middle layer of the diaper. Often this layer is made of a different fabric than the rest of the diaper, one that is more absorbant.

The term soaker is also use in reference to wool or polar fleece diaper covers. Unlike other diaper covers, wool and polar fleece are water resistent, rather than waterproof. They do allow some wetness to wick through from the diaper but still manage to keep babies’ clothes dry.

Wool

Wool is a fabric made of fleece of sheep or lamb. It’s water repelling properties and breathability are what make it popular for use as a diaper cover. Most cloth diaperers save their wool covers for night time use since it is bulkier than their vinyl or polyester counterparts.

Now that you are acquainted with the common lingo used in CD world, we shall proceed to the ‘Why’s’ of cloth diapering.

Why use Cloth Diapers?

If you go to any diapering websites, you will be bombarded with a whole long list of reasons why you should use cloth diapers.

I shall not bore you with those information but will give you the gist of it, which are basically the more pertinent reasons to me. If you are really interested to know, please visit the websites listed in my Links page for more information. And also in case you do not know, there are fierce debates going on in the US on disposables vs cloth. The whole thing is almost like another formula milk company conspiracy, except that it involves the disposable diaper companies in the context of diapering.

Back to ‘Why use Cloth Diaper’. For me, simply (in no particular order) :

  1. It’s more environmentally friendly as you throw away less disposable (they are not bio-degradable);
  2. It’s better for baby’s skin – less prone to nappy rash;
  3. Save money in the long run, provided you don’t buy too many expensive stuff;
  4. Some people claimed that cloth diapered babies are easier to toilet train.

I know of people who have no choice but to resort to cloth because their babies skin simply cannot take disposable diapers. Usually, they develop severe diaper rash/eczema problem.

For the sake of your baby (read : nappy rash), his future (read : save the earth) and your wallet (read : save money), do consider using cloth diapers.

What to Use?

Before I came across the ‘sophisticated’ world of cloth diapering, I never dreamt that so many different types of cloth diaper, in so many different types of fabric, exist! Bet you didn’t know either. The list of lingo should already acquainted you with some of the more commonly used ones.

Some factors to consider when deciding a diapering system are:

1. Cost

How much are are prepared to spend? The upfront costs of cloth diapers may be high. On the other hand, you buy disposables week by week, hence will probably not feel the pinch so much. But do think long term. E.g. Dominic uses average 1 pack of disposable diapers if he uses them exclusively. 1 pack of the brand he uses costs about S$20. That works out to be almost S$100 a month, $1200 a year. If he is not toilet trained early, and assuming he maintained that rate of usage for 3 years, I would have spent S$3600 on disposable diapers alone.

Hence, technically, if I spend a few hundred, even up to S$1000 dollars on cloth diapers that can last him for a long time, and last a few more babies after him, I would have saved a lot of money. Don’t forget that if I end up having 3 kids, I would end up spending more than S$10,000 on disposable diapers. S$1000 worth of cloth diapers that can last 3 kids is only 10% of what I would have spent on disposables. Even if I factor in the costs of laundering and drying (if using dryer), the costs would still be lower.

One thing I do not understand about disposables is this : they manufacture long-hours use ones that cost a lot. But if you think carefully, surely you won’t want your precious baby to be wrapped in his own waste for even an hour. One salesperson actually told me her brands’ mid-range diaper (i.e. not long-wear) is for up to 5 hours use, which means the long-wear one is longer. So assuming I use disposables and I do not want to buy the long-wear ones because I do not want my baby to sit in his own pee (not even for a minutes, if I can help it!), I should go for the not-so-long-wear ones. In other words, the concept of long-wear diapers is complete uselessness. But that means I have to keep changing anyway and how would that be different from using cloth, except that the disposables are more expensive. Ok, they may be more convenient to use, but certainly does not make economic sense.

Even if you have decided to go for cloth diapering, you will have to consider the cost of different cloth diapering system. Flats may be cheaper, but in terms of value for money, I will vote for prefolds. AIOs, though convenient to use, tend to be more expensive. Hence, the type of cloth diaper you use will also depend on your budget.

2. Ease of wearing

Using cloth diapers may involve a few more steps in wearing the diaper, depending on what type of diapers you use. For flats, for instance, you will need to fold the diaper, place baby on folded flats, cover up, pin/wear a cover over it. For AIOs, you place the soaker in the AIO, place baby over it and pin up. Some AIOs do not even need you to insert a soaker as the soakers are sewn on.

What you end up buying depends on how easy you want it to be. And most of the time, the easier it is to use, the more costly it is. E.g. AIO would be the easiest but one of the most expensive.

3. Ease of washing and drying

Most of the time, washing is not a problem, as long as you have a fully automatic washing machine. I don’t find washing diapers troublesome at all. The mindset that cloth diapers are troublesome because of the washing came from the time laundry was done by hand. Situation is certainly very different now.

As for drying, most Singaporeans are still hanging their clothes out to dry and our weather is generally very favourable for cloth diapering. On the other hand, more and more people are using dryers and this makes drying even easier. The downside is that dryers consume a lot of electricity, so be prepared for a big utility bill.

Now, among the different types of diapers, the more complicated the construction, the harder it is to dry; the thicker it is, the harder to dry. Hence, AIO is one of the hardest to dry in general. Flats dry almost immediately in good weather.

4. Full time/part time use

I admit that I am just a part time cloth diaper user. For night time diapering and outings, I stick back to disposables for the convenience. Obviously, if you intend to use CD for night time use also, the type of CD will have to be suitable for that kind of usage (e.g. night AIO diaper). You can use one type of CD for day and another for night.

5. Fabric Type

Common cloth diaper fabrics are flannel, cotton, terry cloth, hemp, fleece, wool, muslin, or combination of different fabric. Never synthetic fibres (apart from polar fleece). Obviously, absorbency and durability are important factors for consideration. The common flat muslin diapers we find here score badly for both.

The different fabrics are usually suitable for different purposes due to their characteristics, e.g. fleece is good for liners and covers, and flannel for soakers. Hemp has natural anti-microbial properties. Organic cotton is also another option for you to consider.

6. User Preference

Put it simply : the preference of the person taking care of your baby. This can extend to anyone who will be involved extensively in changing your baby’s diapers. If your baby is going to be taken care of by a caregiver most of the time, and you cannot convince the caregiver to use cloth diapers, you may only need to buy a little only and your budget can be spread to buy something more expensive.

Sometimes, some people are not comfortable with the idea of using cloth diaper in the form of flats, but are willing to try AIOs, which is essentially used like disposable, except they are washed and reused. Hence, you should discuss with the primary caregiver of your baby regarding her preference. Sometimes, the opposition is due to the ‘misunderstanding’ that cloth diapers means those flats we commonly see in the local market. You may be able to change the mind of the caregiver by ‘educating’ her about other forms of diapers that are better and easier to use.

7. Other considerations

For instance, snaps or velcro fasteners? Obviously, velcro is easier to use but wears out faster too. You also have to be careful when washing because they will stick on to other fabrics.

Here’s another tip from me : for breastfed babies, you may want to use a cover or a fitted diaper (if you prefer this type of diaper) with gussets. Gussets are inserts of material with elasticised edges (at the leg openings ) that shape the diaper without gathering it. They help to keep the poo contained. Breastfed babies tend to have watery stool and gussets are useful when your baby have one of those ‘explosive’ output. Hope you know what I mean. Even if you don’t right now, you will experience this one day.

The above are some factors to consider when deciding on the type of cloth diapering system to adopt. Of course, you should also consider your own specific needs. There is no fixed system, and you most certainly can work out different combinations and variations to suit your need. You may adopt one system when your baby is younger and venture into other types of cloth diapers when your child is older. The possibilities and options are endless.

My System

As I mentioned, from a purist point of view, I am just a part time cloth diaper user, because for outings and night time diapering, I still use disposables.

On weekends, we use mostly disposables because Richard is more comfortable with disposables. As for cloth diapers, we started off with 2 dozens of Chinese Prefolds, plus a few Prowraps covers, which we bought from the States (Earthbaby.com). This set served us well, except that eventually Dominic outgrew the covers and it was not worth the shiping cost to buy just a few covers from the States. Hence, we had to make do with the China/Taiwan covers available locally. They were very cheap, compared to the Prowraps but I found them inferior by far.

When Dominic was older and compared to infancy, he could stay dry longer, I ventured to use AIOs on him. Most of my AIOs are 2nd hand ones, hence less costly. The best part is that I could use those smaller Prefolds that Dominic outgrew as inserts for the AIOS, so the prefolds do not outgrow their usefulness!

My Recommendation

I sort of ‘stumbled’ into this system of mine and am very happy at the way things worked out. Hence, I would recommend using prefolds as a start. The reason being they are less costly than AIOs. Also, AIOs tend to come in sizes, unless you look for the one-size-fits-most types. Hence, if you need 2 dozens of AIOs to turn around, you will need to buy 2 dozens of each size to cater to your growing baby and babies do grow very fast, especially in the first few months. That translates into a lot of money!

Once your baby has outgrown the prefolds, you can proceed to the next size, or venture into more fanciful things like AIOs, and continue to use the smaller prefolds as inserts for the AIOs, to stretch the usefulness of the prefolds.

Go on and read up on the different types of diaper and diapering system and decide what is your preference. Have fun with cloth diapers!